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As the A/V component of choice to show off your Full HD TV’s or projector’s chops, the Blu-ray Disc player has evolved beyond garden-variety DVD and CD players and is better viewed as an all-purpose media player. Each of these Blu-ray players can scale up the picture quality through its HDMI output, affording a face lift to titles in your aging library. There’s little reason to replace a DVD player today with another DVD player.
Some of the Blu-ray players in this roundup are 3D capable, a feature you’ll definitely want if you or the gift recipient already owns a 3D-capable TV. Even without a 3D display, 3D disc compatibility is something to keep in reserve if a new TV is coming. The added cost is incremental, and with the higher-end players, 3D is just another feature among many.
As a format for enjoying Hollywood movies at home, the Blu-ray Disc not only excels at picture resolution and digital surround sound but provides sufficient storage for behind-the-scenes extras, tailor-made for the cinephile. Some titles include two discs: one for your Blu-ray Disc player and a second meant for playing in a computer and copying to a portable media player.
All the players can recognize a variety of formats on disc, including photo (JPEG) slideshows and music (MP3) compilations you’ve created. Some can also play DivX video and other types of files. The majority recognize the AVCHD format, high definition home video shot with an HD-capable camera that the user archives to a writable DVD in a computer. (A tabletop DVD player cannot play an AVCHD disc.) So, beyond movie lovers, photographers and home videographers can benefit from a Blu-ray Disc player’s versatility at presenting their work.
All the players in this roundup can stream movies, music, photos and more from the Internet, a capability that has added value in homes not already equipped with a connected TV set or media receiver. The selection of content providers varies by manufacturer. Online entertainment choices are aggregated under such names as Sony Bravia Internet Apps, Panasonic Viera Cast, LG Smart TV and Samsung Apps. The majority of players here enable you to stream movies from Netflix, videos from YouTube and music from Pandora. But others add photos from Picasa and movies from Vudu, CinemaNow or Blockbuster, among many other services.
A prerequisite for streaming content, of course, is broadband Internet access and typically a home network. All the players here contain an RJ-45 jack for attaching an Ethernet cable; some have Wi-Fi reception built in, and those that don’t usually offer an option for a Wi-Fi dongle that plugs into one of the player’s USB ports.
A USB port is useful for attaching a memory stick in case the Blu-ray player has no memory of its own. This would be useful if you’re downloading, for example, a movie trailer or bonus content provided by the studio. More likely, though, you’ll want to attach a USB storage device you’ve loaded with your own photos, music and videos copied from a computer so you can share it on your big-screen TV without necessarily burning a disc. In some cases, you can connect a camera directly to the Blu-ray player for decoding home video or photos and passing the content through to your TV. Such capabilities vary by model.
Models that are Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) compliant save you the copying or burning step by streaming photos, music and video already stored on a network-attached storage device or computer over your wired or wireless network. Just sit back and call up content on your home network using the Blu-ray player’s remote.
A new feature for a growing number of Wi-Fi-enabled Blu-ray players is the ability to be controlled by a mobile device via an iOS or Android app. So, users may be able to touch soft buttons on an iPhone’s screen instead of the hard buttons on the dedicated infrared remote—line of sight not required. Particular Blu-ray models may contain some unusual features such as being Skype-ready for video calling or containing a hard disk for content storage.
Let’s start with the Blu-ray players with the most complete set of unusual features. The LG BD690 3D Blu-ray Disc Player offers 3D disc playback, built-in Wi-Fi and LG Smart TV. (That last lets you stream Netflix, YouTube, Pandora, Picasa and more or check the forecast via AccuWeather.) Because it is the only Blu-ray player in our roundup with mass storage (a 250-Gigabyte hard disk), you’ll also be able to download movies from Vudu as well as store your own photos, videos and music in the player. Since the BD690 is DLNA-certified, copying to the player’s internal hard drive may not even be necessary because you can just stream music, photos and videos stored elsewhere on your network. The BD690 is also Wi-Fi Direct Certified, meaning that you can connect to other Wi-Fi devices without necessarily placing it in a wireless hot spot created by a Wi-Fi router. The benefit of this is that you can use your iPad, iPod touch or iPhone as a remote control once you download the free LG Remote for Audio & Video Devices from the iTunes App Store.
Strip out the hard disk, and LG offers the LG BD670 3D Blu-ray Disc Player also with Wi-Fi Direct and DLNA certification, mobile device control, 3D disc compatibility and LG Smart TV. Even without a fixed drive, you could always plug in a USB storage device for reading content you’ve already loaded from a computer.
Sony offers a Blu-ray player that supports face-to-face Skype video calling with friends or relatives across town or across the ocean. The company’s Wi-Fi-enabled BDP-S780 3D Blu-ray Disc Player has Skype video capability with the addition of a compatible accessory such as the Sony CMU-BR100 Skype Camera/Microphone. The player supports 3D Blu-ray Discs, too. The BDP-S780 can be controlled with a mobile device with the free Media Remote app for iOS and Android.
Panasonic also claims Skype-ability for the DMP-BDT210 Full HD 3D Blu-ray Disc Player and DMP-BDT310 Full HD 3D Blu-ray Disc Player. Your best bet for a compatible camera is the Panasonic Freetalk 7181. Both players contain a multi-purpose SD card slot, which among other uses accepts an SD card recorded with an outgoing voice message. That way, when you’re immersed in a movie, and a ringtone from the player alerts you to an incoming video call, the caller can leave a message on the same SD card. Sometimes, video chit-chat is better left till after the credits roll.
These players support 3D disc playback, and even offer a 2D-3D conversion feature that adds depth to your 2D content. The players are Wi-Fi equipped and stream such services as Netflix, YouTube, Pandora, Picasa and more via Viera Cast. Both models include a motion sensor on the top panel, so the disc tray can be opened or closed by simply passing your hand over the sensor. Both models can be controlled by the Panasonic Blu-ray Remote 2011 app, a free download from the iTunes App Store; by using it your iPhone can become your controller. The higher-priced BDT310 additionally contains two HDMI outputs instead of the typical one in order to bypass a non-3D-compliant A/V receiver. That way HDMI feeds can be separately sent to a 3D TV and a receiver that predated HDMI 1.4, the first version to support 3D. Another 3D player with dual HDMI outputs is the Samsung BD-D6700.
Panasonic also offers a budget-priced model, the DMP-BD75 Blu-ray Disc Player. The black-colored player is DLNA-certified for streaming content from your network, offers a front-panel USB port for playing your photos, music and videos and supports such streaming services as Netflix, CinemaNow and Vudu.
As more people carry smartphones and other mobile devices, the need for each A/V component to have its own remote dissipates. The Panasonic Blu-ray Remote 2011 app, LG Remote for Audio & Video Devices app and Samsung Remote Appare mobile applications that control an expanding number of A/V components, including Blu-ray Disc players.
Among Samsung’s Blu-ray players that can be controlled by your mobile device are the Samsung BD-D6500 Blu-ray Disc Player and BD-D6700 Blu-ray Disc Player. You can download the free Samsung Remote for iPad from the iTunes App Store, and use your iPad like the player’s own remote. Owners of Android devices can download the free Samsung Remote App from the Android Market. A prerequisite, though, is that the target component be Wi-Fi enabled. But not all Blu-ray players are created equally.
Wi-Fi-enabled home theater components are especially convenient where wired Ethernet ends at the home office. Blu-ray players offer several options. Sony’s players, for example, can all stream content from both paid and free services like Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, Pandora and more—by Ethernet cable. The Sony BDP-S185 Blu-ray Disc Smart Player, the least expensive Sony in the group, is Ethernet only. But both the Sony BDP-S580 3D Blu-ray Disc Player and Sony BDP-S780 3D Blu-ray Disc Player have wireless connectivity built-in. Then, there are two other models, the Sony BDP-S380 Blu-ray Disc Player and Sony BDP-S480 3D Blu-ray Disc Player, in which you can use an optional Wi-Fi dongle that plugs into a USB port. The dongle is called the UWA-BR100 Wireless LAN Adapter.
Similarly, the least expensive Samsung connects to the Internet via Ethernet cable only. It’s the Samsung BD-D5100 Blu-ray Disc Player. Models with built-in Wi-Fi are the BD-D5500 Blu-ray Disc Player (Black), Samsung BD-D5700 Blu-ray Disc Player, Samsung BD-D6500 Blu-ray Disc Player, Samsung BD-D6700 Blu-ray Disc Player, Samsung BD-D7000 Blu-ray Disc Player and Samsung BD-D7500 Blu-ray Disc Player. One model that lets you add Wi-Fi connectivity optionally via the LinkStick Wireless USB Adapter for Samsung HDTV and Blu-ray is the Samsung BD-D5300 Blu-ray Disc Player.
The most striking looking of the Blu-ray players in our roundup is the Samsung BD-D7500 Blu-ray Disc Player. With its brushed-aluminum finish and ease at vertical orientation, the inch-thick player can be wall-mounted below your hanging TV using the included bracket set. The slot-loader on the player’s edge will barely allow you time to return to the sofa since the unit has Samsung’s Ultra Fast Play feature for quick loading time. With built-in Wi-Fi, 3D disc playback and access to content online or on your home network, this is a player with substance and style.
|3D||Wi-Fi||Mobile Device Control||DLNA - Enabled||Dimensions (WxHxD)||Weight||Uncommon Feature(s)|
|Sony BDP-S185 Blu-ray Disc Smart Player||No||No||No||No||11.4 x 1.6 x 7.4"||Unspecified|
|Sony BDP-S380 Blu-ray Disc Player||No||Wi-Fi Ready||Yes||No||17 x 1.4 x 7.8"||Unspecified||Gracenote ID|
|Sony BDP-S480 3D Blu-ray Disc Player||Yes||Wi-Fi Ready||Yes||Yes||17 x 1.4 x 7.8"||Unspecified||Gracenote ID|
|Sony BDP-S580 3D Blu-ray Disc Player||Yes||Built-in Wi-Fi||Yes||Yes||17 x 1.4 x 7.8"||Unspecified||Gracenote ID|
|Sony BDP-S780 3D Blu-ray Disc Player||Yes||Built-in Wi-Fi||Yes||Yes||17 x 1.8 x 7.8"||Unspecified||Skype Video Calls, Gracenote ID|
|Panasonic DMP-BD75 Blu-ray Disc Player||No||No||No||Yes||16.9 x 1.4 x 7.1"||3.52 lb|
|Panasonic DMP-BDT110 Full HD 3D Blu-ray Disc Player||Yes||Wi-Fi Ready||No||Yes||16.9 x 1.4 x 7.1"||3.52 lb||Skype Video Calls, SD slot|
|Panasonic DMP-BDT210 Full HD 3D Blu-ray Disc Player||Yes||Built-in Wi-Fi||Yes||Yes||16.9 x 1.4 x 7.1"||3.52 lb||Skype Video Calls, SD slot|
|Panasonic DMP-BDT310 Full HD 3D Blu-ray Disc Player||Yes||Built-in Wi-Fi||Yes||Yes||16.9 x 1.4 x 7.1"||3.52 lb||Skype Video Calls, SD slot, Dual HDMI Outputs|
|LG Electronics BD630 Blu-ray Disc Player||No||Wi-Fi Ready||No||Unspecified||16.9 x 1.8 x 7.5"||3.97 lb|
|LG Electronics BD640 Blu-ray Disc Player||No||Built-in Wi-Fi||No||Unspecified||16.9 x 1.8 x 7.5"||3.97 lb|
|LG Electronics BD650 3D Blu-ray Disc Player||Yes||Wi-Fi Ready||No||Yes||16.9 x 1.8 x 7.5"||3.97 lb|
|LG Electronics BD670 3D Blu-ray Disc Player||Yes||Built-in Wi-Fi||No||Yes||16.9 x 1.8 x 7.5"||3.97 lb|
|LG Electronics BD690 Network Blu-ray 3D Disc Player||Yes||Built-in Wi-Fi||Yes||Yes||16.9 x 2.3 x 9.8"||6.6 lb||250GB hard disk for your media and VUDU downloads|
|Samsung BD-D5100 Blu-ray Disc Player||No||No||No||Yes||16.93 x 1.61 x 7.48"||3.75 lb|
|Samsung BD-D5300 Blu-ray Disc Player||No||Wi-Fi Ready||No||Yes||17.05 x 1.54 x 8.07"||3.75 lb||DivX HD Playback|
|Samsung BD-D5500 Blu-ray Disc Player||Yes||Wi-Fi Ready||No||Unspecified||16.93 x 1.54 x 8.27"||3.75 lb||DivX HD Playback|
|Samsung BD-D5700 Blu-ray Disc Player||No||Built-in Wi-Fi||No||Unspecified||16.93 x 1.54 x 8.27"||3.75 lb||DivX HD Playback|
|Samsung BD-D6500 Blu-ray Disc Player||Yes||Built-in Wi-Fi||Yes||Unspecified||17 x 1.7 x 8.3"||3.8 lb||DivX HD Playback|
|Samsung BD-D6700 Blu-ray Disc Player||Yes||Built-in Wi-Fi||Yes||Unspecified||16.93 x 1.3 x 8.23"||3.75 lb||Dual HDMI Outputs|
|Samsung BD-D7000 Blu-ray Disc Player||Yes||Built-in Wi-Fi||No||Unspecified||7.1 x 1.2 x 7.1"||2.4 lb|
|Samsung BD-D7500 Blu-ray Disc Player||Yes||Built-in Wi-Fi||No||Yes||14.96 x 1.1 x 6.22"||2.2 lb||Wall mountable|
If you’d like to know more about these Blu-ray Disc players, please post your questions in the Comments section below. We look forward to hearing from you.