If you're still on the fence about bringing home a Blu-ray player, this may be a good time to jump. If you already have one, it could be time to think about a second or third. Prices have really come down, loading speeds have improved and audio/video performance has never been better. And those extras like Netflix, VUDU, Pandora and other network streaming options are no longer an expensive luxury.
When the first Blu-ray players launched back in 2006, one could be had for around $1000. Now, a quick search on Amazon finds at least a few options under the $100 mark. However, before you start blindly shopping for bargains, know that Blu-ray players have come a long way, baby. There are still features worth seeking out and potentially paying a little extra for, such as integrated wireless networking (WiFi), a good selection of internet streaming services, Skype video calling (turn your TV into a giant video phone!), and iPod/iPhone or Android app control.
Besides the price drops and improvements in loading times, Blu-ray players do a lot more than just play Blu-rays, DVDs and CDs. Most of today's Blu-ray players now come packing an Ethernet port or Wi-Fi connectivity, making it a breeze to access those special features found on Blu-ray discs under the "BD-Live" label as well as do some form of internet streaming. Just know that besides the web access, BD-Live requires some type of storage. If your player doesn't include internal storage of at least 1GB (Gigabyte), you'll need to plug in a USB drive or SD card (depending on the player), with a minimum of 1GB of storage available.
Even More Entertainment
Of course, you don't even need a disc to be entertained by some of the newer Blu-ray players. We're not talking about staring at that pretty black box. That web access has opened up a slew of new options. Many players now have built-in web services, such as Netflix, YouTube, Pandora, VUDU, Amazon VOD, and a plethora of other added entertainment. (Subscriptions and fees may apply.) Some players even allow you to access media files from your home network via DLNA-compatibility.
This year, the bulk of the new Blu-ray players also have 3D capabilities. Blu-ray 3D players can play all of the same discs as last year's Blu-ray players. However, these machines also support Blu-ray 3D discs, and play 3D effects when paired with a 3D TV or 3D projector, and 3D glasses.
If you haven't started building your Blu-ray 3D collection or even much of a Blu-ray collection, standard-def DVDs are still welcomed here. In fact, Blu-ray players can "upconvert" that standard-def content to high-def resolutions, making those older discs look better than they ever did on that old DVD player. The Panasonic players even support 24p playback from DVDs so you can watch movies in their native 24 frame/second rate on compatible HDTVs.
Besides video, Blu-ray also offers a nice audio boost. Blu-ray discs have more storage space than the average DVD, so there's plenty of room for better audio. Some of these new formats (Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio and multi-channel uncompressed PCM), can actually reproduce the original studio master tapes with no loss of detail or resolution. However, to tap into all of those audio goodies, you will need a player that actually supports these newer formats. At this point, even many of the entry-level players do.
Also, don't forget that the PlayStation 3 is still a Blu-ray player, and offers endless hours (we timed that) of gaming action in addition to CD, DVD, Blu-ray and even Blu-ray 3D playback.
Of course, to enjoy the PS3 or any other Blu-ray player, you will need an HDTV. To see just what these new Blu-ray players can really do, we recommend that you hook the player to a 1080p TV via an HDMI cable. Once you have the HDTV, there are plenty of player options out there. Here is what manufacturers are offering up for 2011.
The DBP-2012UDCI has the same universal disc support, including 3D playback. It also has the Burr-Brown converters, the DLNA 1.5 support and the Netflix and YouTube streaming. What makes this unit a step-up is the RS-232C jack for integration with home automation systems, as well as the on-board Anchor Bay Technology video processor and the multi-channel analog outputs.
The BD690 is this year's "it" model, offering the SmartTV services, the 3D option, and also a built-in 250GB hard drive. That type of internal storage allows you to order up content from VUDU, Amazon, and other services, and have it on-hand for easy access. You can also rip your CD collection to the hard drive for hours of music playback fun.
The DMP-BDT110 is the entry-level 3D-ready model, which we reviewed back in April. The DMP-BDT210 and the DMP-BDT310 both add in built-in Wi-Fi, as well as a touch-free sensor to open the disc tray with a wave of your hand. Find out more about the top-of-the-line model in our editor's comprehensive review of the DMP-BDT310.
All three have the BD-J resume feature and support for the company's iControlAV app. Other common features include 36-Bit Deep Color support, Precision Quartz Lock System (PQLS) for jitter-free reproduction, and Pioneer's PureCinema technology, which promises to upconvert standard-def video to 1080p.
For added enertainment, all three models provide Netflix and Pandora playback, with YouTube to be added via a firmware update at a later time. For web access, each one has an Ethernet port, or you can go wireless via the optional AS-WL200 wireless adapter.
Of course, there are standouts amongst these stand-alone players. The BD-D7500 measures a slim 0.9-inch in height, making it easy to stuff into almost any AV cabinet or even mount on a wall. Also, the HW-D7000 is the company's first offering with an integrated Blu-ray 3D player inside an AV receiver. Just add speakers and a 3D TV or projector for instant high def 3D-capable home theater.
The BD-D7500, BD-D7000 and BD-D6700 all offer 3D up-conversion of movies, pictures and streaming video. On the audio side, all of the players offer Dolby TrueHD decoding, with DTS-HD available for the BD-D6500 and up.
The BD-D5700, BD-D6500, BD-D6700, BD-D7000 and BD-D7500 all have built-in Wi-Fi, while the BD-D5300 and BD-D5500 offer a standard network port for wired networking. These wired models can be upgraded to WiFi, with the addition of the optional WIS09ABGN LAN adapter.
Back in January, Sony announced plans for four stand-alone Blu-ray players, three of which support Blu-ray 3D playback. The BDP-S480, BDP-S580 and BDP-S780 can all play back 3D and 2D Blu-rays, as well as DVDs, CDs, and even SACDs. Other common features between those three are support for Sony's Media Remote app and a little something called the Entertainment Database Browser. This nifty feature uses the power of Gracenote (now owned by Sony) to allow searches on actors and movie titles, to scrounge up a few extra details during your day-to-day AV fix. All three 3D players also have BRAVIA Internet Video content, which includes on-screen access to Sony's Video On Demand and Music Unlimited powered by Qriocity, as well as Netflix, Pandora, HuluPlus, Amazon Instant Video, and other web-based services.
The BDP-S780 has built-in Wi-Fi with Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS), DLNA support, and a front USB port. This model is also compatible with Sony's new HomeShare Wi-Fi Network Speakers. Besides the BRAVIA Internet Video, this player also has Skype embedded, which allows for big-screen calling with an optional USB TV camera. The BDP-S780 also offers 2D-to-3D conversion, IP Content Noise Reduction technology and Precision Cinema HD Upscaling technologies.
The BDP-S580 also has built-in Wi-Fi, as well as the IP Content Noise Reduction, DLNA support, and the possibility of adding in the HomeShare speakers. Rounding out the 3D line is the BDP-S480, which boasts speedy load times, as well as DLNA and HomeShare speaker support.
Last, but certainly not least, the BDP-S380 is Sony's only new non-3D Blu-ray player. Like the 3D models, this one offers SACD playback, as well as the BRAVIA Internet Video, the Gracenote goodies, and the Media Remote app. There's no built-in Wi-Fi, so if you want to go wireless, get the add-on LAN adapter.
The BDX4200 and BDX5200 are Toshiba's other two player options. Both have all of the same features as the 2D player, but add in 3D playback. The big difference between the two is that for an extra $50, the BDX5200 can stream all of those web goodies with built-in Wi-Fi support.
Other features include dual USB ports (one in the back, one in the front), an RC-232C for custom install integration and control, and support for a free iPhone app (Android is on its way).
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