Blu-ray players are becoming less a means to play discs than a gateway to online services — and to any media stored on computers, smartphones, and iDevices lying around your home. Take LG’s BD670. You might pick up this modest-looking machine thinking you’d use it to play Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D discs, along with DVDs and CDs.
Price: $300 At A Glance: Top-of-the-line streaming • Exceptional 2D and 3D playback • Compact, sleek design
Blu-ray players just aren’t what they used to be—they’re a lot more. Sony’s PlayStation 3 has long offered more than just standard Blu-ray playback. Today’s breed of players bring not only state-of-the-art Blu-ray performance but also connectivity to your home media network and a range of streaming options from the most popular movie and music providers on the Internet. These players can become the hub of your home entertainment system and eliminate the need for separate devices to get the most out of today’s technology.
Price: $9,950 At A Glance: Breathtaking picture and sound with all 5-inch silver discs • State-of-the-art audio performance with USB audio • No 3D
The Last Great Silver Disc Player?
The era of 5-inch silver disc players began in the 1980s, and it isn’t over yet. But even quality-driven, Blu-ray- and CD-playing dinosaurs like me are compelled to admit that there are fewer days ahead for the disc player than there are behind it. The Ayre Acoustics DX-5 Universal A/V Engine ($9,950) builds a bridge between yesterday and tomorrow. The DX-5 is a universal disc player. It plays CD, SACD, DVD-Video/Audio, and Blu-ray Discs. But it’s also a cutting-edge digital-to-analog converter for digital audio files from a variety of sources, up to 24-bit/192-kilohertz. Its supertrick analog audio outputs are stereo only, so the only people who need apply are extreme videophiles and two-channel audiophiles who want a reference-quality universal Blu-ray player and state-of-the-art playback of digital audio files. The DX-5 is loaded with crucial and daring proprietary technology, and it’s the best-sounding, most versatile digital source component I’ve had in my system. The price tag? Who cares. Don’t you want to know more?
Price: $499 At A Glance: Flawless playback of Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D Discs • Outstanding build quality • The best customer support in the industry
Oppo Ups the Ante
The Blu-ray format has seen its fair share of changes since its introduction in 2006. Its initial launch included players with base playback functionality and poisonously slow boot-up and disc-loading times. Then came BonusView-enabled players, which added a minimum 256 megabytes of local storage with secondary audio and video decoders for picture-in-picture. Next were the BD-Live-capable players. These required an Internet connection via Ethernet or Wi-Fi and a minimum of 1 gigabyte of local storage (sometimes purchased separately), which allowed access to mostly useless online content. After the wild success of Avatar, the studios have jumped into 3D with both feet. Blu-ray 3D players now support a maximum data rate of 72 megabits per second (up from 48 Mbps in previous generations), include HDMI 1.4, and of course, these players support 3D video, 3D menus, and 3D subtitles.
Price: $400 At A Glance: Google TV and Wi-Fi • Speedy loading of Blu-ray Discs • Ergonomically challenged remote control
Blu-ray meets Google TV
Google TV strives to deliver a new experience by bringing your TV and Internet together. It gives its users access to more entertainment options, and its powerful search capabilities make it easier to find what you want to watch. Two of the first products to incorporate Google TV are the Logitech Revue and Sony’s Internet TV Blu-ray player (NSZ-GT1). While both are based on the same platform, Sony ups the ante by including a Blu-ray player with a $100 price premium. While Kim Wilson explored the virtues of Google TV in our February 2011 issue, I’ll take a look at the NSZ-GT1’s Blu-ray capabilities and see how a Google TV–powered player stacks up against the other streaming Blu-ray players on the market.
Price: $1,500 At A Glance: Crisp, vivid imagery • Superb audio playback • Limited features
Back to Basics
The fundamental purpose of an optical digital disc player is to play back optical digital discs. While that may be self-evidently redundant, there’s a wide selection of players on the market that offer a numbing range of additional, gee-whiz features. These include such things as SACD and DVD-Audio playback, streaming and downloading of movies and other Internet content (sometimes wirelessly), and of course, today’s top banana, 3D.
Price: $200 At A Glance: 802.11n Wi-Fi • VUDU HDX, Blockbuster On Demand, and Netflix streaming • Superb video processing
A Streaming Value
It’s hard to believe that it’s been three years since HD DVD lost the format war. Toshiba bet the farm on HD DVD, and ever since Warner Brothers and several large retailers decided to stop supporting the format, many pundits wondered how long it would take the company to release a Blu-ray player.
Price: $1,799 At A Glance: A/V receiver with integrated Blu-ray drive • Audyssey MultEQ, Dynamic EQ, Dynamic Volume • USB port for direct iPod connection
Looking for the Right Fit
Let’s say you hit the mall looking for a leather jacket. You find a store with an especially nice selection and immerse yourself in the joy of leather. At first, you just walk around enjoying the sights. But then you refine your search: by color, style, material, lining, presence or absence of shoulder padding, the mechanical integrity of the zipper, and the little things, like whether there’s a fastened interior pocket the right size for your iPhone. Finally you hit the target, finding the jacket line that meets all of your specifications. You begin pawing through jackets, at first enjoying the little thrill of handling something you actually may buy. You paw through some more, getting nervous. Finally, you reach the end of the rack, and you’re frantic. You turn around, find a salesperson standing there, and ask: “Is this jacket available in a small?” The salesperson smirks and answers: “Sorry, sir, we only have that in large or extra-large.”
Price: $699 At A Glance: DVD-Audio and SACD playback • Pure audio mode • Not a Blu-ray 3D player • Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio Decoding•
Fastest Drawer in the West?
A quick Internet search can easily turn up a Blu-ray player or two for sale at close to $100—and plenty of decent-performing ones for less than $200. Sometimes you can get lucky and find a refurbished player for under a hundred bucks. The great thing about the situation for consumers is that there are plenty of goodperforming, affordable Blu-ray players out there—but that means any upscale manufacturer has its work cut out for it to distinguish itself from the herd. So if a manufacturer is going to be bold enough to come out with a Bluray player for $699 or so, that machine had better be top notch.
Price: $350 At A Glance: Exceptional speed • Plethora of streaming services, including Netflix, Blockbuster, and VUDU • Built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi • Blu-ray 3D
Blu-ray 3D Is Here
To 3D or not to 3D, that is the question. Sorry to go Shakespeare on you, but I’m skeptical as to whether 3D is the next big thing on the horizon. Samsung is one of the major players vying for your 3D dollar, and I have to give the company credit for leading the charge on the next advancement in home entertainment. You may recall that Samsung was the first company to release a Blu-ray player (BD-P1000). While that launch wasn’t as smooth as the company would have liked due to a faulty noise-reduction setting, Samsung eventually fixed it, and the format has now become mainstream. Is history going to repeat itself for Blu-ray 3D? And if not, is the BD-C6900 worth your 2D investment?
Price: $430 At A Glance: Fast loading of Blu-ray Discs • 250-GB built-in hard drive • 802.11n Wi-Fi • VUDU HDX streaming • CinemaNow • Netflix
More Than Just a Disc Player
LG Electronics has proven itself to be the most innovative manufacturer of Blu-ray players in the world. It was first to market with an HD DVD/Bluray Disc combo player (BH100), a player with Netflix streaming (BD300), and a player with 802.11n Wi-Fi (BD390). To continue its string of firsts, LG’s BD590 is the first standalone Blu-ray player to include a builtin 250-gigabyte hard drive. It provides storage for BD-Live interactivity and can store movies purchased from VUDU, plus you can rip your favorite CDs for easy access. The player also lets you access Gracenote’s vast database of movie and music metadata. You can look up information by pushing a button on the remote. Let’s take a look and see how the BD590 stacks up to LG’s previous efforts.
Price: $1,999 At A Glance: Reference-quality picture and sound • Anchor Bay video processing • Slow disc access and load times
A Chip Off the Flagship’s Block?
Denon turned the Blu-ray world on end when it introduced the $4,500 DVD-A1UDCI universal Blu-ray player (HT, October 2009). At 41 pounds, that player is overbuilt for an A/V receiver. It played all past and current high-end audio and video formats and offered astonishing pure audio and video performance and the most impressive host of performance-enhancing features we’ve yet seen on a Blu-ray player. But ergonomically, it was sluggish loading and playing Blu-ray Discs. When you consider that, along with the hefty price tag and the superlative performance we’ve seen from lower-priced players, Denon’s flagship rated too low on the value scale to earn an unqualified Home Theater Top Pick. Now comes Denon’s DBP-4010UDCI, another universal Blu-ray Disc player. This player has an impressive number of performance-oriented features, and at $1,999, it’s less than half the flagship’s price. So, at this lower price point, is this Denon a solid choice in a high-end-priced player?
Price: $300 At A Glance: Now bitstreams Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio • Fast and reliable Blu-ray playback • Built-in Wi-Fi for Web interactivity and firmware updates
We’ve reviewed Sony’s PlayStation 3 twice in Home Theater (March 2007 and May 2008). Since Sony has provided many updates to its software and hardware, it deserves another look. When it originally launched in November 2006, the Blu-ray format was on the ropes due to its lackluster titles and handicapped first-generation players. Even die-hard supporters were wobbly in the legs, and they pinned their hopes on the delayed game system as the format’s savior.
Their hopes were ultimately redeemed. The PS3 effectively ended the format war—even though it took Toshiba more than a year to wave the white flag. For more than three years, the PS3 has dominated the landscape as the best Blu-ray player on the planet because of its incredible speed, rock-solid stability, and constant updates.