As far as source devices in your home theater are concerned, nothing is as good as a Blu-ray player and Blu-ray discs. These discs offer superior picture and sound quality over high-definition broadcast, cable, or satellite TV as well as all online streamed and downloaded content. Best of all, many Blu-ray players are well under $200.
The basic digital performance of most Blu-ray players is about equal—the differences lie in the analog-audio outputs (if any) and the feature set. All of them can play Blu-ray discs as well as DVDs and audio CDs and all the various recordable formats, but some also play the high-resolution audio discs known as SACD and DVD-Audio, which isn't important unless you're a diehard audiophile. Many players can also play 3D Blu-ray discs, and some of those players have two HDMI outputs, which is important if your AV receiver cannot pass 3D video information from the player to the TV. In this case, you connect one of the outputs to the receiver for audio and the other output directly to the TV for video.
Even though Blu-ray discs are the best available source of audio and video content, many people also like to access online-streaming material, perhaps because they don't have something on disc, or it's just more convenient sometimes. Many Blu-ray players include a suite of streaming apps that provide access to YouTube, Netflix, Vudu, and many other online providers. If this is important to you, make sure the player you're considering provides access to the online sources to which you've subscribed. To facilitate online streaming, many players provide WiFi as well as an Ethernet port, but I always recommend using a hard-wired Ethernet connection if possible because it's more reliable for media streaming than WiFi.
Another application for Ethernet and WiFi is streaming content from computers and other servers connected to your home's local-area network. In this case, the player needs to be compatible with the DLNA (Digital Living Network Association) standard.
All players can upscale lower resolutions, such as standard-def DVDs, to 1080p, and some do it better than others. And some players now provide upscaling to Ultra High Definition (UHD), which has a pixel resolution of 3840x2160—four times the number of pixels in conventional high definition (1920x1080). This is often called "4K," which is a marketing misnomer, but the term has stuck, so you will see often see "4K upscaling" touted as a feature. It's not important unless you have a UHD (4K) display, which already upscales HD to UHD, so I wouldn't worry about this particular feature.
The Blu-ray players in this buying guide were selected as the best models available in 2013 by consulting various review outlets such as CNET and Consumer Reports as well as AVS reviews and owner threads and a special call out to members for their top picks.
This relatively inexpensive player is very highly regarded by many AVS members, and it offers many great features, including 3D, 2D-to-3D conversion, SD-card slot and USB port, many online apps, a web browser, built-in WiFi, DLNA compatibility, and Miracast, which lets you stream content from an Android mobile device. It's also a Consumer Reports Best Buy. But it has no analog-audio outputs (not a big deal in my book), and CNET's review reports that the player displays undefeatable ads while browsing for new apps.
Scott Says: That many AVS members can't be wrong, but beware of the extra ads.
At about the same list price as the Panasonic DMP-BDT230, the Sony BDP-S5100 is another AVS favorite among budget Blu-ray players, and it's also a Consumer Reports Best Buy—and according to CNET, it doesn't push unwanted ads at you. Otherwise, it has most of the same features, including 3D, 2D-to-3D conversion, USB port (no SD-card slot), many online apps, web browser, built-in WiFi, DLNA compatibility, and an iOS/Android app called TV SideCast that lets you stream content from an iOS or Android mobile device. Like the BDT230, the S5100 has no analog-audio outputs, but unlike the Panasonic, it can play SACDs. I've seen it online for as little as $80.
Scott Says: This is a superb budget-friendly Blu-ray player, especially at the deep discounts being offered these days.
Many gamers already have a PS3, and most of them realize they also have one of the most highly regarded Blu-ray players ever—in fact, the latest version is the only product in CNET's current list of best Blu-ray players. Now in its fifth generation—dubbed Super Slim—the PS3 is available in three configurations with 12 GB of solid-state storage or 250 or 500 GB of hard-disk space. That storage capacity lets you download movies, TV shows, and games from the PlayStation Store in addition to streaming from a variety of online sources.
The PS3 is a killer Blu-ray player with 3D, WiFi, DLNA, a web browser, USB ports, SACD playback, and an optional breakout cable with component-video and left and right analog-audio outputs. As in previous generations, there is no IR sensor for conventional remotes (its remote uses Bluetooth), and the Cross-Media Bar (XMB) user interface is definitely not my favorite.
Scott Says: If you're a gamer as well as a movie buff, the PlayStation 3 is a no-brainer—it's two of your favorite devices in one!
Another fave among AVS members is the Sony BDP-S790. It offers all the features of the BDP-S5100 and adds several more, such as dual HDMI outputs, left and right analog-audio outputs (no multichannel 5.1 or 7.1 analog outs), Skype video chat with optional webcam, and UHD/4K upscaling. It also provides a special noise-reduction circuit that cleans up highly compressed online content. I've seen it online for as little as $175.
Scott Says: A fine player from a fine company, with lots of great features, especially dual HDMI outputs and noise reduction for online content.
This player has most features of the more-expensive Oppo BDP-103, including true universal playback of Blu-ray 2D and 3D, DVD, CD, SACD, and DVD-Audio along with a variety of audio and video file formats from a USB device or a LAN-connected server via DLNA. Also like the Oppo, it incorporates a Marvell Qdeo video processor. On the other hand, the Pioneer has no analog-audio outputs, nor does it provide UHD upscaling, and a WiFi adapter costs extra. Still, it's a great player, and it can be found discounted for as little as $200! If you have a compatible Pioneer receiver, the BDP-62FD incorporates proprietary technologies to enhance the quality of compressed audio and video.
Scott Says: If you want performance and features that mostly rival the Oppo BDP-103 for less, this is it—an especially good choice if you have a compatible Pioneer receiver.
The BDP-103 is one of the few truly universal players that can play any shiny 5-inch disc you put into them, including Blu-ray (2D and 3D), DVD, CD, SACD, and DVD-Audio in addition to various file formats from a USB device or LAN-connected server via DLNA. It provides 2D-to-3D conversion, dual HDMI outputs, 7.1-channel analog-audio outputs, lots of streaming apps, WiFi, and UHD upscaling as well as HDMI and MHL (Mobile High-definition Link) inputs, which lets you connect other devices as additional sources. The Marvell Qdeo video processor is one of the best in the business, and a dual-core CPU makes for very fast load times. And unlike most Blu-ray players on the market today, it's built like a tank.
A new version of the BDP-103, called the BDP-103D, incorporates Darbee video-enhancement technology for $100 more than the base model. Darbee processing does a great job enhancing an already superb image, so unless you already have a standalone Darbee Darblet, the extra $100 is worth it.
Scott Says: As Blu-ray players go, the BDP-103 expensive, but it's just about everyone's favorite, and with good reason. In fact, it's my reference player.
This is the BDP-103 on audio steroids. It has all the features of the 103 with upgraded analog-audio outputs (including stereo XLR balanced outs) and an ESS Sabre32 DAC (digital-to-analog converter) that can also be applied to an incoming USB datastream.
Scott Says: If you're an audiophile for whom money is no object, this is the best of the best.