How to Pick a Blu-ray Disc Player
What is Blu-ray?
Blu-ray Disc (BD) is the latest generation optical disc format for movie players and computers. Though the disc is the same size as a DVD or CD, it can hold more than five times the amount of data of a DVD.
Instead of using a red laser to read data, Blu-ray uses a blue-violet laser. The benefit is a shorter wavelength so that more bits can be read from the disc.
Blu-ray is the highest-quality format for bringing high-definition movies to a home theater. Also, since you can pull up menus while the movie continues to play, navigation is more fluid.
Does Blu-ray require a broadband link to the Internet?
No. You don’t need to connect the player to the Internet at all to play a disc. A connection is only needed for extra features supported by some titles or for streaming movies or music on models where such functionality is built in. If you don’t have broadband access and are not planning to subscribe to such service, there’s no point in getting a Blu-ray player that supports video streaming. If you do subscribe to broadband service and don’t already own a device that streams the type of content you want to your TV, you should consider getting a player capable of streaming movies from Netflix or Amazon on Demand, videos from YouTube, photos from Picasa, music from Pandora and tweets from Twitter, among other providers.
What should I know about connectivity in my home before buying a player with streaming ability?
The Blu-ray player will always have an Ethernet port, so the first thing to identify is whether there’s an unoccupied Ethernet jack (on a router or in the wall) in the same room where the player will be. This configuration requires an Ethernet cable of sufficient length. More expensive players may have built-in Wi-Fi capability, so if your home has a wireless network, you can bypass the player’s Ethernet jack and the optional cable. Manufacturers of streaming-ready models without Wi-Fi offer an option to add wireless capability using an accessory referred to as a Wi-Fi “dongle” that plugs into one of the player’s USB ports. An alternative to both Ethernet cabling and Wi-Fi is a couple of HomePlug adapters for sending data over your in-wall electrical wiring.
(See the Guide to Routers about why, if you go wireless, you want equipment that is 802.11n compatible for supporting high-definition video.)
Are Blu-ray players backwardly compatible with DVDs and CDs?
Yes. Given the limited shelf space, power outlets and inputs in your home theater, there’s an incentive to replace your DVD player with a new Blu-ray player.
Will a movie in the DVD format look better on an HDTV set played on a BD machine instead of a conventional DVD player?
Yes, assuming the player is connected to the TV using an HDMI cable.
However, if the same movie is available on BD, the picture resolution on a Full HD (1920 x 1080) TV will be capable of showing native high-def and will look better than an up-converted DVD.
Besides HDMI, what other outputs should I look for on the player?
Ports should include component video, digital audio (coaxial and optical), stereo and composite video. You may want a second HDMI output (few models actually offer this) to send 3D images directly to the TV and audio directly to the receiver.
If I plan to buy a 3D TV, can I upgrade a Blu-ray player to 3D later?
No. You’d have to replace the player. So, if you’ve been thinking about 3D, you may as well get a 3D-capable Blu-ray player. It can be used to play 2D titles in the meantime.
Does staying with the same brand for different components in my home theater offer any benefits?
Pieces from different manufacturers will work together, so you don’t have to worry about lack of compatibility when you mix brands. However, if you already own a receiver, you may want to stick with the same brand when selecting a Blu-ray player for this simple convenience: When the player and receiver are connected by an HDMI cable, turning on the player will automatically turn on the receiver and switch it to its Blu-ray input. If you have the same brand of TV, auto on and input switching can extend to the display, too. Each manufacturer names this linking technology its own way and decides whether to limit the convenience to just its own brand, but the feature is generally referred to as HDMI CEC (for Consumer Electronics Control). Also, loyalty to the same brand may pay off in the form of out-of-box compatibility when pointing the included remote at a different component.
Can I get an all-in-one TV and Blu-ray player?
Yes. A few sets are available that enable you to insert a disc vertically along an edge of the TV without connecting a separate player. While not an ideal setup for a home theater, these space-saving combos are suitable for a secondary viewing area such as a bedroom.
Can I get an all-in-one Blu-ray player and sound system?
Yes. Commonly referred to as a home theater in a box, this is a complete system for upgrading TV all at once with a Blu-ray Disc player/receiver, multiple speakers (including left, right, center, a pair of surrounds and a powered subwoofer) and all connecting wires. Compared to a 5.1 system, a 7.1 system comes with two additional surround speakers.
Are there portable Blu-ray players?
Yes. You’ll pay a premium compared to a shelf model, but the advantage of using a player that contains its own screen and rechargeable battery is that you’ll be able to watch Blu-ray discs or DVDs anywhere, even while traveling. When stationary, you’ll be able to plug in the portable as a source component for your home theater so you can fully appreciate the high-definition picture on a big screen and sound track on full-size speakers.
Can I use my Blu-ray player to present a photo slide show?
Absolutely. Virtually all Blu-ray models let you display your JPEG photos in high definition on your HDTV set from disc. The Blu-ray remote lets you run the show comfortably from the sofa, surrounded by family members and guests. Some models may also be able to show images from a card, USB storage device, or streamed from a computer on your home network or a photo-sharing website.
What other formats do Blu-ray players recognize?
Though compatibility varies by model, music (MP3) and other video formats including DiVX and AVCHD (see next section) may also be playable.
What is the AVCHD format, and why should it excite me?
It stands for Advanced Video Coding High Definition, and you’ll want to know the format better if you own a high-def consumer camcorder. If your camera saves video to internal memory (solid state or a hard drive) or a removable memory card, you’re halfway there. You then transfer the video to your computer for editing (or not) and burn your movie to inexpensive DVD-R media. The discs will play in high-def on an AVCHD-compatible Blu-ray player hooked up to your big-screen HDTV. (AVCHD discs will not work in a DVD player.) So, getting a Blu-ray Disc player with AVCHD playback allows any household with a high-def camcorder and a DVD burner to leverage its investments. If the camera records to an SD card, and the player has an SD slot, you may not even have to create a disc because some Blu-ray players have built-in card readers.
What are the Bonus View and BD-Live features?
Besides touting the higher resolution, promoters of Blu-ray Discs have distinguished the format from DVD with these two features. Bonus View is bonus content that plays in a picture-in-picture window. For example, it could show the director in a corner of the screen explaining through the secondary audio track how the scene was made, as it plays. It could be actors watching the movie together with the audience and commenting about what was going through their minds at the time.
BD-Live is Bonus View with an Internet connection. So, instead of the bonus content playing from disc, it’s streaming from the studio’s server. It could be a live event.
With a BD-Live player and a BD-Live-compatible title, viewers can enjoy special online benefits such as downloadable trailers, live transactions and social interaction centered on specific films. Also, the firmware in players can be upgraded using the Internet connection. To download bonus content, the player needs storage memory. More expensive players may ship with 1 Gigabyte or more of internal memory, but most players require you to plug a flash memory stick into one of its USB ports.
One disc is nice but what about a mega changer?
If removing and returning discs to their jewel cases is too much trouble whenever you want to play a BD, DVD, or CD, consider a 400-disc mega changer. There may even be a “rental slot” for quick-loading one disc when it must be returned.
Are multi-region and multi-system Blu-ray players available?
Yes, but most viewers in the U.S. will see no benefit by paying extra for such players. As with DVDs, Blu-ray Discs are released by the studios to specific regions of the world. If you plan to watch discs distributed to foreign markets, you’re a candidate for a multi-region player. If the player will be used in certain countries overseas or you own a multi-system TV, you may want a Blu-ray player that supports multi-system television displays.
- Decide whether you want a Blu-ray Player that just plays discs or also streams movies, music and photos from the Internet or your home network.
- If you own a high-def camcorder that records to SD cards, choose a player with AVCHD playback and an SD slot for convenience.
- If you already own a receiver, you may want to stay with the same brand of Blu-ray player simply because powering on the player will automatically turn on the receiver and switch it to the correct HDMI input.
- Step-up features include built-in Wi-Fi and internal memory for storing downloadable content.
- A Blu-ray Disc player can be purchased as a separate component, as part of a home theater sound system, as a slot-loader built into a TV, as a mega changer, or as a take-anywhere portable.