We live in the digital world. And whether it’s music, movies or games, we’re getting an ever-increasing amount of our entertainment directly from the Internet. There’s a lot of appeal in buying digital – instant access, with no need to travel to a store or wait for delivery. In the case of movies, you can even buy digitally with all of the “extras” from the physical disc versions of the film included. So there’s no doubt the video and sound quality of digital downloads has come forward in leaps and bounds over the past few years. And yet, there’s still a lot to be said for buying your entertainment on disc – especially when it comes to movies and TV shows.
Blu-ray Disc is an ever-evolving format that’s the ideal way to get high-quality high definition video into your home. And while we may mostly be perfectly happy streaming our music online, a digital movie download can’t come close to Blu-ray for picture quality. Blu-ray also lets you play a movie with the latest surround sound technologies such as Dolby Atmos. You simply can’t get that with a digital download.
So yes, predictions of the death of optical discs as a format is a bit premature. If you’re got a shiny new OLED big-screen television sitting in your lounge room, you will see a difference in quality with Blu-ray. A cleaner, sharper picture and more dynamic audio are pretty much a guarantee with even the most basic of Blu-ray players. But which player is right for you?
With the arrival of 4K TVs there’s been a shift from electronics companies towards developing players for the arrival of the new 4K Blu-ray format (marketed as “UHD”). But if you’re like the vast majority of people and haven’t taken the expensive plunge into 4K yet, there’s great news for you. Blu-ray players are perfectly capable of delivering movies at cinema-like quality (many current movies are still produced at a resolution that’s native to Blu-ray) and they’re cheaper and more evolved than ever.
Five of the best
With Blu-ray now as reliable and standard as DVD, you can’t really go far wrong with any name-brand player these days. But as with all tech, you get what you pay for (at least to some extent). And if you opt for one of the cheaper players you might find yourself with less features or slower disc loading times. On the other hand, there may be features you don’t need anyway, such as 4K upscaling.
With that in mind, let’s take a quick look at five players that stand above the pack for their own reasons.
Not the most attractive kid on the block by a long way, this budget player from Laser comes with one very real (and very rare) advantage – it’s region-free. Yes, for Blu-ray discs as well! While almost all DVD players sold in Australia have been free of the dreaded region lock for many years, Blu-ray players that can play discs from all around the world have been incredibly hard to come by. This player, selling for under $100, will happily play Blu-rays from anywhere you choose to buy them.
No slouches when it comes to their support for Blu-ray players, Panasonic’s range is diverse and well designed. And this under-$100 player is a gem. With a straightforward suite of apps (including, of course, Netflix) and an HDMI cable included in the box, this player’s star attraction is its USB playback support. It will play almost anything you can throw at it, from downloaded video formats like Xvid and MKV to lossless audio formats ALAC and FLAC – and even DSD, the format used by Sony’s SACD. Amazing value for the price.
Kogan Blu-Ray Player with 4K Upscaling
Model numbers? Pah, who needs model numbers? Kogan certainly doesn’t believe in them, and let’s face it, their name for this Blu-ray player tells you almost everything you need to know! An incredibly thin and unobtrusive player, this one is about the cheapest you’ll see for a player with 4K capabilities – sitting at around the $150 mark. Along with that you get Wi-Fi connectivity, support for DLNA media servers and, incredibly, support for DVD-Audio discs, making it one of the few players left on the planet to do so.
Samsung’s Blu-ray players have the advantage of their Smart Hub system, which gathers apps for all kinds of internet-enabled entertainment in a tiny box with a distinctive rounded corner – this is one stylish-looking player. With Samsung’s own upscaling tech to bring not only Blu-ray, but also everything from DVD to photos to a 4K TV with smoothness and clarity, it’s Wi-Fi enabled and ready to go right out of the box.
Sony’s taken the “unobtrusive black box” concept to new levels with their current range of Blu-ray players, with the disc drawer cleverly hidden behind a flat black panel and no light-up display on the front at all. This is actually a good thing when you’re watching a movie in a darkened room. Winner of a 5-star award from respected UK magazine What Hi-Fi, the S6700 packs Sony’s acclaimed video processing and quality into a tiny box that can also play just about any format under the sun via the network or its front USB port. It also supports the “Triluminos” feature of recent Sony TVs. So if you’ve already got one of those, this player will better than the competition. And you can even control it from your smartphone!
Buy with confidence!
Whatever your budget, the massive advances in technology that have been made since Blu-ray was introduced mean that you’ll get a whole lot of versatility in whatever player you choose. Are higher-end picture or audio features are important to you – and, of course, faster loading of discs? Then, as a general rule, the more you spend the better results you’ll get. But at well under $200 you can get a top-of-the-line player with all the bells and whistles that’ll let you do the movies at home better than you ever have before.