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Blu-ray players

Blu-ray player buying guide

Last updated: November 2014

Getting started

Blu-ray players are a good match for high-definition TVs, especially 1080p sets, which can display all the detail contained on Blu-ray discs. The picture quality is top-notch, the best currently available. Many new players can play 3D Blu-ray movies and regular high-def Blu-ray discs. The latest development: models that can upconvert 1080p high def to 4K when used with an Ultra HD TV. All Blu-ray players can also play standard DVDs (upconverting the video to quasi-HD resolutions) and CDs, so you can use one player for all your discs. Many new players can stream video from the Internet, providing instant access to movies and TV episodes from Amazon Instant Video, CinemaNow, Netflix, Vudu, and other online movie services.

If you have an HDTV, we strongly recommend that you buy a Blu-ray player rather than a standard DVD player. Prices for Blu-ray players now start at less than $100, but expect to pay a bit more for a major-brand player that has 3D and wireless capbility. There are already many thousands of Blu-ray titles--movies and TV episodes--on the market, and a growing number of 3D Blu-ray titles.

Portable Blu-ray players let you watch a movie anytime, anywhere--perfect for long trips or waits between flights. Though you can also play movies on a laptop computer with a built-in Blu-ray drive, portable players are often smaller and lighter and might offer more playback options. Most portable players look like small laptops minus the keyboard. They typically have a 7-to-10-inch screen (measured diagonally) with a clamshell-style cover that protects the screen when it's closed. Other models have an exposed screen like a tablet's. You probably won't appreciate the benefits of high definition on such a small screen, but if you have a library of Blu-ray discs, you might like the option of taking them on the road. (You cannot play Blu-ray discs on a standard DVD model.) Figure on spending $150 or more for a portable player.

This guide can help you sort through the various options to find the right model. While price is always a factor, also consider the features and brand. Make sure you check out our shopping advice, which should help you find the right model at the best price.

Features


Getting a Blu-ray player with all the right features will increase your long-term satisfaction and enjoyment.

3D capability

A good number of 3D-capable Blu-ray players are now on the market. When used with 3D discs, 3D glasses, and a 3D TV, they enable you to see three-dimensional images. They can also play regular Blu-ray discs, DVDs, and CDs.

4K upscaling

When used with an Ultra HD TV, a Blu-ray player with 4K upscaling can upconvert regular 1080p and 1080i high-definition content to the TV's higher 4K (3840x2160) resolution. It lets you take advantage of the TV's high resolution.

Video streaming

Many new Blu-ray players can connect to the Internet to stream movie services from Amazon Instant Video, CinemaNow, Hulu Plus, Netflix, and Vudu. Unlimited streaming subscriptions to Netflix and Hulu Plus cost $7.99 a month. Amazon's Prime subscription, which costs $99 a year for free shipping, now provides access to some of the streaming titles in Amazon Instant Video's larger pay-per-view library. Vudu and other services are pay-per-view too. Internet-connected players can also access free content from sites such as YouTube, Picasa and Flickr photo-sharing services, Pandora and Slacker Internet radio stations, eBay auctions, and others. With any player, available services and sites could change over time if the manufacturer makes different arrangements with Internet companies. You'll have to update the player's software or firmware, as needed. In most cases, this happens automatically. Otherwise, you might receive a prompt to update the software, a fairly easy task that usually requires you to go into the Settings menu. Even if you don't receive such a notice, it's worth periodically going into Setup and looking for an option that will manually update the software. The newest development: players with full browsers that allow you to surf anywhere on the Web, just as you do with your computer or smart phone. Many companies now use proprietary browsers; a few are or will be offering some models that use the Google TV platform, which includes the Chrome browser.

Wi-Fi

An Internet-enabled player has to be connected to your broadband service. All models can connect to your modem or router using an Ethernet cable, but that can be inconvenient if your player and modem/router are in different rooms. To address that need, many new players can connect to your wireless home network. Wi-Fi capability is usually built in. You may encounter so-called "wireless ready" models that need an adapter called a dongle to enable wireless connections. The adapter, which fits into a USB port, may be included with the player, or you may have to buy it separately for about $50 to $90.

BD-Live and Bonus View

All newer Blu-ray players have a feature called BD-Live that enables them to connect to the Internet to access extra online features related to a specific Blu-ray disc, such as outtakes and video games or movie trailers, from the movie studio's website. With some models, you must provide extra memory--a USB flash drive or memory card--to enable the BD-Live feature. Another way to view extra content without connecting to the Internet is via BonusView. This is a PIP (picture-in-picture) feature that displays bonus content on some Blu-ray discs in a window while the main feature is onscreen.

DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance)

Support for DLNA enables Blu-ray players to access photos, movies, and music stored on devices such as computers, smart phones, and tablets that are connected to the same home network.

Surround sound

The Blu-ray format supports multichannel surround sound. To reap the full sound experience of the audio encoded on a disc, you'll need a Dolby Digital receiver and six speakers, including a subwoofer. (For 6.1 and 7.1 sound tracks, you'll need seven or eight speakers.) Dolby Digital decoding built-in refers to a player that decodes the multichannel audio before it gets to the receiver. Without the built-in circuitry, you'd need a decoder built into the receiver or, in rare instances, a separate decoder box to take advantage of the audio. (A Dolby Digital receiver will also decode an older format, Dolby Pro Logic.) Most players also support Digital Theater System (DTS) decoding for titles using 5.1-, 6.1-, or 7.1-channel encoding. Blu-ray players support a few additional multichannel formats, including Dolby Digital Plus and DTS High Resolution Audio, higher-resolution 7.1-channel audio, and new lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master formats that are bit-for-bit reproductions of the movie's master sound track.

Most players also provide features such as multilingual support, which lets you choose dialog or subtitles in different languages for a movie. Parental control lets you lock out films by their rating code. When you're watching a movie on disc, dynamic audio-range controls help keep explosions and other noisy sound effects from seeming too loud.

Navigation

Blu-ray players enable you to navigate discs in a number of ways. Unlike VHS tapes, most DVDs and Blu-ray discs are sectioned. Chapter preview lets you scan the opening seconds of each section or chapter until you find what you want. A related feature, chapter gallery, shows thumbnails of section or chapter opening scenes. Go-to by time lets you enter how many hours and minutes into the disc you'd like to skip to. Marker functions allow easy indexing of specific sections. Blu-ray interactivity allows you to navigate the disc's menus and other content without leaving the movie.

Picture controls

The aspect-ratio control feature lets you choose between the squarish 4:3 viewing format (4 inches wide for every 3 inches high) and the widescreen 16:9 ratio. Picture zoom lets you zoom in on a specific frame. Black-level adjustment brings out the detail in dark parts of the screen image. Multiangle capability lets you see some action scenes from different angles, when used with discs that include this feature. Some players also provide other picture adjustment settings such as brightness and sharpness, but we suggest using your TV's picture controls to optimize picture settings.

A/V connections


All Blu-ray players have HDMI outputs, which carry audio and video on a single cable to your TV or A/V receiver, simplifying connections. (3D-capable Blu-ray players have newer HDMI 1.4 connections, but they don't require special cables--any high-speed HDMI cable will do.) Some players also have component-video outputs, which you might need for an older HDTV that doesn't have HDMI inputs. But players made since Jan. 1, 2011, can't send high-def signals from a Blu-ray disc through a component connection; they transmit HD only via HDMI. Older players can send HD signals through component video. All players will support at least 5.1-channel sound through the digital-audio outputs. Most Blu-ray players will also support high-resolution 7.1-channel audio from Blu-ray discs.

USB connections and memory-card slots

Many players now include a USB port or a memory-card slot, which provides the extra memory some players need to access BD-Live. This also allows you to play digital media files, such as music, photos, or videos, on your TV. Some have a slide-show capability for digital photos.

Disc capacity


Most Blu-ray players accommodate a single disc at a time. Sony has a multidisc Blu-ray player, and we expect to see more in the future. LG offers a Blu-ray player that includes a built-in hard drive for storing music, photos, and videos.

Disc formats


All Blu-ray players can play commercial Blu-ray discs and standard DVDs. Current Blu-ray players can play commercially released CDs and may play CDs burned with MP3 files. A given model might play JPEG, WMA, or video CDs, or DVD-/+/R/RW or DVD-RAM discs you've recorded. Some Blu-ray and DVD players are "universal" models that can play higher-resolution SACD and DVD-Audio discs.

Brands

Denon arrow  |  LG arrow  |  Marantz arrow  |  Onkyo arrow  |  Oppo arrow  |  Panasonic arrow  |  Pioneer arrow  |  Samsung arrow  |  Sony arrow  |  TiVo arrow  |  Toshiba arrow  |  Yamaha arrow

There are literally scores of brands of Blu-ray players across all categories, some very well known, and others much less familiar. Some manufacturers offer sets of various types, while others are known mostly for one type of Blu-ray product. While DVD players are still obtainable, they are decreasing in availability.  Here’s a rundown of some of the major Blu-ray player brands you’ll encounter, listed in alphabetical order.

Denon

Denon offers a mix of moderate-to-high-priced consumer products, including universal Blu-ray players that can play SACD and DVD-Audio music discs.  Its products generally offer advanced features, especially those that target audiophiles.  

LG

LG, now a major consumer-electronics brand, sells a full line of video players at a wide range of prices.  

Marantz

Marantz is a higher-end audio/video consumer-electronics brand that offers full-featured products in the middle-to-higher price ranges, generally with features targeting audiophiles.  Many of its models are universal players that can play SACD, DVD-Audio discs and stream video.

Onkyo

Onkyo sells a mix of moderate-to-higher-priced consumer electronics, including 3D Blu-ray. Its products typically offer step-up features compared with more mainstream models. The company also operates a higher-end brand, Integra.

Oppo

This smaller company now offers 3D Blu-ray players with advanced video-processing technology and 4K upscaling. All its Blu-ray players are "universal" models that can play all disc types, including SACDs and DVD-Audio music discs.  Its products are Roku-ready, meaning they can accept an optional Roku Streaming Stick that plugs into the player's MHL-enabled HDMI input.

Panasonic

Panasonic is a top-tier consumer-electronics manufacturer in multiple product categories. Its various Blu-ray products have typically been midpriced and widely available. 

Pioneer

Pioneer typically markets to the step-up consumer, particularly with its higher-priced Elite series, which generally has limited distribution.

Samsung

Samsung is a top-tier manufacturer in several product categories. It's often an innovator, as it was one of the first to include a Blu-ray player in a home-theater-in-a-box system and among the first to offer a 3D-capable Blu-ray player with 4K upscaling for UHD TVs.

Sony

Sony is a major consumer-electronics manufacturer in many product categories and has a broad selection of Blu-ray products, including 4K upscaling models for its UHD TVs. 

TiVo

TiVo is the last remaining company selling stand-alone high-definition DVRs. It offers several models, and all require a monthly subscription fee. TiVo's interface is widely acknowledged for its ease of use, and it's licensed by some cable and satellite providers. TiVo DVRs have access to Internet content, including streaming movies and music from services such as Netflix and Pandora. Programs stored on a TiVo can be transferred to notebook, desktop PC, iPad, iPhone, and Android devices using the TiVo boxes and the TiVoToGo service. Networked TiVo DVRs also allow subscribers to enjoy multiroom viewing.

Toshiba

Toshiba has a full line of Blu-ray and 3D Blu-ray players with 4K upscaling. 

Yamaha

Yamaha, a brand long associated with music and entertainment, sells a midpriced line of 3D Blu-ray players.

Shopping tips

Here are some issues to consider.

Don't even think about getting a DVD player for an HDTV

DVD players may cost a little less, but it's worth the money to get the improved picture quality that Blu-ray players offer, especially since prices have dropped below $100. A high-def Blu-ray disc contains more picture data than a DVD, so images look more detailed and lifelike. You'll see the benefits of a Blu-ray player most on a 1080p HDTV, which can display all the pixels in an image, but you can appreciate the added detail on a 720p TV. If you buy a player with streaming video capability, you'll also have access to countless movies and TV episodes online, usually for a fee (either a subscription or pay-per-view). For the ultimate in future-proofing, check out a 3D-capable player.

Consider video streaming options

An Internet-enabled Blu-ray player lets you enjoy streaming video on any HDTV; the TV doesn't need to have Internet capability. Buying an Internet-enabled player costs much less than buying a TV with Internet access, yet it can provide you with access to the same content. Players are compatible with different video services, so make sure a particular model supports the movie services of interest to you. Offerings vary by brand and sometimes by models within a brand. (In fact, if you have an Internet-connected TV that doesn't offer a streaming service you want, you might be able to get it by buying a different brand of Blu-ray player.) The available services could change over time if the player manufacturer makes different arrangements with video providers. If you plan to connect to the Internet, determine whether you can deal with a wired connection to your home network or whether you want a player with Wi-Fi capability. Factor in the cost of an optional adapter, if one is required.

Consider audio capabilities

All Blu-ray players support 5.1-channel surround sound (some offer 7.1) and can pass along digital signals. They can also decode the signals and pass the analog output (stereo and sometimes multichannel) to a receiver or TV with analog inputs. Virtually all new Blu-ray players support high-resolution, multichannel audio formats such as Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio, though some can internally decode those signals, while others pass them to a capable receiver for decoding. To enjoy Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD, you must use an HDMI connection, unless a player has an internal decoder and multichannel analog outputs.

Streaming video with a Blu-ray player

Many new Blu-ray players have the ability to stream movies and television episodes from online services such as Netflix and Vudu to almost any TV. Here's how to use a streaming service: Hook up the Blu-ray player to your TV, preferably via an HDMI connection. Then connect the player to your broadband service--either the modem or a router, if you use one. You can use an Ethernet cable, but if your player is in a different room from the modem/router, we strongly recommend getting a Blu-ray player with Wi-Fi capability so you don't have a to run a long cable between rooms. Many players have Wi-Fi capability built-in, while some require a Wi-Fi adapter (dongle) that plugs into a USB port. If the adapter doesn't come with the player, you have to buy it separately, usually for $50 to $100 or so.

Once you're hooked up, go to the player's setup menu and select Network Settings (or something similar). If you used a cable to connect the player and modem or router, select Auto Setup or Test Connection and follow the steps. With a wireless connection, search for all available networks, choose yours from the list, and type in your password (or encryption key) using the player's remote (in some cases on an onscreen virtual keyboard). A few new Blu-ray players have a feature called WPS (for Wireless Protected Setup) that eliminates the need to enter a password. After the network is set up, you can access the Internet menu via the main menu or home screen to see what services are available. Some players have onscreen icons that can take you to specific services with one click. Note that in many cases, you have to register with a site before you can stream content, and you generally have to sign up on your computer.

With most players, you won't have unlimited Web browsing, but can only access specific sites as arranged by the manufacturer. These often include Netflix and other services, along with free sites such as YouTube. Content deals may change over time, in which case you'll have to update the firmware or software. In some cases the firmware is updated automatically or you'll receive a prompt to perform an update. Even if you don't receive such a notice, it's worth periodically going into Setup and looking for an option that will manually update the software. A player with a browser lets you surf most of the Web.

   

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