With prices for entry-level Blu-ray players still hovering near the $350 mark, we've been anticipating the arrival of the first Blu-ray players from second-tier brands, presumably at lower prices than the major brands.
Based on first models slated to arrive, however, that's not going to happen, at least immediately. For example, Funai, a low-cost Japanese manufacturer that controls the Emerson, Sylvania and Symphonic brands in the U.S., is readying the debut of a Sylvania-brand Blu-ray player, which should arrive in a few weeks. Amazon.com is now taking pre-orders for the player, and it's priced at $350—not the bargain we imagined. And Best Buy will begin selling an Insignia-brand Blu-ray player—presumably manufactured by Funai, which makes standard-def DVD players for the retailer—on June 9th, at the same $350 price.
These prices are higher than we anticipated, particularly since Funai said at CES in January that a Sylvania model would be available this spring for less than $300. (This link takes you directly to an Adobe Acrobat version of the company's official press release.)
So we still think you should wait just a bit longer before buying a Blu-ray player. But getting a lower price is only one of the reasons. The other is that the Blu-ray technology is still evolving. For example, the Sylvania player is a so-called "Profile 1.1 model," with Bonus View (picture-in-picture) capability, but not Internet connectivity (BD-Live), a feature that will be included in upcoming Profile 2.0 players. We imagine that the Insignia model will also be a Profile 1.1 model. So far, the Sony PlayStation 3 game console is the only Profile 2.0 Blu-ray player available (and then via a firmware upgrade), although Panasonic is readying the release of the first Profile 2.0 stand-alone player, the DMP-BD50. (Click on the image above for a closer look.) That player doesn't yet have a price, and its launch is still four to six weeks away.
We fully expect Blu-ray prices to drop later this year, as the market becomes more competitive. By waiting just a few more months, you'll likely get not just a better price, but also a player containing all the features Blu-ray is capable of delivering.
—James K. Willcox