As most AVS Forum members know, Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray discs offer the best image and sound quality available, far surpassing any streaming or broadcast source. Of course, enjoying that quality requires a Blu-ray or UHD Blu-ray player, but how do you select the one that’s best for you?
Here are some things to think about as you consider your options:
1. Blu-ray or Ultra HD Blu-ray?
– Blu-ray players can play Blu-ray discs (high-def 1080p) as well as DVDs (standard-def 480p) and audio CDs; some can also play other disc formats.
– Many modern Blu-ray players can upscale Blu-ray and DVD content to 4K/UHD.
– Many modern Blu-ray players can play 3D Blu-ray discs.
– UHD Blu-ray players can play UHD Blu-ray (UHD 2160p, usually with high dynamic range and wide color gamut), Blu-ray, DVD, and audio CDs; some can also play other disc formats.
– UHD Blu-ray players have started to become available only this year, yet they cost far less than the first Blu-ray players when they first appeared 10 years ago. Still, they cost a lot more than Blu-ray players do today.
– Most Blu-ray players and UHD Blu-ray players include streaming apps.
– If you have a 4K/UHD display—or if you’re planning to buy one—a UHD Blu-ray player is the best choice.
– If you have an HDTV (1080p) and no plans to upgrade to a 4K/UHD set any time soon, a Blu-ray player will do just fine.
2. Dual HDMI Outputs
– Some players have two HDMI outputs; this is important if your AV receiver or pre/pro can’t pass 4K, HDR, and/or 3D video from the player to the display.
– In that case, one HDMI output can be connected directly to the display while the other one sends audio data to the AVR or pre/pro.
– If you have an older AVR or pre/pro that can’t pass 4K, HDR, and/or 3D video from the player to the display, get a player with dual HDMI outputs.
– Examples of players with dual HDMI outputs include all Oppo models, the Samsung UBD-K8500 UHD player, and Panasonic DMP-UB900 UHD player.
– If your AVR or pre/pro can pass all advanced video data from the player to the display, you only need one HDMI output from the player to the AVR or pre/pro, so any player will be fine.
3. Image Processing
– Some players include image processing, such as edge enhancement.
– In most cases, it’s best to disable these functions.
– One exception is Darbee image enhancement; if a player includes this feature, most people find that it actually improves the image.
– Examples of players with Darbee processing include the Oppo BDP-103D and BDP-105D Blu-ray players.
– The Panasonic DMP-UB900 UHD Blu-ray player has a tone-mapping control that lets you adjust the HDR output to match the capabilities of the display; this is very handy, and it works well.
4. Streaming Services
– Many Blu-ray players and all UHD Blu-ray players include streaming apps, but their capabilities differ.
– For example, the Samsung UBD-K8500 UHD Blu-ray player can stream 4K Amazon content with HDR, Netflix at 4K only (no HDR, even though it’s available with certain titles), and Vudu at 1080p only (even though Vudu offers 4K/HDR content).
– Unfortunately, the specific capabilities and limitations of each app in a given player are difficult to determine in advance; for the most part, you discover what they are when you access the service and/or play a specific title from the player.
– I often recommend that you get a player with different streaming apps than other devices in your system (TV, streaming box, etc.); this gives you the most variety.
– Most devices with streaming apps have some apps in common, such as Netflix and YouTube.
– Some players feature a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) and high-quality analog-audio outputs for audiophiles who want to use their analog gear for music playback.
– In the highest-end players, the outputs are balanced XLR connectors.
– Examples of players that feature a DAC include the Oppo BDP-105D Blu-ray player, Oppo’s upcoming UDP-203 UHD Blu-ray player, and Sony’s upcoming UBP-X1000ES UHD Blu-ray player.
6. Universal Disc Playback
– All UHD Blu-ray players can play UHD Blu-rays, “regular” Blu-rays, DVDs, and audio CDs; Blu-ray players can play Blu-rays, DVDs, and audio CDs. Some players can also play other formats, such as SACD and DVD-Audio, as well as recordable Blu-rays, DVDs, and CDs.
– Examples of players that can play SACD, DVD-Audio, and other disc formats include the Oppo BDP-103, 103D, and 105D Blu-ray players; the upcoming Oppo UDP-203 UHD Blu-ray player; and the upcoming Sony UBP-X1000ES UHD Blu-ray player.
7. Front-Panel Display & Controls
– Many players have controls and a basic display on their front panel; some do not and depend entirely on the onscreen user interface.
– When playing an audio disc, many owners prefer not to have to fire up their TV to operate the player.
– If you’re among them, you need a player with front-panel controls and display.
8. Game Consoles
– The Microsoft Xbox One can play Blu-rays and DVDs by installing an app.
– The Sony PlayStation 3 and 4 can play Blu-rays and DVDs by installing a firmware update.
– The Xbox One S includes a UHD Blu-ray player, as will the upcoming Xbox Scorpio when it’s released in about a year.
– The Sony PS4 Pro does not have a UHD Blu-ray player, but it can play Blu-rays, DVDs, and CDs.
9. Budget & Recommendations
– Most Blu-ray players now sell in the range from $50 to $150; any model from a major manufacturer should work just fine.
– The Oppo BDP-103 ($500), 103D ($600), and 105D ($1300) Blu-ray players are premium, well-built products that offer many extra features, such as dual HDMI outputs, dual HDMI inputs, and universal disc playback. The BDP-105D also offers a DAC and high-quality analog outputs.
– The Samsung UBD-K8500 ($400) is the first UHD Blu-ray player on the market. Buy it on Amazon.
– The Philips BDP7501 ($350) is a diminutive UHD Blu-ray player. Buy it on Amazon.
– The Panasonic DMP-UB900 ($700) is a premium UHD Blu-ray player with many excellent features. Buy it on Amazon.
– The Xbox One S ($300 for 500 GB, $350 for 1 TB, $400 for 2 TB) game console includes a UHD Blu-ray player; it often sells in a bundle with one or more video games. Buy it on Amazon.
– Oppo’s UDP-203 UHD Blu-ray player is due to be released by the end of 2016.
– Sony’s UBP-X1000ES UHD Blu-ray player is due to be released sometime in 2017.
I’m sure that AVS Forum members have many opinions about all of this, so I invite you to share them in the comments. What are your most important considerations when shopping for a Blu-ray player? What models do you recommend at different price points?