Advanced Features: Slow Progress
Of the models we tested, three--the Panasonic, the Philips, and the Sony PlayStation 3--offered BonusView. Only one, the PlayStation 3, could handle BD-Live as well. Under the Blu-ray Disc spec, all players should be equipped to handle movie titles packed with fancy, complex menus (authored in BD-Java). One player, the Samsung, failed our BD-Java playback test: It refused to load Disney's Cars, so we could not watch the movie (let alone see the Java-intensive extra features); this was the case even after we waited longer than the 3 minutes that the disc itself recommends.
Beyond knowing which parts of the Blu-ray specification a player adheres to, another buying consideration is what audio codecs a player supports. All the players we reviewed output Linear PCM (LPCM), an uncompressed method of encoding Blu-ray audio. Some players have in-unit decoding for the newer lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master codecs being used for some movie sound tracks; others output audio via bitstream; and still others support only the core audio streams within the codecs (which means you're getting something akin to Dolby Digital, for example).
The advantage to having in-player decoding is twofold. First, it means you don't need to use a receiver that supports these relatively new codecs; your five-year-old mainstay receiver should do just fine. Second, thanks to in-player decoding, you'll be able to hear both the audio in the film and the audio on secondary audio-video streams (for example, the sound in a picture-in-picture commentary track). Today's receivers aren't equipped to handle decoding both audio signals, so having a player that can do so is very useful.
In-player decoding of the lossless audio codecs remains fairly rare, though. Of the models here, only the Samsung and the Sharp support Dolby TrueHD. And no model we tested decoded DTS-HD Master audio within the player. Several of the units--the Panasonic, the Samsung, the Sony, and the Pioneer--output the lossless audio codecs via bitstream to an external receiver.