There is no doubt: The Blu-ray future is upon us. The humble DVD will soon go the way of the Betamax and VHS tape. Which means now is the time for you to buy a Blu-ray player.
If you own a high definition TV then a Blu-ray player is a must. Looking at a normal DVD on an HDTV is like listening to an audio CD through a 1930s gramophone speaker.
Even for those who don’t yet have an HDTV we maintain that a Blu-ray is a worthy investment—you’ll eventually be buying one anyway (read our review of the best inexpensive HDTV sets) and once you do you’ll have access to a host of interactive Blu-ray movie features. (What those features are exactly varies from movie to movie). Most of all, movies look considerably better with Blu-ray.
Spot Cool Stuff has run through all the mainstream consumer Blu-ray player options. Here, in our judgment, are the best:
Best Overall Blu-Ray Disc Player
The Sony PlayStation 3
You may think of the Sony PlayStation 3 primarily as a video game system but—purely as a media player, without giving any consideration its gaming capabilities—the PS3 is the best Blu-ray player on the market today.
In fact, we wonder whether Sony inadvertently produced the best Blu-ray player when they designed the PS3 because their primary concern was making a video game system. The PS3 has significantly more processing power to handle Blu-ray playback than the standalone Blu-ray players because that processing oomph is needed for video games. And because the PS3 comes with a gigbit ethernet connection—required for playing bandwidth intensive online games—the PlayStation is one of the few Blu-ray players that can take advantage of BD-Live content (Profile 2.0) that streams over the internet.
Perhaps the coolest feature of the PlayStation-as-Blu-ray-player is the PS3s ability to download Blu-ray updates over the internet and then incorporate those into the PS3′s functionality. What a lot of people don’t understand about Blu-ray is that it is still an evolving format. There’s no other Blu-ray player as future-proof as the PlayStation; the PS3 is able to evolve as the Blu-ray format does.
Besides all that, the PlayStation provides excellent Blu-ray picture quality. The PS3 is able to go from being totally shut down to playing your Blu-ray disc in about 20 seconds—faster than almost any other Blu-ray player on the market. And, oh yeah, the PlayStation 3 is a very cool looking machine.
There is one major downside, though this is easily overcome: The PlayStation 3 does not come with a remote control. Technically, the game controller doubles as a remote but the interface is very inelegant. We highly suggest buying a separate Blu-ray disc remote control.
Of course, you can also use the PlayStation to play PS3 video games (though not older PS2 ones) and to surf the internet via wifi. But it is as a Blu-ray player that the PlayStation really shines.
Pros: Superb picture quality, fast loading, free internet upgrades will keep up with latest Blu-ray technology, cool looking unit
Cons: Doesn’t come with a remote control, high resolution audio only via HDMI
Best Standalone Blu-Ray Disc Player
When we tell people that the best Blu-ray player masquerades as a video game console the reaction is often one of skepticism. A PlayStation 3, some people think, is a product only for teenage boys.
Truly the PlayStation 3 (reviewed above) is the best Blu-ray player on the market today. However, if you insist on getting a stand alone machine then your best four options are the Sony BDP-S350 and BDP-S550 and the Panasonic DMP-BD60 and BD80.
All four of those standalone Blu-ray players offer similarly fantastic picture quality (with perhaps the Panasonics having a very slight edge). The Sony models’ major advantage is their fast startup time. They go from shutdown to playing your Blu-ray discs in a nimble 25 seconds; the Panasonics take over a minute. However, the Panasonic models produce the better sound quality, which Spot Cool Stuff considers a more important feature than loading speed.
Of the two Panasonic models, the main difference between the BD60 and the BD80 is that the BD80 supports Divx and has multi-channel and analog outputs. If you are using a HDMI cable the BD80 will disable the analog signal; the BD60 will run both signals taxing its processor and reducing in a (slightly) worse sound quality. The BD80 is also built to better absorb vibrations better. Is all that worth the extra $80 a BD80 costs over a BD60? We think so. Probably. Barely.
Do note that the Panasonic DMP-BD80 doesn’t have the superlative picture quality and upgradability that the PlayStation does. But it does have BD-LIVE and costs less than the PS3. We have yet to meet some one who has had anything more than trivial complaints about the Panasonic DMP-BD80. Choose it with confidence.
Pros: Great picture and sound quality, very good value for the money, Profile 2.0 compliant
Cons: Relatively slow startup time, it isn’t the PlayStation 3
Cheapest Decent Blu-Ray Disc Player
When Spot Cool Stuff goes downmarket with a purchase we look for products that have cut out the superlative features but not skimped on the main functionality. The Sylvania NB501SL9 is exactly the sort of value we look for.
This Sylvania is about as basic a Blu-ray player as you can get. It comes with no frills except for the inclusion of a remote control. The build quality isn’t great. The load time for discs is rather long and there can be a lag in the controls. Most concerning of all, the Sylvania can’t connect to the internet, so there’s no good way to update this Blu-ray’s player firmware.
But there is one attribute at which the Sylvania NB501SL9 excels: picture quality. The Sylvania’s picture quality is nearly as good as the Panasonic BD35′s. And the sound quality is competitive too. Add those up and you see why we think the NB501SL9 the best of the inexpensive Blu-ray players.
Pros: Low price, high picture and sound quality
Cons: Lack of internet connectivity, questionable build quality, few extra features
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