Blu-ray Players for the Holidays

With prices falling and features increasing, now is a great time to buy a Blu-ray Disc player. Unleash the best video that you can view on your HDTV with one of these models--each of which costs under $400.

LG BD300

The LG BD300 is a feature-packed Blu-ray player with BD-Live, a USB port for viewing multimedia, and Netflix on-demand streaming. For $350, though, we expected better-looking images. In the PC World Test Center's evaluation, our judges scored the images as Good or Very Good, but we noticed some issues. For example, one of us thought certain scenes in our test movie showed too much contrast, while another judge noted artifacts in the sky.

If the price were a little lower, or the image quality more consistent, the LG BD300 would be a knockout. As it stands, it's a solid player, and for now it remains the most affordable choice if you're determined to have your Blu-ray and your Netflix, too.

Sony PlayStation 3

From the outset, Sony has billed the PlayStation 3 as more than just another game console. And this machine lives up to its promise: It's one of the most capable Blu-ray Disc players available today. The 40GB PS3 ($400) has built-in gigabit ethernet and is one of the few Blu-ray players with support for BD-Live (Profile 2.0) content that can transmit via the Internet.

Sony sells a dedicated remote control, for an extra $25. And you'll want to buy the remote: In our tests, using two hands to control basic functions was both ungainly and imprecise, and playback should be exponentially smoother.

Despite the extra cost, the PS3 remains quite a deal: You get a versatile, reasonably priced Blu-ray Disc player that can handle all of the latest BonusView and BD-Live content. Plus, you could use the machine to play games, browse pictures, and surf the Web, as well.

Samsung BD-P2500

When you first turn on the Samsung BD-P2500, you see a low-res, jagged Samsung logo. That's pretty disappointing for a $375 Blu-ray player. Fortunately, with a few exceptions, it's the last disappointing thing you'll see on the BD-P2500. Our PC World Test Center judges found this Samsung's image quality simply amazing--better than any other Blu-ray player we've tested recently.

The BD-P2500 supports BD-Live for accessing supplemental disc content via the Web, but this feature requires an ethernet connection as well as your own USB drive. Regrettably, the USB port is inconveniently situated in the back, and it supports only BD-Live, not your own media files. Additionally, commonly used buttons on the remote control are awkwardly placed. Despite those lapses, the Samsung BD-P2500 is still an excellent machine.

Sony BDP-S350

Any way you look at it, the Sony BDP-S350 is an excellent Blu-ray player. It's well designed and easy to use. It supports high-end Blu-ray features such as BD-Live. And it produces good-looking images. The judges in our PC World Test Center evaluation awarded the BDP-S350 a mixture of Good and Very Good scores, with the Very Goods seeing a slight edge. The menu includes useful explanations as to what features do. The well-designed remote control felt comfortable in the hand, but it is neither programmable nor backlit.

You can find cheaper Blu-ray players on the market, but the Sony BDP-S350 is a strong bet. This model delivers a solid all-around package.

Sherwood BDP-5003

The Sherwood BDP-5003 is one of the least-expensive models on the market today, priced at $250. Not surprisingly, the Sherwood BDP-5003 is a stripped-down, feature-free model. It lacks BD-Live and native Dolby True HD or DTS-HD Master Audio support.

Of course, such omissions might be forgiven if the unit could deliver outstanding images at such a low price. Unfortunately, at this time we can't say with certainty whether it can--some strange compatibility glitch kept the BDP-5003 from outputting at 1080p through our HDTV. If you're shopping on a tight budget, Sherwood's BDP-5003 is obviously worth serious consideration. But until we get an answer about the image-output glitch we encountered, we'd suggest looking elsewhere.

Sharp BD-HP21U

The Sharp BD-HP21U packs lots of metal--literally. It's large and heavy, so much so that you could mistake it for an old Laserdisc player. This model carries a moderate price ($280), but that gets you only a Blu-ray player with hit-and-miss image quality. PC World Test Center judges found extremes of good and bad in viewing our suite of test discs. On a few tests, one person noted that the Sharp wasn't, well, sharp; another judge said images appeared dull and flat. It did very well on some of our other tests, though.

Unlike Sharp's first-generation player, the BD-HP20U, this second-generation model just doesn't impress. The Sharp BD-HP21U does the job, but without frills and oomph.

For more information on Blu-ray, read our guide to Blu-ray Disc features and capabilities.