Blu-ray players buying guide

Today's players do much more than just play discs

By

Jeff Miller

Seven years of experience in the Crutchfield Contact Center give Jeff Miller a valuable perspective as an A/V writer. Having steered scores of Crutchfield customers through challenging situations, he's well prepared to lead readers through unfamiliar territory. Jeff is an explorer in the frontiers of streaming audio and video. He looks forward to helping you discover new ways to enjoy music and video in this brave new connected world.

More from Jeff Miller

Photo of home theater room

Blu-ray discs provide popcorn-ready entertainment with crystal-clear picture and thrilling sound. But many Blu-ray players do much more than just play discs. They give you on-demand access to movies and TV shows through streaming services like Netflix®. They can also serve as music players for CDs and digital music files.

Need help choosing one? This guide will get you started.

Why a disc player?

While streaming is convenient, Blu-ray discs aren’t dependent on a high-speed Internet connection for 1080p video and surround sound. And it's still pretty easy to rent Blu-rays and DVDs from Redbox® and other supermarket kiosks (all Blu-ray players can play DVDs, too). Plus, discs are great for repeat viewings (if you have young children, you’ll know where I’m coming from). You also get special features like deleted scenes, “making of” documentaries, and director’s commentary.

You can still stream movies, shows, and music

It's not as if you have to choose between discs and streaming — most Blu-ray players connect to your home network. Some players require a wired Ethernet connection, while others work wirelessly over Wi-Fi®.

Once you're connected you'll have access to online apps and services, with different players offering different content. You might see Netflix, Hulu Plus™, YouTube® , and Amazon Instant Video. Many have Pandora® for music. Some players include specialty services like HBO GO or MLB.TV.

Lifestyle photo

Top-notch picture

All Blu-ray players deliver Blu-ray discs in 1080p resolution for a high-definition picture with deep colors and sharp detail. They also upconvert standard DVDs to 1080p. Here are some advanced video features you many want to look for:

  • 4K upscaling — Upconverts standard Blu-ray 1080p content to 4K resolution on an Ultra HDTV.
  • 3D-capable — Plays 3D movies on a compatible TV.
  • Ultra HD Blu-ray (COMING SOON)4K discs and players are expected in late 2015 and will offer up to 3840-by-2160, four times the resolution of 1080p, and a larger color spectrum.
  • Enhanced video processing — To get the best possible picture, some players employ special video processors that fine-tune the picture down to the pixels. These advanced processors provide a seamless, more natural looking picture for discerning eyes and those with super-sized TVs.

Accurate, exciting movie sound

Blu-ray players can also help you get the most from your home theater speakers. They offer the top surround sound formats like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, which offer discrete 7.1-channel playback and lossless audio for a more genuine and thrilling movie experience.

They'll also play Dolby Atmos content through a compatible home theater receivers. Using in-ceiling or special Dolby enabled speakers, this new sound format projects sounds and atmospheric effects from all around your seating position, including above.

Play all your tunes through your best speakers 

Crutchfield Listening lab

In the Crutchfield Lab, an Oppo universal Blu-ray player is our primary music source. It delivers high-res tunes with exceptional detail.

Blu-ray players aren't just about picture, they're great for listening to music, too. If you have stereo or surround speakers in your TV room, or even a sound bar sound bar, this really comes in handy. CDs are a simple choice — every  Blu-ray player can play them. Plus, most offer Pandora or other streaming music services. Here are some other music features to look for:

  • USB drive — To play digital music files from a thumb drive or external hard drive.
  • DLNA capability — Lets you stream music (and sometimes photos and videos) from a compatible computer or portable device.
  • High-resolution Audio — High-res music files sound more natural and dynamic than MP3s or other "lossy" digital files. Look for these ways to play High-res music:
    • SACDs, DVD-Audio, and other high-resolution discs.
    • Lossless files like FLAC, DSD, AIFF, WAV, or ALAC — from a thumb drive or external hard drive through the USB ports

Higher-end players are often designed with music listening in mind. They are more solidly constructed to maximize picture and sound performance by reducing resonance and keeping discs stable as they spin. Many of them include a high-grade digital-to-analog converter (DAC) that are capable of outstanding sound quality over both stereo and multichannel sources.

Some players have the ability to shut off video circuitry when you're listening to music, so there’s no interference with the audio signal. Others house audio and video circuitry completely separate from one another for pristine sound:

Inside a Pioneer Blu-ray player

Some higher-end players separate the power supply, video driver, and audio circuitry, reducing interference and delivering superb picture and sound.

Form factor and display

These larger players work well in serious home theater setups, but there are also extremely compact Blu-ray players.They can fit neatly into tight places, like a bedroom or smaller TV setup.

compact Sony Blu-ray

Some compact players are so low profile, they don't even have a front panel display.

Connections to consider

All Blu-ray players have an HDMI output to connect the player to your TV or receiver. But if you’re going to connect it to an audio system without HDMI connections, look for a player with dedicated audio outputs. Many players offer optical or coaxial digital audio outputs for sending audio to an older home theater receiver or a sound bar.

Premium players have analog outputs for another reason — music. High-performance players offer stereo or multichannel analog outputs, so you can take advantage of the player’s superior digital audio processing. Some, like the Oppo BDP-105D below, even have balanced XLR stereo outputs for the best possible sound with a high-end receiver or amplifier.

Back of the Oppo

"Hidden" features

We picked out three cool features you might want to look for:

  • Screen mirroring — Send pictures, high-definition videos, and music from an Android™ phone or tablet to your big screen using a technology called Miracast (Samsung's version is called AllShare).
  • YouTube on the big screen — When your player is on the same home network as your phone, the latest version of the YouTube app lets you “throw” clips to your TV. No more squinting to watch the latest movie trailers or music videos.
  • PlayStation™ Now capability — When connected to your network, Sony’s latest Blu-ray players give you have access to over 200 streaming PS3™ games — no extra video game console needed.