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Tuesday December 7, 2010 1:47 pm
How to buy a Blu-ray player
The benefits of Blu-ray are crystal clear: Video from traditional DVDs contains fewer than 350,000 pixels, while 1080p HD video packs more than two million, which translates to sublime, high-resolution detail. If you want to make the most of your 1080p HDTV, you should upgrade to a Blu-ray player.
And there's never been a better time to do it. The technology has matured, and the current crop of Blu-ray players offer stellar HD picture quality, fast disc-handling, and extras like integrated Wi-Fi, audio and video streaming, and in the case of Sony's Internet TV Blu-ray Player, Google TV, which brings Web search and other Internet features right to your HDTV.
These days you can find a very solid, well-rounded player for less than $200 if you do some smart online shopping. Still, there are a lot of choices out there. Here's what you need to consider when choosing the right Blu-ray player:
If you have a 1080p HDTV, you have the most to gain from Blu-ray, since a set with full HD is equipped to show every one of those glorious pixels. A year ago when 1080p TVs were fetching a premium and Blu-ray player prices were still prohibitively high, it made sense to wait to jump on the bandwagon. But today, 1080p is becoming the standard in HDTVs, and it's clear that Blu-ray is replacing DVD. Simply put, buying a new DVD player today, no matter how inexpensive, doesn't make much sense; you're just investing in technology that's on its way out. The good news is that all Blu-ray players can upconvert traditional DVDs, (and they'll even look better than they would if you played them on your DVD player) so getting one doesn't mean you have to ditch your DVD collection or keep your old DVD player around.
As for the discs, two features are showing up in more and more new Blu-ray releases: Bonus View and BD-Live. Bonus View is basically picture-in-picture and requires that your player is equipped with a secondary audio/video decoder. (Pretty much every device produced in the last two years supports this feature.) Discs with BD-Live offer additional downloadable, streaming multimedia, or interactive Web content. Some models are described as "BD-Live ready," meaning that they lack the necessary internal storage to support the feature, but you can add more memory (via USB) to enable it. If you think you want to use BD-Live, it's best to look for a player with enough built-in memory to support it, like the Samsung BD-C6500 or Sony's BDP-S570.
All players include a High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) port that can stream audio and video over a single cable. HDMI supports Blu-ray's maximum video resolution as well as all audio formats, including the lossless ones (Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio) that some A/V receivers support, so it's the best way to hook the player to your HDTV. A few manufacturers include an HDMI cable in the box, but with most models, you need to provide your own.
Also, all current players will include an Ethernet port for a hardwired network connection, and many, like the Toshiba BDX2700 integrate Wi-Fi, so you can connect the player to your network to access the Web for media streaming, BD-Live, and firmware updates.
Most players, like the aforementioned Sony Google TV Blu-ray Player make good use of that Web connection. Specific services vary by manufacturer and player, but you can also view photos and stream audio and video from a variety of sources such as Picasa, Netflix, Vudu, YouTube, Pandora, and Slacker. Some manufacturers, like Samsung and Vizio also include widgets that display news, weather, and give you access to social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Then, of course, there's the Sony PlayStation 3, which in addition to being one of the better Blu-ray players on the market, also lets you stream video and play hundreds of games.
What About 3D?
If you think you want to upgrade to a 3D TV in the near future, you should look for a Blu-ray player that will support 3D Blu-ray discs. At the time of this writing, LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, and Toshiba were selling 3D-ready Blu-ray players, and other manufacturers are sure to follow. Also, the PlayStation 3 recently got firmware upgrades so the console now supports 3D games and 3D Blu-ray discs.
If you're ready for Blu-ray, it's good time to dive in. Check out reviews of the latest players in our Blu-ray Product Guide.
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