What you see is no longer what you get. With the advent of Blu-ray Profile 2.0, also known as BD-Live, the content pressed onto a disc when it leaves the factory no longer represents the limit of the experience. A live Internet connection allows Profile 2.0 players to deliver extra content through the Web: everything from trivia games and extra clips to mini games. And to really take advantage of the Internet connectivity that these players carry, many manufacturers have pushed the limits even further, packing compatibility with Netflix streaming, YouTube, Pandora and other online content into the same boxes.
Though these features used to carry a hefty premium, prices have dropped in the past six months, and any first-time Blu-ray buyer today would be foolish to pass up an Internet-connected player for the miniscule savings an older player represents at this point. We’ve rounded up a few of the hottest models out there, from simple BD-Live players to those that will screen everything under the sun, to give you a taste of what’s out there.
LG BD390, $450 MSRP
LG pioneered the concept of streaming Netflix movies to a Blu-ray player with the original BD-300, so it stands to reason that the company’s next-gen solution is among the best out there if you’re looking to pull down movies via the Internet. Why spring for the new model? You’ll get CinemaNow and YouTube in addition to Netflix, and unlike the first model, this one has Wi-Fi access, which will save you the hassle of stringing a cable all the way from your router to behind your TV.
Memorex MVBD-2520, $200
Late adopters will be rewarded for their patience when this unit arrives just around the corner from now in early summer, becoming the cheapest BD-Live player you can buy. You don’t get Netflix or any other non-Blu-ray frills, but considering that $200 is presently a pretty good price for an old Profile 1.1 player, we would say it’s worth waiting.
Samsung BD-P1600, $300 MSRP
You don’t need to spend a fortune to get a connected Blu-ray player that will access Netflix; this budget-oriented model from Samsung will do it for $300. Unlike the LG BD-390, you don’t get CinemaNow, and Wi-Fi can only be enabled with a separate adapter, but you do get access to Pandora, tapping any home theater system into an endless stream of catered tunes.
Panasonic DMP-BD70VK, $400 MSRP
Home theater buffs may snicker at a VHS deck sneaking in alongside a Blu-ray player, but we think it’s just plain practical. Resolution be damned, most of us still have VHS tapes, and need a way to play them. Why not ditch the embarrassing VCR in your console and roll the same capability into a Blu-ray player? Of course, for a more 21st century experience, you’ll also have access to YouTube and Amazon Video On Demand, along with other goodies like Picasa albums, via Panasonic’s Viera Cast.
Sony PlayStation 3, $400
Penny-pinching buyers have long insisted the PS3 offers the best bang for the buck as a Blu-ray player: For about the same price as many other players, you get a cutting-edge video game system in the same box. But Sony hasn’t stopped sweetening the deal. Since recent firmware updates have enabled Flash in the built-in browser, sites like Hulu and YouTube are now yours to feed on, along with any other Flash-based video site out there.
Check out our Sony Playstation 3 Review.
Pioneer BDP-320, $400 MSRP
You might not expect to find a Pioneer box priced among these more mass market brands, but the BDP-320 makes an appeal to mainstream consumers with just the upscale features you’ll actually notice and take advantage of. For instance, it offers Pioneer’s Advanced Picture Control Suite offers perfectionists 13 different adjustments to tweak the video to their liking, and 7.1-channel audio outputs driven by Burr-Brown DACs will come in handy for connecting older surround receivers without HDMI inputs. Throw on BD-Live compatibility and you have an Internet-connected player worthy of most home video aficionados.
Sony BDP-S360, $300 MSRP
Sony has followed up its massively popular (and inexpensive) BDP-350 with the new BDP-360 for 2009, which adds internal decoding for the lossless DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD audio formats without jacking the price up any higher. Be aware that you’ll need to add a 1GB USB drive for BD-Live capability, though.
Samsung BD-P4600, $500
Why pay another $200 for Samsung’s premium player when the cheaper P1600 already delivers Netflix and Pandora? Well, for starters, look at it. Besides its shockingly thin depth of only 1.5 inches, it’s one of the few players that deviate from the standard black box archetype by opting for the silky Touch of Color design instead, and you can even wall mount it to show it off. It also comes with Samsung’s USB Wi-Fi adapter bundled right in, which runs $80 otherwise.
Panasonic DMP-B15K, $800
The world’s first portable Blu-ray player allows you to watch your Blu-ray movies at home, in the car (as a passenger, we hope), or in a hotel room. Yes, we thought it sounded like a gimmick, too – until we realized how many friends’ houses have HDTVs without Blu-ray players, meaning this device will save the day on movie night around town, time and time again. Like all of Panasonic’s 2009 players, it includes the full Viera Cast suite of online features like YouTube, Amazon Video On Demand, and Picasa.
Check out our Panasonic DMP-B15 Review.
LG BD370, $350
If $450 for the upscale BD-390 sounds a little excessive to you, stepping down to the BD370 will save you a $100 without sacrificing all that much. You’ll retain CinemaNow, Netflix and YouTube streaming, but lose Wi-Fi capabilities and 1GB built-in storage, which means you’ll need to add a (cheap) USB drive for BD-Live capabilities. All told, not a bad trade off.