Six Top Blu-ray Players
Blu-ray players have come a long way in five years. With Internet streaming picking up steam, Blu-ray players have evolved from simple receptacles for video discs to one of the most convenient ways to add the Internet to your television, too. After all, as more and more video entertainment arrives over the Internet, you need an easy way to watch such services--Hulu Plus, Netflix, and others--on your television.
That means either buying an Internet-capable HDTV or picking up a connected Blu-ray player--and the latter has the advantage of being dramatically cheaper. You also get the benefit of playing Blu-ray Discs, which still offer the best-quality video and surround sound that you can find outside a real movie theater. Here are six great players to consider.
LG BD670: Superb Image Quality and Disc Bookmarking
Best for: Bookmarking enthusiasts and anyone concerned about high image quality
The BD670 does something rare and wonderful. Any Blu-ray player can bookmark a disc so that you can return to the same spot later--provided that it's a Blu-ray Disc that specifically supports bookmarking (most don't). But the BD670 can save up to nine bookmarks for any Blu-ray disc or DVD. Unfortunately, the bookmarks disappear when you change discs.
Sony BDP-S780: A Slew of Internet Services and a Web Browser
Best for: Anyone who values Internet-streamed entertainment and flexible 3D settings
The BDP-S780 comes with a huge selection of Internet services. In addition to the usual Hulu Plus, Netflix, and YouTube, this player has four pay-per-view services (Amazon, CinemaNow, Video Unlimited, and Vudu). It also gives you Blip.tv, Digital Cinema Concert Series, Dr. Oz: Tips For Healthy Living, Facebook, NHL Vault, and Skype, among many others. The Gracenote service is especially useful, as it allows you to interact with Gracenote's cloud database to get information on what you're currently watching or hearing. Sony promises to add even more services.
Be warned, though, that this player comes with a hefty price: $230.
Samsung BD-D5700: A Spectrum of Internet Services, and a Reasonable Price
Best for: Consumers who are seeking a low price and a wide selection of streaming Internet entertainment, and who don't mind less-than-stellar image quality or a lack of 3D capability
One notable feature of the $140 BD-D5700 is its "Smart Hub," the central screen for accessing Internet-based services. Among the services already on the player or downloadable for free are BBC News, Hulu Plus, Netflix, Pandora, and three pay-per-view services (Blockbuster, CinemaNow, and Vudu). Samsung has said that it plans to add more apps. And the player uses its own YouTube app, a boon since the app is reasonably well designed and easy to use.
The hub is "Smart" for its ability to search and browse across multiple services. For instance, you can use the Your Video browsing tool to check out the availability of a certain movie and compare prices. Unfortunately, the Search tool is limited in scope, and it may not show all the services on which your desired video is available.
Insignia NS-WBRDVD3: Inexpensive Player With 3D Capability--and Limitations
Best for: Thrifty individuals seeking a Blu-ray player with 3D
Right now, 3D Blu-ray players don't come any cheaper than the $120 Insignia NS-WBRDVD3. However, this model's image quality and sparse Internet options make it less of a bargain. In PCWorld’s image-quality tests, the Insignia never bested the performance of our reference player, an updated Sony PlayStation 3. The NS-WBRDVD3 stumbled even more at upconverting DVDs, tending to lose detail here as compared with the PS3.
In connecting the Insignia to your network and the Internet, you’ll have access to Cinema Now, Napster, Netflix, Pandora, and YouTube--but nothing else. The NS-WBRDVD3's services don't include Hulu Plus. The player has the ability to receive updates, including additional Internet apps, so this situation might change over time.
Another limitation of the NS-WBRDVD3: You can't use it on your home network for anything other than connecting to Internet-based services. If you want to play media files off your computer, you'll have to copy them to a flash drive (or other USB storage device) and walk them over to the player.
Panasonic DMP-BDT210: A Great All-Around Blu-ray Player
Best for: Anyone desiring excellent 2D and 3D image quality and fantastic Internet entertainment, for a reasonable price
The first thing you'll notice about the DMP-BDT210 is the blue logo on the top of the otherwise normal-looking black box. This is the Touch-Free Sensor, which can open and close the tray at a wave of your hand. That function seems kind of cool at first, but your enthusiasm will soon wane, since waving your hand over the player isn't any more convenient than pressing the eject button.
The DMP-BDT210 gives you access to plenty of Internet-based entertainment services. Along with the standard offerings--Hulu Plus, Netflix, and YouTube--this player supports Skype (which requires a camera), three pay-per-view services (Amazon, CinemaNow, and Vudu), AccuWeather, MLB.TV, Napster, NHL, and Pandora. Panasonic designed the player to be upgradable, and additional services will likely appear in the future.
Vizio VBR122: Basic, Inexpensive Blu-ray Player
Best for: Someone searching for a low-priced, compact player with a QWERTY remote
As television accessories become more Internet-oriented, users are finding themselves having to enter text--usually passwords and searches--into them. A conventional remote control gives you only number and arrow buttons for handling this job, making it an annoying chore. Mobile phone remote-control apps offer an option, but they're not a cure-all.
The two-sided remote of the $110 VBR122 is a great solution. On one side, it's a conventional remote control. Turn it over, however, and you have a QWERTY keyboard. It's a simple, clean approach that works in situations where remote-control apps on a smartphone can't do the job (such as when you need to enter Wi-Fi passwords or Netflix search terms). Vizio doesn't provide iOS or Android remote-control apps--but with this keyboard, you don't need them.
The VBR122 provides a good selection of Internet streaming sources, including Hulu Plus, Netflix, Pandora, YouTube, a service called Web Videos (which contains various stations and even a local broadcast channel), and three pay-per-view services: Amazon, Blockbuster, and Vudu.
Unfortunately, the VBR122 won't let you play your own videos. And it limits music to MP3 and AAC files, and photos to JPG and PNG.
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