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BLU-RAY PLAYER REVIEWS

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David Vaughn Posted: Mar 15, 2010 0 comments
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.

David Vaughn Posted: Mar 15, 2010 0 comments
Price: $250 At A Glance: Onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio • Streaming options include Netflix and Amazon Video On Demand

Sony sells seven stand-alone Blu-ray players, ranging from its entry level BDP-S360 ($150, HT, July 2009) up to its Elevated Standard BDP-CX7000ES MegaChanger ($1,900, HT, March 2010). But one of the biggest complaints against Sony’s BD players has been the lack of networking features. Well, Sony has addressed that complaint with the BDP-N460. It includes a plethora of streaming options from Netflix, Amazon Video On Demand, YouTube, Slacker, and a host of other content providers—some more useful than others. Network connectivity is a great add-on feature, but how does the player perform as a disc player? Let’s find out…

Just the Facts
In the waterfall of Sony Blu-ray players, the BDP-N460 is a step up from Sony’s entry-level players. Aesthetically, it looks nearly identical to the BDP-S360, with a simple glossy black plastic facing that drops down to expose the disc tray. The only other buttons on the front are Play, Stop, Eject, and Power.

David Vaughn Posted: Jan 04, 2010 0 comments
Price: $1,900 At A Glance: Solid build quality • Admirable Blu-ray and DVD playback • Middling HD video processing • Average load times

Dream Machine?

Sony’s foray into the U.S. electronics market began more than 50 years ago when co-founder Akio Morita came to New York to sell a $30 miniature transistor radio. At the time, he attracted the interest of Bulova, a watchmaker with a vast retail network. Bulova offered to buy 100,000 units under one condition—Sony would have to original equipment manufacture (O.E.M.) the radios, and they would be branded and marketed under Bulova’s name. Amazingly, Morita went against his board of directors’ advice and turned down the deal. His 50-year goal was to make the Sony name as popular as Bulova’s. Through the strength of his vision, Sony is now one of the most recognized brands in the world.

David Vaughn Posted: Nov 10, 2009 0 comments
Price: $450 At A Glance: Solid performance on both DVD and Blu-ray Discs • Netflix and Pandora streaming capability • Unique wall-mount design

Back in 2006, Samsung was the first manufacturer to release a Blu-ray player to the masses. It contributed to the format’s less than stellar launch reportedly due to an incorrect default setting in the video processing chip set used in the player.

Samsung fixed the issue in its debut player with a firmware update and has been at the forefront of player development ever since. Over the generations, its players have offered HQV video processing, Wi-Fi, and media streaming capabilities. The BD-P4600 is Samsung’s most expensive offering in 2009 at $450, but it brings a lot to the table with oodles of features, solid performance, and a unique design.

David Vaughn Posted: Nov 10, 2009 0 comments
Price: $399 At A Glance: Pioneer’s first BD-Live player • Exceptional video processing • Slow boot-up and disc loading, especially on Java-intensive discs

With a long history in optical disc technology, Pioneer has been slow to develop new and innovative features in its Blu-ray players. While its previous offerings have been on the upper end of the pricing range, the company’s players have left a lot to be desired. Last fall, I reviewed the Pioneer Elite BDP-05FD player for our sister publication, UltimateAVMag.com. While I was very impressed by its sturdy build quality, it was unreliable, with lip-sync issues and player lockups. It also couldn’t internally decode DTS-HD Master Audio. Granted, a firmware upgrade eventually fixed most of these issues, but the DTS-HD Master Audio upgrade didn’t happen until early this summer—more than six months later than Pioneer promised. As a founding member of the Blu-ray Disc Association, you’d expect Pioneer’s players to be among the most innovative on the market. Sadly, that hasn’t been the case.

But that’s all in the past. The Pioneer BDP-320 brings a lot to the table at half the cost of the Elite branded BDP-05FD. The BDP-320 is BD-Live compliant and has 1 gigabyte of internal memory. Memory is also expandable via the USB port on the back of the player. The back panel includes one HDMI 1.3a output with support for 48-bit Deep Color (not supported by either DVD or Blu-ray), an Ethernet port, component output, and 7.1 analog audio for consumers with legacy equipment that lacks HDMI inputs.

David Vaughn Posted: Nov 10, 2009 0 comments
toppick.jpgPrice: $350 At A Glance: Blazing-fast loading of discs, even on Java-intensive titles • Netflix, YouTube, and CinemaNow streaming • Built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi

Established in South Korea in 1958 under the name of Goldstar, LG Electronics has been manufacturing home appliances and electronics for more than 50 years. In 1995, it acquired Zenith (the company that invented the remote control) and started to gain market share in North America with cell phone technology, digital set-top boxes, and televisions. When the format war was in full swing in 2007, LG became the Switzerland of electronics companies by releasing the BH100 dual-format Blu-ray/HD DVD player. It received tepid reviews due primarily to playback glitches on HD DVDs, but you have to admire the company for attempting to appeal to a wider range of consumers.

Thankfully, with the format war behind us, manufacturers can concentrate on making great Blu-ray players, and LG hasn’t stopped its innovation. It was the first to release a BD player with Netflix streaming (BD300) and has upped the ante with its latest player by adding YouTube, CinemaNow, and 802.11n Wi-Fi.

Shane Buettner Posted: Aug 31, 2009 0 comments
Price: $4,500 At A Glance: Full interactivity and advanced audio • Reference-level picture and sound • HQV video processing • Slow disc access and load times

The Chosen One?

This isn’t the first player we’ve reviewed in the high-end price category. In some respects, we’ve walked away impressed by the high-end players we’ve reviewed, but none of the high-end designs we’ve looked at has earned their pay grade by making our Top Picks list. It’s possible that this tells us more about the less expensive players on the market than the more expensive ones. Blu-ray’s inherent quality, advances in video processing, and the proliferation of HDMI have resulted in sub-$500 players that will satisfy even the most finicky videophile with a front-projection system. In short, midrange and even entry-level players have gotten so good that, although we’ve been waiting to be floored by a high-end player, so far it hasn’t happened. Whether it’s lack of speed, audio or interactivity features, or performance, we’ve been waiting for a player that makes us stand up and shout, “Noooo!” when the UPS man comes to take the player back to the manufacturer. With regards to both its price and its performance aspirations, the $4,500 Denon DVD-A1UDCI is the most ambitious Blu-ray player we’ve yet reviewed. Is it the chosen one?

Kris Deering Posted: Aug 07, 2009 0 comments

Among Sony's vast array of audio/video products, a select few carry the Elevated Standard (ES) designation, which indicates the company's top-flight—and top-price—models. There are two Blu-ray player in this elite club, including the flagship BDP-S5000ES, which lists for the extravagant sum of $2000. Now that some Blu-ray players have achieved mass-market status for a tenth of that and many more can be had for $400 to $500, can Sony hope to sell many of these? Do you really get what you pay for? Let's find out...

David Vaughn Posted: Jul 09, 2009 18 comments

Blu-ray just celebrated its 3-year anniversary, and many of the issues that plagued the format are nearly forgotten—profile issues, pathetically slow boot-up, and of course, HD DVD. For a while, there was really only one choice if you wanted a high-performance Blu-ray player—the Sony PlayStation 3—but the market has evolved, with models from Panasonic, Pioneer, and Samsung making inroads into the PS3's huge market share.

Kris Deering Posted: Jul 08, 2009 0 comments
Price: $499 At A Glance: Reference-quality Blu-ray performance and video processing • Full interactivity and audio decoding • Fast operation and load times • SACD and DVD-Audio

Dawn of a Blu Universe

Oppo Digital may not be the most recognized name on the block, but if you’ve used its products in the past, you’ll certainly remember it. Oppo has been in the DVD player market for a few years now and does all of its business online. You won’t find its products stocked in your local Best Buy or specialty retailer, so the brand doesn’t have the broad market awareness of other Blu-ray player manufacturers. But Oppo’s DVD players have a loyal following and offer incredible performance for the dollar. Oppo’s reputation for excellent performance at a lower price point and its outstanding customer support quickly gained a big following. So it’s been with bated breath that many of us have waited for Oppo to enter the Blu-ray market.

Kris Deering Posted: Jun 01, 2009 0 comments
Price: $300 At A Glance: Viera Cast delivers ho-hum connectivity experience • Exceptional video processing • Full interactivity and audio decoding

It seems like just yesterday that I reviewed the DMP-BD35 and DMP-BD55 players (HT, December 2008). But Panasonic spared little time getting its replacements out into the market. This was almost a blink, and you’ll miss the window for the DMP-BD35 and DMP-BD55. Panasonic just introduced the DMP-BD60 and DMP-BD80, which are nearly identical to the models they’re replacing. But this time around, Panasonic has jumped into the streaming video craze and added Viera Cast to both players. This widget-based portal to Internet-derived content is similar to what Panasonic includes in its flat-panel HDTV line.

For this roundup, I’m looking at the DMP-BD60 ($300). It lacks the DMP-BD80’s 7.1-channel analog outputs, but it still shares many core components and features with its big brother.

Kris Deering Posted: Jun 01, 2009 0 comments
Price: $300 At A Glance: Lacks compelling next-generation features • Xross Media Bar offers intuitive setup • Improved video processing • Full interactivity and audio decoding

Sony continues to do its best to deliver great entry-level products for the masses. Most of the market is now approaching this same price point and including more features, such as on-demand video streaming from online sources like Netflix. This makes the competition stiff for the rather bare-bones Sony. However, that doesn’t mean that Sony doesn’t deliver a capable Blu-ray player for the dollar.

The BDP-S360 ($300) is Sony’s newest entry-level offering, and it supports Blu-ray’s full interactive capabilities. This includes BD-Live via its Ethernet connection and Bonus View picture-in-picture. This year, Sony will also release the BDP-S560 ($350), which builds on this platform by adding wireless Internet connectivity and a front-panel USB port.

Kris Deering Posted: Jun 01, 2009 0 comments
Price: $400 At A Glance: Extremely responsive • Fast load times • Pandora and Netflix streaming • Full interactivity and audio decoding • Wireless Internet connectivity

Samsung has delivered some solid Blu-ray offerings in the past. The company hasn’t been shy about including high-end video processing, and it’s quick to adopt new features for its lineup. The new BD-P3600 is no exception. It comes with $100 tacked onto its price tag compared with the other players in this roundup, but you may find some interesting features that are worth the investment. At $400, it’s the most feature-laden player of this group and includes onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, 7.1-channel analog outputs, Netflix streaming, and Wi-Fi connectivity.

The BD-P3600 is a very sleek-looking player that takes a minimalist approach to aesthetics. The front panel is jet black, and only the tray is obvious. It also has a garish-looking sticker that flaunts the player’s advanced features. Personally, I’m a silkscreen guy when it comes to logos. I think manufacturers should skip the cheap-looking stickers on their players’ front panels.

Kris Deering Posted: Mar 04, 2009 0 comments
Price: $2,000 At A Glance: BD-Live, storage included • Outstanding build quality • Great DVD playback • Full advanced audio decoding • Limited HD video processing • Average load times

Elevating the Blu-ray Standard?

Sony’s Elevated Standard (ES) products have long been at the respected upper end of the company’s product line. I remember Sony’s early ES DVD players were the cat’s meow in terms of solid video performance and features. If you wanted reference-quality DVD playback early on in the format, you wanted an ES player. Now Sony has delivered two ES branded Blu-ray players. For this review, I’m going to look at its new flagship, the BDP-S5000ES.

Kris Deering Posted: Feb 23, 2009 0 comments
Price: $400 At A Glance: Netflix streaming • Average usability • BD-Live support • Outstanding HD and SD video processing by Silicon Optix HQV

Streaming in Blu

Samsung was the first consumer electronics company to bring a Blu-ray player to market. Since then, the company has released quite a few players with varying degrees of performance. With the BD-P2500, Samsung delves into another market for the first time—video on demand. In the January issue, I reviewed the LG BD300, which was the first player to incorporate Netflix streaming capabilities. The BD-P2500 brings this same feature to the fold and includes some other features that the LG lacks.

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