Blu-ray Player Buying Guide
Looking to buy a Blu-ray player? You can stroll straight to the bottom to see my recommendations, or start at the top for a primer that will help you find the best player for you.
If you want to pass on the lesson and go straight to my recommended Blu-ray player pages, click here.
What do you get with Blu-ray?
- Incredible image quality- Blu-ray provides the best image quality available and is compatible with any HDTV (720p, 1080i, 1080p.)
- Better Sound- Blu-ray’s lossless sound can match the studio’s master tapes, the theoretical ultimate in sound quality.
- Interactive features- games, picture-in-picture features, and Internet features are available on many discs.
- Durability- Blu-ray Discs have a hard coating that resists scratches and fingerprints.
It’s not all roses, though:
- Potentially higher media costs- if you buy the discs in stores you may pay a lot more than you pay for DVDs. It does not have to be this way, though. Watch for sales in stores and online, and use the Amazon.com Blu-ray Store for regular low pricing on Blu-ray movies and players.
- Slower load times than DVD, and a bit more maintenance- depending on your player, it can take up to 3 minutes to load discs with lots of interactive content. Once it is loaded there is no more waiting. Players may also require firmware updates from time to time.
Things to consider in choosing a player
Though all Blu-ray players upconvert DVDs, many Blu-ray players, especially older models, are horrible DVD upconverters. Whether this is just a matter of neglecting DVD performance when designing the player, or a deliberate effort to migrate you to Blu-ray by making your DVDs look that much worse in comparison, I don’t know. If you have a large DVD collection, you may want to look for a player that has superior DVD upscaling performance. I note such models below.
If you have an older surround sound receiver, you may want to consider buying a player with multichannel analog outputs and internal decoding.
To learn more about Blu-ray audio, read my page Blu-ray Audio Explained.
If you enjoy video games, you should probably go straight to the PlayStation 3 for your Blu-ray player. Read more about it below.
The LG BD300 and Sony PlayStation 3 are the rockets of the Blu-ray world, with very fast loading times and operation. They will seem little different than a typcial DVD player when you load a disc and both respond quickly to commands from the remote. Other players may require a bit more time to load movies and may hesitate slightly to remote commands.
Some players have an Internet connection for accessing BD-Live Internet features and for downloading and installing firmware updates. If you do not have an Internet connection near your player, you can add one easily with a powerline adapter.
Your player may require an external flash drive or memory card to use BD-Live features. Check your manual for details.
Reliability and Firmware Updates
New discs often have new features and coding and depending on the manufacturer, the players may need a firmware update from time to time to ensure compatability. Panasonic and Sony are the leaders in producing both reliable players that cope with most any disc, and quickly releasing firmware updates when necessary. Samsung and LG are close behind in this regard. The Funai players (Magnavox, Sylvania, and the Insignia NS-BRDVD) have proven to be extremely reliable and have not needed any firmware updates as of yet.
20th Century Fox Firmware Update Warning Screen
20th Century Fox and BD+
Film studio 20th Century Fox releases some of the most ambitious, best looking Blu-ray titles out there… for an example of their work, read my review of The Day the Earth Stood Still. The extra features and programming built into the discs can trip up some players, and to compound things Fox uses an extra level of copy protection on their Blu-ray discs. Called BD+, it is extremely sophisticated and has helped in their efforts to combat piracy, which has a very material effect on their business. They are currently the only studio using it, though the other studios have the ability to adopt BD+ if they wish.
This can be a double-edged sword because every so often Fox comes out with a disc that will trip up a player because of the capabilities of the disc, and sometimes the BD+ copy protection will render a disc unplayable in certain players. It seems to happen more often with Fox than any other studio.
The problems are fixed when the manufacturer issues a firmware update, which will adapt the player for the BD+ code or enable the player to work reliably with the extra features on the disc. For example, a recent flock of Fox titles have new BD+ codes that caused the manufacturers to rush to issue firmware updates. Some manufacturers, such as Panasonic, Sony, and Funai, tend to make players that are rarely if ever tripped up by the BD+ coding. Players from LG and Samsung seem to be a bit more succeptible to BD+ problems, but to their credit tend to issue firmware updates very quickly. Some new players in the field, such as Memorex, have unproven support capabilities and are still hung up on certain Fox titles, though a firmware update has been confirmed to be on the way to fix the problem.
Some players can stream movies from Netflix directly to your TV (with subscription.) There are over 12,000 titles available, including movies and TV shows. The quality is below that of DVDs, let alone Blu-ray so this is a nice feature for casual viewing but it won’t look all that great. An update to allow HD viewing from Netflix streams (still at lower quality than Blu-ray) is confirmed to be on the way.
What kind of TV do you have? You may want to get a Blu-ray player from the same company for remote compatability, and perhaps for visual matching, such as with Samsung Touch of Color components. Usually the Blu-ray remote will turn off the TV as well as change the volume and work the player, and vice-versa for the TV’s remote. For example, in my home I have a guest room with a Samsung plasma, and I matched it with a Samsung Blu-ray player for just this reason.
Two Final Thoughts
First of all, don’t get ripped off by buying an expensive HDMI cable for your player. You can get a good cable for much less than you see in stores. To learn more, read my page Buy HDMI and A/V Cables for Under $5.00.
Second- it has become well-known that Amazon.com is the one of the very best sources for Blu-ray players, Blu-ray movies, and high quality, affordable HDMI cables. If you have an Amazon account, this may be the easiest way for you to buy them. I also have an affiliation with Amazon so if you order from the pages below, it helps support my efforts publishing this site. It also supports the site when you purchase movies and electronics from the links below the reviews, and ordering anything you want via the Amazon search box in the center column.
Your support in this fashion means I can continue to help you understand consumer electronics, while helping you save money. Please consider using the links and the search box when you make purchases – you will save money on great products and I can expand and improve this website. Thanks!