Blu-ray's star is rising fast, for good reason. The high-def video format remains the best and most consistent way to take full advantage of a 1080p high-definition television. Armed with a capable player and an HDTV with a surround-sound system, you can create your own home theater paradise.
In the ever-evolving world of electronics, it can be hard to tell when to leap into the fray. While Blu-ray Disc players are not exempt from that rule, the ten current models we tested illustrate why now is a good time to jump. Lower prices, a greater movie selection (1000 titles and counting), and a wider array of extra features make Blu-ray more attractive than ever before. There's a reason why Blu-ray has enjoyed notable momentum from late 2008 and into this year, even as the full impact of the economic downturn hit.
Indeed, what a difference a year makes. The models we tested for our previous Blu-ray player review roundup cost $400 to $1000. Now, Blu-ray Disc players are also coming from Chinese manufacturers and other OEMs that specialize in producing midrange and budget-priced electronics. The trend has led to a more diverse selection of Blu-ray players, and has contributed directly to Blu-ray's breaching the $200 barrier--the point that often marks when a new technology has gone mainstream.
This time the cheapest model we tested was the $175 Memorex MVBD2510, with the $220 Sharp BD-HP21U close on its heels. The most expensive model we evaluated was Panasonic's DMP-BD55K, which was $400 at the time of this writing (close to the end of the model's life). Industry analysts expect to see a $150 Blu-ray Disc player this year--and that's not just assuming that aging 2008 models will drop in price to make room for new stock.
Among the ten models we evaluated in the PC World Test Center, we noticed a surprising trend: Yes, an inexpensive player can produce great-looking high-definition images. However, all three of the low-cost models we tried--the Insignia NS-2BRDVD, the Memorex, and the Sherwood America BDP-5003--had serious issues with upscaling standard-definition DVDs. If you plan to use your Blu-ray player for standard-def DVDs, too, you should choose a more expensive model.
The obituaries written for packaged media still appear to be premature. Blu-ray Discs not only offer a tangible good--which many consumers still appreciate--but also provide optimal visual quality.
Take, for example, what we saw from the LG BD300 and Samsung BD-P2500 Blu-ray players, both of which stream movies from Netflix. The image quality of the streams over our office's T1 connection was not even remotely comparable to that of a Blu-ray Disc. For all of the talk about streaming content from the Internet, the technology simply is not ready for mass consumption.
Industry experts agree: Recent estimates from research firm Media Control GfK International note that sales revenue from Blu-ray titles is projected to increase this year by 150 percent, to $2.9 billion. That represents about 11 percent of the packaged media sold in 2009, nearly triple Blu-ray's piece of the pie back in 2008. More people are aware of Blu-ray as a format, which has translated into sales and into more discs being released. According to DisplaySearch, 10.7 million Blu-ray players (including Sony PlayStation 3 game consoles) shipped in the format's first two and a half years. In comparison, DVD had shipped 5.4 million players (per the Consumer Electronics Association's numbers).
In addition to lowering prices, manufacturers are eliminating some of the more confusing points of differentiation among players. For example, a whopping 14 of the 19 Blu-ray Disc players introduced so far for 2009--including models from LG, Memorex, Pioneer, and Samsung--have BD-Live support for interactive content. More players these days offer on-board high-end audio decoders for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. And more models are serving as a conduit for streaming Internet-based entertainment to your HDTV: Aside from the LG BD300 and the Samsung BD-P2500, look for other streaming-enabled Blu-ray players from LG, Panasonic, and Samsung to arrive later this year.
Clearly, as prices continue to fall, the step-up cost of going Blu is less of an obstacle to shoppers, even those who are watching their budget.
In This Article
Read Our Blu-ray Disc Player Reviews
- Panasonic DMP-BD55K
- Samsung BD-P2500
- Sony PlayStation 3 (80GB)
- Sony BDP-S350
- Insignia NS-2BRDVD
- LG BD300
- Memorex MVBD2510
- Sharp Aquos BD-HP21U
- Sharp Aquos BD-HP50U
- Sherwood America BDP-5003
- Top Blu-ray Disc Players (chart)