Before You Buy a Blu-ray Disc Player

What you need to know about Blu-ray Disc player capabilities

When DVD was introduced in 1996/97, it was a significant upgrade from VHS. However, after HDTV was introduced, two disc formats were made available in 2006 that raised the bar higher: Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD.

Blu-ray vs. DVD

The key difference between DVD and Blu-ray/HD-DVD is that DVD is a standard definition 480i resolution format, while Blu-ray/HD-DVD disc video can be up to 1080p HDTV quality.

Blu-ray and HD-DVD achieved the same results but were incompatible formats (remember VHS vs. BETA?). Movie studios had to choose which format to release movies in, and consumers had to decide what format player to buy.

In 2008, HD-DVD was officially discontinued, leaving Blu-ray as the only high-definition disc alternative to DVD.

Blu-ray Discs

The main feature of a Blu-ray Disc player is to play Blu-ray discs. Many players can play both 2D and 3D Blu-ray discs (a 3D TV or 3D video projector is required).

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

Most Blu-ray Disc packages also come with a DVD version of the title.

Blu-ray Disc Player Versatility

In addition to playing Blu-ray discs, these players can do much more.

  • All Blu-ray Disc players (except for a couple of early models) also play DVDs and CDs.
  • Most players can access audio/video content streamed from the internet (which may include Netflix, Vudu, Hulu, and others) or local home network (PCs and media servers), and content stored on compatible USB devices, such as flash drives.
  • Some Blu-ray Disc players include Screen Mirroring (Miracast). Screen mirroring allows the audio/video sharing of content from a compatible smartphone or tablet, which, in turn, sends that audio and video to a compatible TV and audio system.
  • Some players provide CD-to-USB ripping, which allows the copying of music from a CD to a USB flash drive.
A person placing a Blu-ray disc into a player
Lifewire / Elise Degarmo

Your Current DVDs Are Not Obsolete If You Switch to Blu-ray

Blu-ray Disc players play DVDs, so you don't have to throw out your DVD collection. Also, these players look better because all Blu-ray players have video upscaling capability. Although DVDs won't look as good as actual Blu-ray discs, upscaling provides a visible improvement.

The Types of Connections Blu-ray Disc Players Have

When Blu-ray Disc players first came out in 2006/07, these players provided the same connections as most DVD players, which included some, or all, of the following: Composite, S-Video, and Component video outputs, Analog Stereo, Digital Optical, or Digital Coaxial Audio outputs. However, to meet the needs of high-definition resolution output capability (up to 1080p), HDMI outputs are also included.

On higher-end Blu-ray Disc players, 5.1/7.1 channel analog outputs are sometimes included. These outputs allow the transfer of a decoded surround sound signal to AV receivers with 5.1/7.1 analog inputs.

All players (except for some early models) have Ethernet/LAN ports for a wired connection to a home network and the internet (most players also have built-in Wi-Fi).

Blu-ray Disc players usually have one or two USB ports that can be used to load firmware updates and provide for one or more of the following:

  • BD-Live memory expansion (provides access to additional online-based content associated with specific Blu-ray Disc titles).
  • Access to digital media files stored on flash drives.
  • The connection of a USB Wi-Fi adapter for players that do not have Wi-Fi built-in.

The 2013 Decision Regarding Blu-ray Disc Player Connections

A decision was made to remove all analog video connections from Blu-ray Disc players going forward from 2013.

Although not required, some manufacturers also opted to remove analog audio connections.

Pioneer BDP-320 Blu-ray Disc Player - Rear Panel - LAN, USB, HDMI Connections


All Blu-ray Disc players now sold new only have HDMI outputs for video output. For audio, HDMI and either a digital optical and/or digital coaxial audio output (and sometimes 5.1/7.1 channel analog audio outputs) are provided.

Some players have two HDMI outputs, which are used in cases where the audio and video need to be sent to separate destinations.

Region Coding and Copy-Protection

In a similar manner as DVD, the Blu-ray Disc format 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 DVDs, there are fewer regions, and many Blu-ray discs aren't always region coded.

The Blu-ray Disc format also supports enhanced copy-protection in two ways:

  • HDMI-enabled devices are required to be able to recognize each other via a handshake process to ensure a level of copy-protection. If the handshake doesn't take place, no signals from the Blu-ray Disc player to an HDMI-equipped TV or video projector will display. The handshake process sometimes triggers a false alarm, requiring troubleshooting to correct.
  • Another level of copy-protection, specifically designed for Blu-ray, is Cinavia. Cinavia encoding prevents playback of unauthorized copies of commercial Blu-ray discs. All Blu-ray Disc players made in recent years for the U.S., and most made for other markets, include Cinavia.

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

When 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 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 Than a Video Upgrade

In addition to 1080p video, Blu-ray Disc players can access additional audio formats that can be encoded on Blu-ray discs (but not on DVD). These formats include Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Atmos, DTS-HD Master Audio, and DTS:X, which can be decoded 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 isn't compatible with these formats, the player automatically detects this and defaults to standard Dolby Digital/DTS.

The 4K Factor

As a result of the introduction of 4K Ultra HD TV, Blu-ray Disc players evolved further to meet the challenge. Players with the ability to perform 4K upscaling appeared, with a good selection now available.

Sony UBP-X800 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player

Sony

If you own a 4K Ultra HD TV, a Blu-ray Disc player with 4K upscaling will make Blu-ray Disc (and DVD) content look better on a 4K Ultra HD TV. Just as DVD upscaling isn't the same as true high-definition (1080p), 4K upscaling doesn't deliver the same results as true 4K. Still, it comes close enough for many consumers.

The 4K story doesn't end there. In 2016, a new disc format was made available to consumers: Ultra HD Blu-ray. This format uses discs that look like a Blu-ray disc. However, 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.

Sony Mastered in 4K Blu-ray Disc

Sony

This new disc format means a new round of players and discs. Although you won't be able to play Ultra HD Blu-ray format discs on current Blu-ray Disc players, the players can play Blu-ray discs (2D/3D), DVDs (with 4K upscaling for both Blu-ray discs and DVDs), and music CDs. Most players also provide access to internet streaming content (including 4K streaming content) and content from other compatible devices that may be on your home network.

How Much Getting Into Blu-ray Will Cost You

Blu-ray players start as low as $59 and range up to about $199. For $99, you can get get a great player. However, 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.

Some moderately-priced Blu-ray Disc players offer 3D playback when connected to a 3D TV and 4K upscaling when connected to a 4K Ultra HD TV.

Ultra HD Bu-ray Disc players can be found from $149 to $1,500, which is more expensive than most Blu-ray Disc players. In 2006/07, the first Blu-ray Disc players were priced in the $1,000 range, and the first DVD players introduced in 1996/97 were in the $500 price range.

Is Blu-ray Worth It for You?

Blu-ray is a great, affordable option to complement an HD or 4K Ultra HD TV and home theater system. If you don't want to make that upgrade, DVD players with upscaling capability are often priced below $39 that can narrow the gap between DVD and Blu-ray. However, as Blu-ray Disc (and Ultra HD) player prices continue to go down, DVD players are getting harder to find.

With the versatility Blu-ray Disc players offer, these players provide a great way to complement TV viewing.

Oppo Digital and Samsung no longer make Blu-ray or Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc players. Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray player makers include Sony, Panasonic, LG, Pioneer, Funai (Philips, Magnavox), and Yamaha.

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