If it’s been a while since you purchased a Blu-ray player, strap in because a lot has changed. With the arrival of 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, there are now all sorts of new choices and models on the market, and which one you should buy may not be as simple a choice as it may seem — especially if you’re buying a player for someone else as a gift. With this guide, we aim to make the buying process as simple, easy, and enjoyable as possible.
For a head start, be sure to take a look at our roundup of the best Blu-ray players currently available. For further information, read on.
One of the first things you should do before shopping for a Blu-ray player is consider the TV you’ll be using it with. If you recently bought a 4K TV with high dynamic range (HDR), you’re going to want an Ultra HD Blu-ray player capable of supplying that TV with the best possible signal quality. Which features do you need and want the most? Which HDR version does your TV support, Dolby Vision, or HDR10 — maybe both? On the other hand, if you’ve got a 1080p TV that you plan on keeping for a few years and have no plans on upgrading, there may be no point in paying more for a player with features you don’t need.
That said, it’s worth thinking about the future. If you’re just waiting for that shiny 4K OLED to go on sale before you click the “buy” button, you might want to consider getting a player which supports the latest formats. Not only do Ultra HD Blu-ray players offer higher resolution and video quality than HD players, they also play any Blu-ray format, ensuring you won’t be out of luck if a relative accidentally buys you an Ultra HD Blu-ray copy of your favorite movie as a gift.
Whether you’re walking around a store or browsing online, one thing that will be immediately noticeable is that Blu-ray players have gotten relatively affordable. Just taking a quick look at Amazon, numerous players are available for less than $50, including models from big brands like Samsung, Sony, and Panasonic. While they’ll get the job done, you probably don’t want to end your search there just yet. These players will play discs just fine, but they might not have the features you want or even the connections you need to hook them up to your A/V receiver.
At the same time, just because a model is pricy, that doesn’t mean it’s automatically the best option. You need to spend $600 for the latest and greatest if a $250 model has everything you’re looking for.
Here are some common features that you might want to check for, depending on your needs. A player doesn’t need to have every feature listed below to be worth your money, but a quick look should be enough to help you figure out what’s important to you and what you can live without.
4K Upscaling: If you’re buying an Ultra HD Blu-ray player, this feature will likely be included, but even some standard Blu-ray players offer 4K upscaling. This takes your standard Blu-rays, and sometimes even DVDs, and applies processing to help them look sharper and crisper on your 4K TV. Note: Your TV also has an upscaler, but it’s generally good to feed it source video of the highest possible quality for best results.
HDR: This is quickly becoming standard in Ultra HD Blu-ray players, but not all players are created equal when it comes to HDR. Some players that support HDR only support it on discs, while any integrated apps can’t use it. If you’re planning to use your player to watch Netflix in addition to discs and you want HDR, be sure to check that it’s supported.
Dolby Vision vs HDR10: HDR10 is generally considered the HDR standard as any brand can use it for free. Dolby’s take, Dolby Vision, requires a license to use, but does have some advantages, including the ability to dynamically change contrast based on source. Dolby Vision content can be found both on Ultra HD Blu-ray discs and streaming services like Netflix, but just because your player supports HDR doesn’t mean it supports Dolby Vision. While it’s possible that a player that doesn’t ship with Dolby Vision might add it via a firmware update, you’ll want to be careful to check that it is supported if your TV supports it.
3D: It might not be en vogue anymore, but if you’ve got a 3D TV and Blu-ray discs that you want to watch on it, be sure to check that 3D is supported. It is usually supported on midrange players and above but budget players might not offer it.
Wi-Fi: This has become a nearly essential feature in Blu-ray players, and it’s becoming increasingly uncommon to spot a player that doesn’t support Wi-Fi, but again, if you’re buying a budget model, you’ll want to make sure it’s included. On the other hand, if you’re planning on streaming a lot of 4K content from your player, you may want to be assured that ethernet is included so your streaming isn’t limited by your router traffic.
Streaming apps: If you’ve got a smart TV or stand-alone streaming box like a Roku, Amazon Fire TV, or Apple TV, this is one feature you can safely ignore, but if you’re trying to minimize the boxes plugged into your TV or A/V receiver, you may want to look for this. You’ll also want to check the app selection to make sure any services you need are supported on the player.
DLNA streaming: This is slightly more niche, but if you have either a home media server or NAS sharing media over the DLNA protocol, this would let you listen to music, view photos, and watch movies from the player. This is one of those “you’ll know if you need it” types of features, but it’s worth considering.
High-resolution audio: If your home theater also serves as your listening room, you may want a player capable of playing high-resolution audio. Generally, this is found in players toward the higher end of the spectrum but is becoming increasingly common.
Audio connections: If you’re not running HDMI straight into your A/V receiver, you’ll want to double check the audio connections. You generally don’t want to use the analog outputs unless it’s your last resort, as digital audio over either coaxial or optical connections is preferable to analog. This can be problematic if you intend to use Dolby TrueHD or Dolby Atmos, but chances are good that you would be running HDMI into an Atmos-enabled A/V receiver or soundbar.
Dual HDMI outputs: If you’re using an A/V receiver that doesn’t support 4K or HDR passthrough but want to run an Ultra HD Blu-ray Player into your 4K TV, a second, audio-only HDMI output lets you do so without cutting off audio options like Dolby TrueHD.
In general, if you think you might want a feature in the future, it’s probably a good idea to make sure the player you’re buying has it, rather than having to replace it in a year or too. Technology moves at a fast pace, so it’s impossible to be entirely future-proof, but considering your basic needs down the line should help you find a player that will last you a good long while.
Next comes the fun part: Watching movies with your new Blu-ray player. If you need some help finding what to watch, check out our list of the best Blu-ray discs to show off your home theater, or if you’re sporting a new 4K Blu-ray player, our list of the best 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays.
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