Is Blu Cheap Enough for You?

Month in and month out I receive letters from readers about pricing on Blu-ray, and noting that the public won’t buy in until Blu-ray is cheaper. What the public at large will or won’t buy into isn’t quite the same thing as what Home Theater readers will buy and for how much. For you, as a Home Theater reader, how cheap is cheap enough? Cheaper than an iPhone or an iPod? Walking through Costco the other day I saw every day pricing on players that was well below $299, and I’m sure we’ll see cheaper prices around the holidays. But realistically, is Blu-ray cheap enough to make it down your chimney this year? Was there ever a case to make that Blu-ray was genuinely “expensive” to begin with?

Before I get into the 21st century I want you to travel with me. Back in time. In the early 1980’s the first stereo VCR my family bought was $800. More than a decade later, the first DVD players started at $799. Although the first Samsung BD player was priced at $999 (if memory serves) the PlayStation 3 came out within months with a model at $499, and in addition to newer PS3s as low as $399, standalone players below $399 have been readily available for some time now and fully featured players with outstanding performance are now available for $299 and even below.

When I look around and see the proliferation of electronics gadgets that sell in the millions, there are many in the same price category Blu-ray occupies. The iPhone now starts at $199, with a $299 model. The iPod Touch has models selling for $229, $299 and $399. The iPod Classic sells for $249. Can people really not afford Blu-ray, or have they been taught that optical disc players are a ridiculously cheap commodity by the absurd pricing of current DVD players?

Fully featured BD players like the Panasonic DMP-BD35 are now at $299 and falling. I can’t adequately convey the sea change in picture and sound quality one can expect from this relatively modest purchase. We have readers who spend more on exotic cables, power conditioners, and other silver bullets that will never do so much for their systems as one of these players and Blu-rays from Netflix if you don’t feel like buying. Not even close.

So, is this enough in this economy? Is Blu-ray coming to your home theater soon?

Kevin's picture

To answer the question: Is Blu-ray coming to your home theater soon? YES, on December 25. Amazon's price is $200 for the Sony S350 and Sears had it at a door bustin' $180 on Black Friday. The big reason I waited was that Blu-ray rolled out in 3 phases. Why buy phase 1 or 2 when you know the "ultimate" phase is coming? IMHO, now is the time to buy a solidly constructed unit, before the makers start shaving the weight and quality to hit the profit per unit goals. By the way, thank you all for 30 posts without slandering the previous writer! I really appreciate it.

Welton Corey Sr's picture

Which is better, the SONY S350 or the Panasonic BD 55/35? Both were your "Top-Picks" back to back in your November and December issues. I presently have a profile one SONY S 301 that can't play a lot of the newer titles so I'm back in the market for a Blu-Ray player.

David Vaughn's picture

Welton,I would go with the Panasonic BD35 if you have a HDMI receiver or BD55 if you need analog outs.David Vaughn

Charles Frierson's picture

My main concern is actually sound quality, as in which player makes the best CD player. There are Denon, Marantz, Yamaha and Sony models that I've noticed, and am waiting for reviews. The "ultimate" group includes the Denon 3800BD, Marantz BD7300 and Sony BDP-S2000ES; all retail for $1999. The second group are Denon's 1800BD, Marantz' BD7300 and Yamaha's latest (I forget the model no.).All are probably good on video, but the best two-channel music performer will win out. I'm not looking to buy until next year sometime, so there's time for everything to sort itself out. And for my wallet to recover from an expensive year.

Shane's picture

We reviewed the Denon 3800 but don't recommend it based on its high price and lack of BD-Live capability. Even if audio performance is paramount, I don't think people should have to make that choice.Welton- it was a tough decision o our part to make the Sony BDP-S350 a Top Pick one month and then replace it a month later with the Panasonic DMP-BD35. But the Panasonic is cheaper, has full audio decoding, is faster, and has superior video processing. Once we saw that player we couldn't honestly say we'd recommend the Sony over the Panasonic to friends or family, in spite of the Sony being a fine performer. Wen very much want our Top Picks to be the best, not just a list of stuff we've reviewed. The BD player market moves very fast.

Charles's picture

SB,I read that review and noted that the 3800 was very slow, but sound and video were both killer; I've seen similar comments elsewhere. Still, $1999 is a big chunk of change and I'm unlikely to spend that much, especially after all the stuff I bought this year (HDTV included).That second group of players I mentioned runs $800–$1000, and might be more my speed; I know I need not spend more. BD-Live isn't that important to me at this point, and truth be told, I'm not much into movies. Music is my thing, and most of my DVDs are the music/concert variety. When the release of music-based Blu-ray picks up more, I'll probably dive in. And, I will surely check into the DMP-BD35.

Matt's picture

Shane, any chance of a review of the Samsung BD-P2500 and 2550 models any time soon? I have read other reviews on them and people seem to think they offer really good upconversion of standard definition movies, and superb HD performance. I saw the 2500 on Black Friday for $269 on Amazon. What's not to love?

Shane's picture

Charles-the problem is that there aren't solid entries in between the sub-$400 players and the $2k and up players. And right now we're seeing a lack of innovation and ergonomics at the high price points. We just put a review of the 2500 to bed for the February issue. Don't want to spill the beans, but the only things not to love so far is that a future firmware update must come in for DTS-HD MA decoding, and speed that's good but middle of the road in the current market. But the processing is very good, and if you're interested in trying out the Netflix Streaming stuff, well, there you go. Maybe we'll have to post that review online a little early.

Pascal's picture

Blockbuster OnlineMy Wife and I love Blockbuster Online. We get 3 Blu Rays at a time, when we are done watching them, we return them to our local store and they give us 3 more for free. With the new extended return times, we are almost never late on a return and if we are it's only a $1.25 restocking fee. Also, you get one coupon for a free movie or game rental per month. I use that to try out games that I never seem to have time to play on my PS3.I too own many DVDs, but with my Wifes vision issues, she actually hates watching DVD compared to BD. I still run a Mits HC3000, 720P, but the diffrence is very noticeable from DVD to BD and the sound is a worthy diffrence too.

Michael's picture

Simple question: Panasonic's BD-55K is now selling for around $340. Do you think that it will fall below $300 after Christmas? Is that a critical price point for most potential buyers?I'm thinking YES!

Ken Hendy's picture

After looking through your reviews, I've put together the following combination that I might just be able to stretch my budget to - Pioneer Elite Kuro Pro-111FD display, Panasonic DMP-BD55 Blu-ray player, Sony STR-DA 4400ES AV receiver, JBL ES20 speaker system. This comes to a bit over $8,000. Do you see any problems with this combination, or do you have any other suggestions that would improve the system, but keep it in roughly the same budget range? Thanks for your help.

Jeff Pizzi's picture

It's not the cost of the player that's stopping me from going Blu-ray, it's the cost of software. Don't get me wrong, I'm willing to buy movies. I have hundreds of DVDs, and laser disks, most purchased for less than $18/title. I am NOT going to pay $29.95 to $50/movie for a bunch of features I couldn't care less about (interactivity? Who's got time for that?). I want great picture, and great sound, period. Get the software price down to less than $20(sale price) and I'd gladly pay up to $1,500 for a good player. Without the software price coming down, I'm sticking to DVD.

shane's picture

Jeff- where are you seeing $50 Blu-ray titles?! I just bought the entire Band of Brothers Blu-ray box set for $37.50 and all three Austin Powers movies for $45 at Amazon. where are you coming up with this?You want great picture and sound? that's synonymous with high-def not DVD. Here's an idea. Instead of spending $1,500 on a Blu-ray player, spend $250. Players we've recommended are out there at this price. Think of the extra $1250 as subsidizing the current $8-$10 premium on the titles you feel compelled to buy for the next several months. By the time this period is over software prices will be down.

David Vaughn's picture

Ken,You only need the BD35, not the BD55. Save yourself the $100 since the AVR you are buying has HDMI inputs, correct? DavidPS Shane, I bought "Band of Brothers" as well from at that price. I'm also a Prime member, so there was no shipping either! What a steal!!!!

Ted's picture

I thought I was ready for the BD investment, but discovered I was not; I returned my PS3 because $400 was too much for just a movie player, and I sold my Samsung BD-P2500 because it supposedly would support DTS-MA decoding internally, then Samsung said, "Actually, nevermind, sorry."My main concern now is whether BD will survive at all and be replaced with Vudu HDX and other streamed content.

David Vaughn's picture

Shane,I just sold my old DVD copy of Band of Brothers on eBay for $8 MORE, that what I bought the Blu-ray set for off of! So I actually saved money upgrading.David

Shane's picture

Ted- how on earth could the PS3 be construed as just a movie player?And if you want just a movie player why aren't you looking at the Panasonic players we have designated as Top Picks that include DTS-HD MA decoding and are available for well under $250?? Vudu HDX has outstanding video quality, no question. On my 50" KURO plasma I wouldn't be able to make a living picking between Vudu and Blu-ray in the direct comparisons I've done and it crushes Comcast On-Demand and AppleTV HD downloads. I moved the Vudu downstairs to my front projection system and while it's not quite Blu-ray image quality it's nothing to sneeze at. However, the sound is lossy Dolby Digital at best. Even at 640kbps that's nothing like lossless audio from Blu-ray. And, some recent really cool movies on Vudu only download with stereo soundtracks even though 5.1-mixes are available on DVD. This was the case with THX 1138 and Fight Club. For the utmost in picture and sound Blu-ray is still way

mike l's picture

i completely agree with previous comments. the cost of discs and the lack of them is the acceptance problem. the companies will lose this format if they don't respond. people will wait to download direct from their cable providers or netflix.

Ted Shelton's picture

Shane:Just heard you interview for "on the media" on the same topic and came away with the feeling that you are really on the wrong side of history here. You correctly point out that new entries in a technology segment that offer only incremental advantages face a long adoption curve. You also imply without comment that every format eventually is replaced by something of greater merit. And finally you acknowledge that the challenge facing streaming is bandwidth to the home.But you fail to do one simple thing -- draw the line projecting Bly-ray adoption on a timescale against the improving bandwidth into the average person's home. What you will find is that the average person will have streaming media before he or she has Blu-ray. Five years, tops, and home theater magazine will be telling us all about how great streaming is and about the amazing transformation that occurs when we plug our home thesters into the Internet.That is, of course, if there is a home theater MAGAZINE.

shane's picture

Ted- I'm well above average, and my bandwidth hasn't improved here in the two years I've been here in the house I'm in now. Nor did it improve in the house I was in the four years prior to that. How much investment in that infrastructure do you see happening in this economic climate over the next couple of years? Want fiber? I do. As son as they dig up the street to bring it into my house, I'm all over it.And, it's not either or anymore. I think that these players that offer streaming and other services will actually grow the Blu-ray format by not forcing people to choose one over the other. And, it will give people a direct comparison for how lousy streaming looks.

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Charles's picture

Shane, so much for my budget. I bought a Pioneer BDP-09FD in late March, and followed that up with an Oppo BDP-83 in May. They serve separate functions in my system: the 09 is the main player with audio going to my stereo system; both video and audio from the 83 go to the display (a Pioneer 111FD). the 83 is used for convenience or "quickie" viewing, such as when I want to watch something and don't have time or inclination to fire up the whole rig.And never mind about the need for a "best CD player" Blu-ray machine. CD duty is now in the very capable hands of a McIntosh MCD301. Brown-bag lunch for a while, but I'll have good sound and pictures while I make those lunches.

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