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Netflix is booming. Hulu is thriving. In this era of fast internet connections and robust video streaming, you may question the need for optical discs. But DVDs and Blu-ray discs still offer some great advantages, and you shouldn’t abandon this type of technology just yet.
To make the most of your optical discs, you need a Blu-ray player. This device offers backward compatibility with older disc technologies, making it quite a versatile piece of equipment. You don’t even need Blu-ray discs to watch movies on a Blu-ray player. Just pop in a DVD, sit back, and enjoy.
At Best Reviews, we love movies. That’s why we took the time to research the Blu-ray market and create this shopping guide. We want to help you find the very best Blu-ray player for your needs.
You can count on us to provide unbiased reviews because we never accept free samples from manufacturers. We buy products online and off of store shelves, just as you do. We scrutinize them for quality, durability, and other defining features. We want to be your go-to site for honest, trustworthy product recommendations.
If you’re ready to buy a new Blu-ray player, please see our product matrix, above, for our specific recommendations. If you’d like to learn more about Blu-ray players before jumping into a purchase, please continue reading this shopping guide.
If you have a 3D-enabled TV, you can find some Blu-ray players that include 3D capabilities. However, this is a rare feature, as 3D TV technology is still in its infancy.
The market offers two basic types of Blu-ray players:
A traditional Blu-ray player connects to your TV and plays Blu-ray discs and DVDs. It can even read CDs, should you want to play music through your TV speakers. Blu-ray discs carry 1080p HD resolution video. The HD resolution matches up well with a flat screen HDTV. If you play a DVD in a Blu-ray player, the device will “scale up” the 720p HD resolution to match your HDTV’s 1080p resolution.
An Ultra Blu-ray player works in the same manner as a Blu-ray player, but it offers higher video resolution. Ultra Blu-ray players can play 4K (or UHD) video resolution. If you own a 4K resolution TV, Ultra Blu-ray discs will match this resolution. If you place a lower-resolution video disc in the Ultra Blu-ray player, it will adjust the video to match the 4K TV’s resolution. Ultra Blu-ray players can play optical discs with older technologies, too, such as CD, DVD, and Blu-ray.
Newer Blu-ray players (including the Ultra Blu-ray variety) don’t just play back your Blu-ray discs; they offer a number of cool features that make them a valuable part of your home theater equipment collection.
The Blu-ray format includes support for multiple speaker setups. So if you have a Dolby Digital audio setup, you can use it to play back sound for your Blu-ray movie discs. You can also play music through the sound system, perhaps through an audio CD in the Blu-ray player.
With an Ultra Blu-ray player, you’ll want to make sure to use the HDMI 2.0a connection format. It provides better results with 4K resolution video than the HDMI 1.4 format. With 1080p HD resolution, HDMI 1.4 works great.
Blu-ray players can accommodate optical discs with older DVD and CD technologies. Caveat: the optical disc must be the same physical size as a Blu-ray disc. The large LaserDisc format won’t play in a Blu-ray player, for example.
All Blu-ray players should have HDMI ports on them, making it easy to connect them to a flat screen TV. But some players offer other connection ports too, including USB and memory card slots. For example the Samsung 3D in our product matrix offers two HDMI ports and one USB port. You can use these slots to connect other devices, like a music player. Or you may be able to plug in a memory card from your camera to play a slideshow of photographs on the TV.
Modern Blu-ray players provide two options for connecting to the internet: you can make a wired Ethernet connection, or you can connect via WiFi.
By connecting to the internet, you enable streaming video options through the Blu-ray player. Many HDTVs and 4K TVs offer their own internet connection capabilities now; they’re called smart TVs. This fact may leave you wondering if internet connectivity through the Blu-ray player is overkill. The truth is, some people prefer the interface and remote control of a Blu-ray player to the smart TV.
You also can stream music through your internet connection to the Blu-ray player.
If you attempt to play a 4:3 aspect ratio DVD disc in a Blu-ray player, you’ll see black bars on the left and right side of the video on an HDTV.
Although you can control many aspects of the picture through your TV menu, the Blu-ray player includes picture controls, too. Some of these controls are specific to playing back video. For example, you could choose to display the video at a 16:9 or 4:3 aspect ratio. Or, you could stop to examine a single frame in the video stream with the Blu-ray player’s frame-by-frame feature.
With a Blu-ray player and Blu-ray discs, you’ll receive full 1080p HD video quality. This is better than streaming 1080p video through the internet, because even though you’re streaming the same video resolution as Blu-ray, there will be compression algorithms applied to the streaming video.
Even if you have no desire to view your old disc movies anymore, you may still want a Blu-ray player for video streaming purposes. In fact, this is one of the Blu-ray’s best perks.
Nearly all newer Blu-ray players can connect to the internet and allow you to enjoy streamed video, such as the offerings of Netflix.
It’s great to have both disc-viewing and video streaming options available in one device. However, potential buyers should understand that streaming HD or 4K video is a time-consuming process. You need a really fast internet connection to stream HD movies at an acceptable quality level.
Using a Blu-ray disc instead of waiting for a movie to stream through the Blu-ray player eliminates the annoying stops and starts from which streaming HD video sometimes suffers.
Downloading high-quality video is also tricky if you have a limited data plan. For example, streaming one hour of HD resolution gobbles up 3GB of data. Streaming an hour of 4K resolution video requires 7GB of data. If you had a 20GB internet plan, you’d hit your data limit with one long 4K movie.
Renting or purchasing Blu-ray discs for your Blu-ray player means no worries about data limits with your internet plan. For many people, this frugal approach is the better way to go.
You could spend between $8 and $12 monthly for a streaming Netflix subscription. Individual Blu-ray discs typically cost $10 to $20 apiece. Depending on your movie-watching habits, streaming video could cost you less in the long run.
When shopping for a Blu-ray player, you’re going to encounter quite a bit of jargon. You need to understand what all of the acronyms mean before you can make the right choice.
4K: 4K video resolution is another name for UHD, which provides a resolution of 3840x2160 pixels. More pixels in video resolution equals higher quality video.
Blu-ray: Blu-ray is an optical disc technology that plays back video resolution equal to 1080p high definition (HD).
CD: CD (Compact Disc) is an optical disc technology primarily used for audio/music. There is a CD video format, but it’s rarely available.
DVD: DVD (Digital Video Disc) is an optical disc technology that usually displays video at a 720p HD resolution.
When streaming a DVD onto an HDTV via Blu-ray, the unit uses software to add pixels to the video, creating what appears to be a higher-resolution video. This is called upscaling.
HD: HD (High Definition) video is the most common video resolution. It’s called 1080p resolution when it has 1920x1080 pixels. Blu-ray discs play 1080p HD resolution video. Another type of HD is called 720p HD with 1280x720 pixels, and it’s more common on DVD discs. HD uses a 16:9 aspect ratio for display, equal to what’s found on large, flat screen TVs.
HDMI: HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) is a standard that allows for passing HD resolution video from one device to another through a cable.
HDR: HDR (High Dynamic Range) is a display technology in some big screen TVs that creates brighter, more vibrant colors with a greater contrast range. Some Blu-ray players offer support for HDR. If your TV also supports HDR, you can play back Blu-ray movies using HDR.
Optical disc: An optical disc is a digital data storage technology. CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray discs all are optical discs. All are 12 cm (or 4.72 inches) in diameter and 1.2 mm thick (0.047 inches). They’re made of plastic. Microscopic pits on the disc store the digital data. The Blu-ray player then reads the pits with a laser to create the digital video on the screen.
Streaming: Streaming video is the process of playing a video from the internet. The Blu-ray player can provide the connection between the TV and internet needed for streaming. When streaming through a Blu-ray player, it will download and play the video at the same time. So if your internet connection is too slow, the video playback will stop momentarily if you don’t have enough data coming through.
UHD: UHD (Ultra High Definition) is another name for 4K video resolution. It’s equal to 3840x2160 pixels. This is the newest type of video resolution available, so there isn’t much programming yet available.
Ultra Blu-ray: An Ultra Blu-ray optical disc will play back video at a UHD (or 4K) resolution.
Upscaling: When a Blu-ray player plays a video stream of a lower resolution, the process of increasing the resolution to fit the TV screen is called upscaling. The player uses software to add pixels to the video stream to make it appear as though it’s a higher resolution.
A 720p HD video that’s upscaled to match a 1080p HDTV screen won’t have the same level of quality as a true 1080p HD video, but it will look better than true 720p HD on the HDTV.
Expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $200 for a traditional Blu-ray player. Pricier models include features such as 3D support and multiple connectivity options. That’s one of the reasons why we like the Sony Streaming Blu-ray Disc Player so much. It has a nice feature set, especially for streaming video, yet its price hovers close to the $100 mark.
For an Ultra Blu-ray player, you should expect pay $200 to $500. But again, more features equals a higher price.
Q: Should I buy an Ultra Blu-ray or a traditional Blu-ray player?
A: Remember how slowly people migrated from standard definition resolution video to HD resolution at home? You can expect an even slower migration from HD to 4K/UHD video. After all, most people are pretty happy with the quality of HD programming. And the jump from standard definition to HD was quite a bit more pronounced, in terms of quality, than the jump from HD to UHD.
So, you could choose to pay a premium for an Ultra Blu-ray player (such as the Philips 4K Ultra and the Samsung 3D in our matrix) to ensure your player will have more longevity. Just understand that there isn’t a lot of UHD video available to play on it right now. Or, you could stick with traditional Blu-ray for now — both Sony products in our matrix are excellent traditional players — and wait for prices of Ultra Blu-ray players to drop and for more programming to become available before making the switch.
Q: Can I play my DVDs and CDs on a Blu-ray player?
A: Yes. One of the best things about optical disc players is that they are “backward compatible” with older video technologies. So you won’t have to jettison your DVD collection to make the switch to a Blu-ray player. You can play those DVDs on your new Blu-ray player.
Q: What is the best way to connect a Blu-ray player to my TV?
A: As long as you have an HDMI cable and an open HDMI port on your TV, you’ll be ready to go. HDMI is the best way to send the video from the Blu-ray player to the TV, because it can carry the large amount of data required for HD programming.