Is Blu-ray Worth Buying?

With stock values plummeting and your 401K on the brink of becoming a 40K, it’s getting increasingly hard to look at next-generation Blu-ray disc players as a sound investment.

The big question: While the high-definition storage format quickly ousted HD DVD for popular dominance amongst entertainment enthusiasts, at current prices, does it deserve a place in your home?

Well, it should if you want to view Blu-ray movies, at the very least. Believe it or not, there are still many people that don’t know that Blu-ray offers a truly high-definition film viewing experience, and that a Blu-ray player is needed to enjoy that movie magic. Once you can get over that initial tech hump though, there are a few other things to think about before eyeing the piggybank.

Sony Blue-ray Player
Sony BDP-S350

Will Blu-ray Last?

One reason shoppers are hesitant to jump on the Blu-ray bandwagon lies in the dust left in the wake of the high-def format war. Yes, those memories are alive and still pain many. Some users bought into both formats, while others chose sides. And although plenty of HD DVD owners still seem to use their players on a daily or weekly basis, it’s hard to ask bargain hunters that purchased a $99 HD DVD player to plunk down twice that amount on another potential doorstop.

Also, there are plenty of techies that swear Internet- or Web-enabled video download services will soon take over as the preferred method of movie watching. Apple TV, VUDU and even the new Netflix-enabled set-tops (see: Roku’s player, the Xbox 360) are just a few of the devices that could sway your spending dollars. However, there is nothing like holding that disc in your sweaty hands, along with the promise of instant gratification, without the absolute need for a high-speed broadband connection.

The bottom line: No one knows if the Blu-ray will actually survive. Like any technology, you are taking a gamble on its longevity. However, high-tech high rollers always have monkeys on their backs, and those bad boys get real hungry for cutting-edge content, an itch Blu-ray’s high-res films are happy to scratch.

Sony Playstation 3
Sony Playstation 3

Integrating with Your Home Theater

Even if you do decide a Blu-ray player makes a tempting proposition, you may start to look at your other equipment as an aging dinosaur weighing down the entire operation that is your budding home theater. While many swear that Blu-ray doesn’t deliver the same bang without a 1080p HDTV to view highlighted movies on, there are plenty of flat-screen owners happily enjoying flicks on their 720p setups. Sure, the theoretical basis for upgrading to Blu-ray is that every movie delivers that super-sharp 1080p picture. However, sometimes (especially these times) it’s just not financially possible to give all your equipment an overhaul.

The bottom line: Don’t let that deter you from taking advantage of a good deal on a player that will deliver a great image regardless of the specific high-def TV you use.

Screening High-Def Films and DVDs

If you do decide to buy a Blu-ray player, expect to spend another $30 for each movie title. It’s a tough pill to swallow, let alone afford. However, if you are diligent and scour the Web, there are always deals to be had on Blu-ray films, especially around holiday seasons. Also make sure to check eBay, Buy.com and Oversotck.com as well as throughout the year – there are always plenty of fellow users and retail outlets looking to dump gifts, impulse buys and unsold inventory.

The latest buzz with Blu-ray movies is the included interactive content, also known as BD Profile or Bonus View. This capability allows viewers to tap into extra content included on each disc, such as games, trivia questions, picture-in-picture views and other extras. Aside from superior image quality and extras, Blu-ray actually delivers great sound as well. Most machines support the latest and greatest formats, as well as 7.1-channel audio. However, there are currently no movies that support all of those channels.

Finally, Blu-ray does make all things better—even your old DVDs. Naturally, most of us won’t rush out and replace every Die Hard, Star Wars and/or Indiana Jones film with a high-def copy. Until you decide to upgrade the discs, let that Blu-ray player do the work for you. All players offer “upconversion,” which pumps up the picture quality of standard-def DVDs—to near HD-quality.

The bottom line: Blu-ray players can be pricey, but they do have their benefits, including the ability to make standard DVDs look sharper.

Samsung Blue-ray Player
Samsung BD-P1500

Picking a Blu-ray Player

The one saving grace that may put Blu-ray at the top of your wish/shopping list is that manufacturers actually want you to want this technology—so bad, in fact, that they’re willing to take it on the chin profit-wise if it means you’ll adopt the format. Early adoption and high film prices aside, the cost to buy a player is really starting to drop. Sure, you can still find a high-end Blu-ray player if you’ve got thousands to burn, but with a new season here, there are plenty of deals to be had. Here are a few of our favorites:

  1. Sharp AQUOS BDHP21U: A solid all-around option.
  2. Sony BDP-S350: This Profile 2.0 player isn’t the newest, but it’s still one of Sony’s best.
  3. Samsung BD-P1500: Remains one of our favorites, and serves as a solid starter unit.
  4. Sony PlayStation 3: Doubles as one wicked game console.
  5. Memorex MVBD2510: OK, it’s a Magnavox. No one is going to be that jealous. But if you’re on the fence, a low sticker price means it might be worth a trial run.

The bottom line: If you’re addicted to watching sports and Lost in high-def, a Blu-ray player won’t disappoint. However, if you’ve waited this long, another month or six won’t kill you. A few analysts say that deeply discounted player pricing could last for several months, especially if the units don’t start flying off the shelves soon. Still, if you find a deal in the $150 range, grab it and don’t look back. You’ll be too in awe of those HD images anyway.

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