When I compiled Which Blu-ray Player for You? a year and a quarter ago, in March 2008, the world of home video was just getting used to the idea that one of the two competing high-def disc formats had abruptly emerged as the winner over the other, Blu-ray over HD DVD. Blu-ray as a commercial reality was not yet mature, truth to be told. One reason was the relative dearth of Blu-ray titles, along with their high prices compared with the established DVD format. A second reason was that Blu-ray players were generally super-expensive, and most of them lacked features and amenities that everyone knew were in the offing.
$375.00 - $399.95
Excellent image quality on Blu-ray movies; integrated 802.11n WiFi; Netflix, YouTube, and CinemaNow video streaming; superfast disc loading; plays music, videos, and pictures off a connected USB drive or over network; BD-Live Profile 2.0 compatible; onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio; 7.1 analog outputs; 1GB onboard memory
but: Costs as much as a Sony PlayStation 3 combination Blu-ray-player and video game machine; CinemaNow doesn't stack up to Amazon Video On Demand.
Most new movies that come out on DVD are being released on Blu-ray on the same day, and studios are gradually releasing BDs (Blu-ray discs) of their popular titles from the past. For a list of upcoming Blu-ray releases, click here. For another list of Blu-ray releases that you can already buy, click here. (A trivia question: what was the first Blu-ray Disc release, and when did it happen? Answer: The Funny Guy Collection (Napoleon Dynamite, Office Space, Young Frankenstein), on May 12, 2006.)
Also, the latest Blu-ray players all have the full complement of features and amenities anyone could expect.
Sony PlayStation 3
$309.95 - $399.99 (40 GB)
In addition to its ability to play PS3 video games: plays BD-Live Profile 2.0 Blu-ray discs; plays DVDs; onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio; built-in Wi-Fi, 40GB hard drive; 1080p/24 video output via HDMI 1.3; upconverts DVDs to 1080p; networking via Ethernet or WiFi
but: No bitstream Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio output; ease of use requires separate purchase of Sony Bluetooth-compatible video remote; glossy black finish is a fingerprint magnet
I've been piping a high-def picture from my Sony PlayStation 3 game console/Blu-ray player into a Samsung 52" 1920x1080p "Full HD" LCD HDTV since late last year, and I can attest that until you've seen a movie in Blu-ray high-def, you haven't really seen the movie on home video.
Unique design, can be wall-mounted; excellent image quality on Blu-ray movies; Wi-Fi USB dongle included; Netflix and Pandora streaming; superfast operational speed and disc loading; BD-Live Profile 2.0 compatible; onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio; 1GB onboard memory; streams media off connected PC
but: Costs more than a Sony PlayStation 3; unusual design won't fit all decors; compartment for connectivity is cramped; PC streaming setup is difficult
Also, state-of-the-art Blu-ray allows movies to be shown at their native 24 frames per second, whereas DVDs are stuck with 60 fps. The latter might seem to be better, because the number is greater. But 24-fps movies have to be compromised to get 60 displayable TV frames per second out of them, by means of a technique called "3:2 pulldown." That's geek-speak for some of the information from a given film frame being repeated in different video frames. That happens in herky-jerky fashion, such that some of the frames of the "interlaced" 60-fps TV picture wind up coming from different — frequently, mismatched — film frames. Result: a mess.
$248.70 - $299.99
BD-Live Profile 2.0-compatible; excellent video quality on most Blu-ray movies; onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio Essential (DTS-HD Master Audio Essential differs from standard DTS-HD Master Audio in that it lacks decoding for a few legacy DTS DVD soundtrack formats such as DTS 96/24, ES, ES Matrix, and Neo:6. It still decodes all the high-resolution Blu-ray DTS soundtracks)
but: Cannot access streaming video services such as Netflix; no Wi-Fi option; no eject button on the remote; relatively slow load times; recessed USB port
So, why wouldn't you want to invest in Blu-ray?
Well, the obvious reason remains price. We would all like to see cheaper players — and they're coming. When the computer chips and the fancy blue-laser assembly that make up the guts of the player are manufactured in sufficient volume, costs will drop. The same thing happened with DVD: prices were high until chips were cheaper. (The red laser used by DVDs was already cheap, since CDs had used red lasers since the early 1980s. And, by the way, all Blu-ray players also incorporate red lasers, to play DVDs!)
DVD players got cheaper faster because (as noted above) all TV households could use them to reasonably good advantage. True, few TVs were widescreen in 1997, when DVD hit stores, but most consumers had as yet no idea their old 4:3 TVs were becoming obsolete. Today, everyone knows digital HDTVs are the state of the art. Lots of people haven't upgraded yet, but they know it's only a matter of time until they do. When and as they do, a Blu-ray player will suddenly seem mandatory for the bulk of them.
Blu-ray disc prices? They're all over the map right now. If you click here, you can check out all of the BDs sold at Amazon.com, sorted supposedly by price, low to high. (The number of results is at this moment fully 3,960, but I assume this number is inflated by some X-factor that I can't guess.) I find that Amazon's price sorting leaves something to be desired, but clearly there are numerous Blu-ray titles available for under $20.00. Many are under $15.00, and quite a few are under $10.00! An example: you can get hot titles like The Dark Knight, complete with BD-Live interactivity and an iPod-compatible "digital" version of the movie, for $23.99 instead of the $35.99 list price.
$223.00 - $311.02
Streams Netflix and YouTube; BD-Live Profile 2.0 compatible; onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio Essential (lacks decoding for legacy DTS DVD soundtracks such as DTS 96/24, ES, ES Matrix, and Neo:6); relatively quick load times
but: Competitors offer better image quality on Blu-ray and DVD; no WiFi option
$349.00 - $399.95
Excellent image quality on Blu-ray movies; Wi-Fi USB dongle included; Netflix and Pandora streaming; superfast operational speed and disc loading; BD-Live Profile 2.0 compatible; onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio; 7.1 analog outputs; 1GB onboard memory; streams media off connected PC
but: Costs as much as a Sony PlayStation3; front-panel controls are located on top of player; PC streaming setup is difficult
Some of the latest player models support DTS-HD Master Audio Essential, an audio codec that differs from standard DTS-HD Master Audio in that it lacks decoding for a few legacy DTS DVD soundtracks formats such as DTS 96/24, ES, ES Matrix, and Neo:6. DTS-HD Master Audio in all its lossless, 7.1-channel glory is, needless to say, still supported. This is a cost-saving measure, since it is cheaper to build a player that lacks the chips to decode the legacy formats.