It’s official: The DVD is out. After more than a decade-long reign over the home box office, Blu-ray has overtaken it as the format of choice (albeit one still slightly behind that of digital movie downloads). The optical discs — which measure the same size as DVDs and CDS — were initially designed to supersede the DVD, winning out over the late HD DVD format and slowly becoming the household norm for watching feature-length films. Whether viewing the 3D, Blu-ray edition of James Cameron’s Avatar or the life-affirming Planet Earth, Blu-ray discs provide the optimum means of watching high-definition, 1080p content given their lower level of compression and resulting vivid picture quality. However, although all Blu-ray discs are essentially created equal, providing superior audio and video quality to that of the dying DVD, the same can’t be said for the standard Blu-ray player.
Nearly all Blu-ray players tout playback functionality for Blu-ray discs, along with the ability to play DVDs and CDs, but not all are bursting with the same set of additional features. Some bask in the multi-dimensional glory of 3D support, while others hit their stride when it comes to streaming content from Netflix, Vudo, Pandora and similar services. Prices, once exceeding $1,000 for a basic Blu-ray unit, have plummeted to a point that they are now affordable to the average consumer. The players have gotten faster too, with discs now loading much faster and menus available on the fly. While video quality doesn’t noticeably fluctuate between players, build quality and built-in features will, warranting each device more than a cursory glance on Amazon and other online retailers.
Here are our top picks for the best Blu-ray players on the market nearly a decade after the device’s initial debut. Also, check out our comprehensive Blu-ray player buying guide, our picks for the best Blu-ray movies, and our simple guide on how to rip a DVD or Blu-ray movie.
Oppo BDP-105 ($1,200)
Let’s face it, a $1,200 price tag is one tough pill to swallow. However, like the following Oppo BDP-103, Oppo’s other high-end offering, the BDP-105 is intended for only the purist of audiophiles and those looking for the best setup money can buy. The device handles a slew of audio and video formats in addition to standard Blu-ray discs, providing playback for everything from HDCD, SACD and AVCH files to MP4. MKV and DVD, whilst sporting 4K upscaling and laudable 2D-to-3D conversion. The steel chassis and aluminum faceplate are attractive, if not sturdy, and the box comes equipped with dual HDMI inputs and outputs along with MHL compatibility. Although the BDP-103 and 105 both offer unparalleled video quality at 1080p, the latter device flaunts high-fidelity audio performance like no other on our list.
The BDP-105 uses two ES9018 DAC chips — one for the 7.1-channel output and another for the device’s dedicated stereo output with both RCA and balanced XLR output connectors. Specific components aside, the sound quality the BDP-105 is capable of producing is phenomenal, creating a richly detailed and expansive spectrum of sound even when using the player’s built-in headphone amplifiers. The video quality is just as noteworthy, delivering a steady 24 frames per second with compatible displays, as is the the limited swath of available streaming content services (Netflix, Vudu, Pandora, Rhapsody, CinemaNow, etc.). Performance speed is also not an issue given the coupled dual-core processor, providing quick load times and seamless navigation for even the most impatient of viewers. Sure, nothing may top the BDP-105 in price — however, neither does any device in overall performance. Check out our comprehensive Oppo BDP-95 review to see why Oppo’s former offering garnered our Editors’ Choice award.
The best part: Performance speed, feature set, and audio quality.
Oppo BDP-103 ($500)
We’d be blatantly lying if we said there was a way to sugarcoat an extravagant price tag of $500, but likewise, we’d be lying if we told you the Oppo BDP-103 wasn’t a phenomenal, high-end device. Although you could always purchase one of the more affordable — but capable — offerings on our list such as the Sony BDP-S5100 or the Samsung BD-5900, the Oppo BDP-103 is specifically tailored for the home-theater enthusiast who desires everything in a single device. The heavy-metal construction is durable, though beastly, with a brushed-black finish and a smattering of rounded playback buttons to accompany the informative LED display. Unlike most offerings on our list, the device also features dual HDMI inputs and outputs, and includes the innate ability to play DVD-Audio discs, SACD, VCD, FLAC and a venerable host of less-accessible audio and video formats.
Additionally, the BDP-103 boasts 4K upscaling — that is, if you’re one of the select few who can afford such next-gen luxury — as well as the 2D-to-3D conversion capabilities alongside standard, 1080p output resolution. The included suit of apps is also formidable, tackling everything from Netflix and YouTube to Picasa and Vudo, while the device’s coupled dual-core processor provides ample speed and visual precision regardless of the content. Despite being an unnecessary facet for most users, the box even features a Source Direct Mode, allowing cinephiles and video junkies to easily output content to an external video processor sans any internal processing or unwanted alteration. Those features, along with the three USB inputs and stellar audio performance, render the BDP-103 a tour de force among high-end Blu-ray players. Check out our detailed Oppo BDP-95 review to see why Oppo’s former offering garnered our Editors’ Choice award.
The best part: Performance speed and feature set.
Panasonic DMP-BDT230 ($130)
Sometimes a no-frills Blu-ray player at affordable price is all one can ask for. The Panasonic DMP-BDT230 is just, a basic player designed to fit the average consumer’s budget and perform, well, as expected. Featuring glossy, flush design and a melange of onboard buttons lining the top-right corner of the box, Panasonic’s budget-based offering pushes the essentials in a trapezoid-like package. The device provides both 2D and 3D playback, along with 2D-to-3D conversion directly based on screen curvature, while delivering convenient DLNA functionality for wirelessly accessing photos, videos, music and other content stored on your PC or similar network drive. Although input and output selection isn’t as thorough as other boxes on our list, it’s enough, offering a sole HDMI out, Ethernet port, and an optical audio output.
Aside from basic disc-based playback, the DMP-BDT230 also revels in a wide assortment of streaming content services. Once properly set up, users can quickly peruse Facebook and Twitter, watch videos through Netflix and Hulu Plus, and even access a slew of games like Blackjack and Chess. Additionally, the player features a built-in Web browser and a admirable Miracast feature for streaming mobile content from Android 4.2-or-higher-enabled devices directly to your TV. Although the Miracast feature and menu system have a tendency to perform rather slow at times, disc loading does not, with the average start-up time for a Blu-ray disc hovering just shy of 20 seconds. The DMP-BDT is not trying to be a top-of-the-line player, but it’s price point and terrffic set of features certainly make it one of the best budget-based offerings currently on the market.
The part: Price and app selection.
Sony BDP-S590 ($280)
Some claim the best things in life come in small packages, and though Sony most certainly didn’t coin the phrase, we have little trouble apply the idiom to the Japanese company’s flagship Blu-ray player. The design is impeccably sleek, with a brushed-silver body that tapers down near the bottom, and a front-loading tray and single USB port housed on the front of the device. The player provides the expected full-HD, 1080p playback — along with 3D capabilities — and even handles DivX, Xvid, MKV, AVCHD and other media files with relative ease. The menu still uses the XMB-inspired layout of its predecessor (think the PlayStation 3 menu), but ditches the shoddy proprietary interface that once donned coupled apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Navigation doesn’t feel quite as intuitive or natural as it does with other devices on our roundup, but it works, and the bevy of available streaming services is vigorous enough to warrant the occasional sluggishness and borderline-horrendous load times.
Whether using an Ethernet cable or the BDP-590’s built-in Wi-Fi capabilities, users can access everything from Hulu Plus and Netflix to Pandora and Facebook, or tap content from the likes of Crackle, NPR, Moshcam and other lesser-known niche services rarely offered elsewhere. Although the device comes bundled with an ergonomic remote featuring a melange of shortcut buttons, the accompanying Sony Media Remote App touts all the same commands in addition to full Qwerty keyboard, offering a more apt solution for browsing the Web or searching for a particular movie. And who can complain about the innate ability to wirelessly stream music from the device to Sony HomeShare-compatible speakers? Check out our full Sony BDP-S590 review for a closer look.
The best part: Exterior design and hard-to-find apps.
Sony BDP-S5100 ($80)
For just a moment, try not to get too hung up on what Sony considers to be “super Wi-Fi.” Like the aforementioned Panasonic DMP-BDT230, Sony’s BDP-5100 is a budget-based solution rooted in the essentials and bolstered by a welcome set of commendable features found on nearly every device on our roundup. Garbed in gleaming, gem-esque design and sporting top-mounted controls for video playback, the BDP-S5100 offers full-HD, 1080p playback alongside 2D-to-3D conversion capabilities and DVD upscaling. Users can also control the compact device with the bundled, shortcut-lined remote or using the accompanying Sony TV Sideview app, with the latter option offering voice-search functionality and additional streaming capabilities for displaying videos, pictures, and music on the big screen.
Video quality is a knockout given the dearth of aberrations and synthetic tearing — as is it is with all devices on our list — and the device’s video-streaming library includes the likes of Neflix, Vudu, Pandora, Crackle and a swath of more than 100 other streaming apps accessible from within the player’s XMB-inspired interface. Although the BDP-S5100 also supports DNLA connectivity, allowing users to access remote content stored on their PC or network drive, it doesn’t quite perform as flawless as it does on similarly-equipped devices. Still, the Blu-ray player is known for it’s short loading times and quick animations, abetted to the dual-core processor, and users can even share what they’re watching via Facebook or Twitter if they feel so compelled. The device’s overall build could be sturdier, and the equipped output selection more extensive, yet there’s no denying the rock-bottom price and available content isn’t enticing.
The best part: Price and app selection.
Next Page: Five more of the best Blu-ray players.