Before You Buy a Blu-ray Disc Player - What You Need To Know

Official Blu-ray Disc Logo with Samsung BD-J7500 Blu-ray Disc Player
Official Blu-ray Disc Logo with Samsung BD-J7500 Blu-ray Disc Player. Logo by Blu-ray Disc Association - Blu-ray Player by Samsung

The Road To Blu-ray

When DVD was introduced to consumers in 1996/1997, it was hailed as a significant upgrade from the VHS videotape format, and as a result, DVD became the most successful video product in history. However, with the introduction of HDTV, two new formats were introduced to consumers in 2006 that raised video quality bar higher, HD-DVD and Blu-ray.

The key difference between DVD and Blu-ray/HD-DVD is that DVD is a standard definition format in which the disc information is encoded in 480i (720 x 480 pixels) resolution, and Blu-ray/HD-DVD disc information can be encoded in up to 1080p (1920 x 1080 pixels).

This means that Blu-ray/HD-DVD was capable of providing a much more detailed image signal to a compatible HDTV.

Blu-ray and HD-DVD both use Blue Laser and video compression technology to achieve high definition video playback on the same size disc as a standard DVD.

However, although the underlying concept of Blu-ray and HD-DVD is the same, the way they were implemented was slightly different, resulting in two incompatible formats (remember VHS vs BETA). Of course, this means a "format war" ensued in which movie studios had to choose where to invest in terms of home video releases, and consumers had to vote with their dollars to determine what players to purchase. The result - by 2008 HD-DVD was officially discontinued, leaving Blu-ray as the "king of the hill" as the high-definition alternative to DVD, and has been with us now for about a decade.

If you haven't yet purchased a Blu-ray Disc Player, the following are key things you need to know.

Blu-ray Discs

The main purpose of a Blu-ray Disc player is, of course, to play Blu-ray Discs. In terms of availability, a large number of films and other video content available in the Blu-ray Disc format is released every week.

As of 2017, and using Amazon.com as a reference, there are over 70,000 movie and TV titles available for purchase (Disclaimer: Amazon.com is a Lifewire E-commerce partner).

Prices for Blu-ray titles are usually about $5-or-$10 more than DVDs. However, older Blu-ray Disc titles can sometimes be found priced less that some new DVD titles.

Currently, and into the foreseeable future, all major studios are releasing content in the Blu-ray Disc format, with most smaller studios joining in, resulting in continuous growth of titles. Also, most Blu-ray Disc packages also come with a standard DVD version of the movie (or TV show) as well.

Blu-ray Disc Player Versatility

Although the primary purpose is to provide a vehicle for playing Blu-ray Discs, Blu-ray Disc players have evolved into a comprehensive content access and playback system. In the Blu-ray Disc realm, many players can play both 2D and 3D Blu-ray Discs (3D TV or 3D video projector required).

However, there is more. All Blu-ray Disc players (except for a couple of very early models) also play DVDs and CDs. Also, most also function as a content access platform for audio/video content streamed from the internet or local home network (PCs/Media servers), and content stored on compatible USB devices, such as flash drives.

Additional features offered by some Blu-ray Disc players include Screen Mirroring (Miracast) , which allows you to share audio/video content from a compatible smartphone and tablet, that, in turn the sends that audio and video to your TV and audio system, and CD-to-USB Ripping, which, like the name infers, allows you to copy music from a CD to a USB flash drive.

Your Current DVDs are not Obsolete If You Switch to Blu-ray

As mentioned in the previous section Blu-ray Disc Players can also player DVDs, which means, you don't have to throw out your DVD collection - and, in fact, your DVDs can actually look better on you Blu-ray Disc player because all players have video upscaling capability. This process provides a closer match between the resolution read off a DVD and the actual resolution display capabilities of an HDTV or HD Video projector. Although it won't make your DVDs look as good as actual Blu-ray Discs (nothing is physically changed on the actual DVD), it is definitely an improvement over standard DVD playback quality.

Know the Types of Connections Blu-ray Disc Players Have

Blu-ray Disc players have an interesting connection history.

When they first came out in 2006/2007, Blu-ray Disc players offered similar options that were familiar with DVD player owners, which included some, or all, of the following: Composite, S-Video, and Component video outputs, Analog Stereo, Digital Optical, and/or Digital Coaxial Audio outputs.

However, to meet the needs of High Definition resolution output capability (up to 1080p), HDMI outputs were included.

Also, on higher-end Blu-ray disc players 5.1/7.1 channel analog outputs that transfer a decoded surround sound signal to AV receivers that had 5.1/7.1 analog inputs, were sometimes also included.

However, there is more. All players (except for some very early models) also have Ethernet/LAN ports for wired connection to a home network and the internet (most players also have built-in WiFi), and Blu-ray Disc players usually have either one or two USB ports that can be used to load firmware updates, and/or provide for one or more of the following: BD-Live memory expansion (which provides access to additional online-based content that is associated with specific Blu-ray Disc titles), access to digital media files stored on flash drives, or provide for the connection of a USB WiFi adapter for players that do not have WiFi built-in already.

Blu-ray Disc Connections and The 2013 Decision

With regards to connections, a decision was made that from 2013 going forward, it was required that all analog video connections be removed from new Blu-ray Disc players and, in many cases, although not required, some manufacturers are also opting to remove analog audio connections as well.

What this means is that all Blu-ray Disc players that are currently being sold new only have HDMI outputs for Video output, and for audio, HDMI and either a Digital Optical and/or Digital Coaxial audio output. Also, some players have two HDMI outputs which are used in cases where the audio and video need to be sent to separate destinations.

The only additional variation is that some high-end Blu-ray Disc players do provide a set of 5.1/7.1 channel analog audio outputs for use with analog-only home theater receivers or amplifiers.

Region Coding and Copy-Protection

In a similar manner as DVD, Blu-ray Disc format also has a region coding and copy protection system. This means that players sold in specific regions of the world adhere to a specific region code - However, unlike DVD, there are fewer regions and many Blu-ray Discs are, in fact, not always region coded.

On the other hand, the Blu-ray Disc format also supports enhanced copy-protection in two ways. First, the HDMI standard requires that HDMI-enabled devices be able to recognize each other a copy-protected devices via a "Handshake Process". If the handshake doesn't take place, no signals from the Blu-ray Disc player to an HDMI-equipped TV or Video Projector will be displayed. However, the "handshake process" sometimes has a false alarm, which may require some troubleshooting to correct.

Another level of copy-protection, specifically designed for Blu-ray is Cinavia. Cinavia encoding prevents the playback of unauthorized copies of commercial Blu-ray Disc content. All Blu-ray disc players made in recent years for U.S. distribution, and most made for distribution in other markets, are required to be Cinava-enabled.

You Need an HDTV to get the Visual Benefits of Blu-ray

When they were first introduced, most Blu-ray Disc players could be connected to a TV that had at least Composite video inputs. However, the only way to access to full high definition Blu-ray resolution (1080p) is through the HDMI connection, or on players made before 2013, with some restrictions, Component Video connections.

Blu-ray Is More That Just A Video Upgrade

In addition to 1080p quality video, Blu-ray Disc players can access additional audio formats that can be encoded on Blu-ray Discs (but not on DVD), such as Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Atmos, DTS-HD Master Audio, and DTS:X, and either decode internally (in the case of Dolby TrueHD/DTS HD-Master Audio) or pass those, and Dolby Atmos/DTS:X, undecoded to a compatible home theater receiver for decoding. If your receiver is not compatible with these formats, don't worry, the player will automatically detect this and default to standard Dolby Digital/DTS

The 4K Factor

As a result of the introduction of 4K Ultra HD TV, the Blu-ray Disc player concept has evolved further to meet the challenge. Starting 2012/2013, Blu-ray Disc players with the ability to perform 4K Upscaling appeared, with a good selection now available.

What this means is that if you own a 4K Ultra HD TV, you can purchase a Blu-ray Disc player that has the ability to upscale Blu-ray Disc (and DVD) content so that it looks better on a 4K Ultra HD TV. Just as DVD upscaling is not the same as true high-definition (1080p), 4K upscaling does not deliver the same visual results as true 4K, but it comes close, and in fact, for many consumers, close enough.

However, the 4K story doesn't end there. In 2016, a new Disc format was made available to consumers: Ultra HD Blu-ray. This format utilizes discs that outwardly look like a Blu-ray Disc, but the video information is encoded in true 4K resolution (with some additional color and HDR brightness/contrast enhancements ) that can take advantage of the full capabilities of compatible 4K Ultra HD TVs.

Of course, this means a new round of players and discs - but, don't panic, although you won't be able to play Ultra HD Blu-ray format discs on current Blu-ray Disc players, the new players are able to play current Blu-ray Discs (2D/3D), DVDs, (with 4K upscaling for both Blu-ray Discs and DVDs) and music CD. Most players also incorporate network connectivity for access to internet streaming content (including 4K streaming content), and content available from other compatible devices that may be a part of your home network.

Know How Much Getting Into Blu-ray Will Cost You

Blu-ray Players start as low as $79 and go up as high as $2,000. For $99, you can get actually get a decent player, but as you go up in price, added connection options, better video processing, more extensive networking, and more internet streaming options are commonly provided.

As you get into the higher price points, analog audio playback is emphasized for those that use their Blu-ray Disc player for serious music listening from CDs, and as well as the SACD and DVD-Audio disc audiophile-targeted formats.

However, even moderately-priced Blu-ray Disc players now offer 3D playback when connected to a 3D TV and 4K Upscaling when connected to a 4K Ultra HD TV.

In terms of Ultra HD Bu-ray Disc players, the initially suggested range of the first generation of Ultra HD Blu-ray disc players are $399-$599, which, although much higher than most Blu-ray disc players, just remember back to 2006/2007 when the first Blu-ray Disc players were priced in the $1,000 price range, and first DVD players introduced in 1996/1997 were in the $500 price range.

Is Blu-ray Really Worth It For You?

Blu-ray is a great, and affordable, choice to complement an HDTV (and now 4K Ultra HD TV) and home theater system. However, just don't to want to make the Blu-ray plunge yet, very inexpensive DVD players (priced below $39) with upscaling capability that can narrow the gap between DVD and Blu-ray are available - but as Blu-ray Disc player price continue to go down, fewer DVD players are being made available.

Also, as mentioned above, with all the versatility Blu-ray Disc players offer now, there are, in my opinion, the best home entertainment device available, next to a TV.

For a look at some great Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc player choices, check out my periodically updated list of Best Blu-ray Disc Players (also includes Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc players)

However, if you still prefer sticking with a DVD player, check out my list of some of the remaining Upscaling DVD Players