Now Playing: High-Def Movies

Coming Soon: Next-Generation Players

As summer turns to fall, expect a new crop of players to hit store shelves. Panasonic, Pioneer, Samsung, Sharp, and Sony have all announced models scheduled to come out in that period. These new players will, at the very least, support the picture-in-picture capabilities of BonusView.

Some of the updated models will also offer BD-Live. As mentioned earlier, though, not all forthcoming players may have memory built in. For example, Sony bills its $400 BDP-S350 as BD-Live "ready," but that means the device will require both a firmware update and external memory to handle BD-Live features. Sony's $500 BDP-S550, due in the fall, will come with full BD-Live support and will include 1GB of memory in the player. Panasonic's DMP-BD50, expected in early summer, adds BD-Live; but this $700 player lacks the integrated memory that the Sony BDP-S550 will have.

Audio will be another area of improvement. Both of Sony's new players (its third generation), for example, expand audio output to 7.1 channels and support decoding Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus inside the player; the BDP-S550 adds on-board decoding of DTS-HD Master Audio, as well.

With all of these new developments on the horizon, should HDTV-owning movie connoisseurs hold off on buying a Blu-ray Disc player today? The short answer is an emphatic no. A Blu-ray player remains the single best way of getting a crisp 1080p image onto a large-screen, high-definition display. Even with up-conversion via HDMI, standard-definition films simply cannot come close to their high-def counterparts when it comes to showcasing color and detail: Today's technology can't replicate such information if it isn't on the disc to begin with.

I'd recommend that prospective buyers aim for a player supporting Blu-ray BonusView, at the least; I say this even though I realize that not everyone bothers to watch the extra features, or covets the picture-in-picture capabilities that BonusView enables.

If your goal is to start enjoying stellar, high-definition image quality today, our Best Buy, the BonusView-capable $400 Philips BDP7200/37, is a solid value, given its strength in producing both pictures and sound. Sony's PlayStation 3 is an excellent choice as well: Its versatility means that you can start enjoying Blu-ray movies today--and play Grand Theft Auto IV, too.

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