Blu-ray Player Buying Guide

Streaming movies and TV shows has become an increasingly popular pastime, but there are still good reasons to consider buying a regular Blu-ray player or an Ultra High Definition (4K) model. Standard Blu-ray players often cost less than $100, and most models now include the ability to stream from several widely used online services, such as Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix. Ultra HD players are still a bit pricier, but you can now buy a decent model for less than $200, and more 4K content is becoming more available.

Regular Blu-ray players are a good match for high-definition TVs, offering the best 1080p picture quality available. Most have built-in WiFi for connecting to your network. Some models still offer 3D capability. For movies on the go, there are still a few portable models that have rechargeable batteries. Some models come with AC and car battery adapters.

But now that prices have fallen, you should consider a new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player if you have–or are thinking about buying–a 4K TV. A UHD Blu-ray player—paired with a high-performing UHD TV—will provide the best picture quality—and sound—available today, and it will futureproof you for the time when most programming is offered in 4K. The models we’ve seen so far all support high dynamic range (HDR) content, which can greatly enhance contrast and provide specular highlights, such as the glint of sunlight off a metallic object.

All types of Blu-ray players can also play standard DVDs and CDs, so you can use one player for all your discs. Some models may support other types of specialized discs, such as audiophile Super Audio CDs (SACDs).

Shades of Blu

There are now two types of Blu-ray players, regular and Ultra. Here's how to choose. 

An Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player.

Blu-ray Players

If you have an HDTV, we strongly recommend that you buy a Blu-ray player rather than a standard DVD player. You’ll pay only a little bit more, and you’ll get the improved picture quality that Blu-ray players offer. (Blu-ray players also play DVDs and CDs.) 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.

Some models include a feature called 4K upscaling, which means the player will take 1080i and 1080p content and upconvert it to quasi-4K resolution when used with a 4K UHD TV. (All UHD TVs will also perform this upconversion, so it’s not an essential feature, but the Blu-ray player may do a better job.) However, there are now 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray players that can present true 4K images with 4K TVs.

Blu-ray Player Ratings
A Samsung 4K ultra HD Blu-ray player.

4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Players

A 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player is the way to go if you have, or plan to buy, a 4K UHD TV. These new players offer the best picture quality you can get today, with 4K (3840x2160) resolution—four times that of a standard Blu-ray player. These newer players also support a wider range of color and have high dynamic range (HDR) capability, which can greatly improve contrast between the brightest and darkest images. In addition to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, Ultra HD players will also play regular Blu-rays, as well as DVDs and CDs, and most can connect to streaming video services, such as Amazon Prime and Neflix, that offer 4K content.

All 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray players support the HDR10 high dynamic range format, but some now also support another HDR format,  called Dolby Vision. But your TV will also have to support Dolby Vision for this to work.

In addition to playing 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, all Ultra Blu-ray players will also upconvert standard HD Blu-rays to quasi-4K resolution, something the TV can do as well.

Blu-ray Player Ratings

Blu-Ribbon Features

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

Playing Nice: Audio and Video

Audio/Video Connections
All regular and 4K Blu-ray players have HDMI outputs, which carry audio and video on a single cable to your TV or A/V receiver, simplifying connections. Regular Blu-ray players have HDMI 1.4 outputs, but newer 4K Ultra HD models have HDMI 2.0 outputs. Those that support HDR require HDMI 2.0a connections. Some Blu-ray players may have composite (yellow, red, and white) RCA connections for use with older gear.

In addition to HDMI outputs, many players also have digital optical or digital coaxial audio connections, or both. These support multichannel audio, as well as stereo. Some models may also offer stereo RCA connections for use with older stereo gear.

Video Streaming Options
An internet-enabled Blu-ray or Ultra HD player lets you enjoy streaming video on any HDTV; the TV doesn’t need to have internet capability. 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 WiFi capability; most models these days offer it.

Audio Capabilities
All Blu-ray players support 5.1-channel surround sound, and many offer 7.1-channel audio from Blu-ray discs. Almost 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 the signals and 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. Some new models support Dolby Atmos or DTS:X immersive audio soundtracks found on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray discs.

Blu-ray Brands

There are scores of brands of Blu-ray players across all categories, some very well known and others much less familiar. Some manufacturers offer products of various types, and 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 offers a mix of moderate- to high-priced consumer products, including universal Blu-ray players that can play Super Audio CD (SACD) and DVD-Audio music discs. Its products generally have advanced features, especially those that target audiophiles.
LG, now a major consumer-electronics brand, sells a full line of video players at a wide range of prices.
Magnavox, a brand currently controlled by Funai, typically makes value-oriented regular and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray players.
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 Super Audio CDs (SACDs) and DVD-Audio discs, and stream video.
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.
Earlier this year, Oppo disappointed audiophiles and videophiles looking for top-notch performance with the news that it will no longer make regular or Ultra HD Blu-ray players.
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 typically markets to the step-up consumer, particularly with its higher-priced Elite series, which generally has limited distribution.
Samsung is a top-tier manufacturer in several product categories. It's often an innovator; 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 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.
Toshiba has a full line of Blu-ray and 3D Blu-ray players with 4K upscaling.
Yamaha, a brand long associated with music and entertainment, sells a midpriced line of 3D Blu-ray players.
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