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Blu-ray players buying guide

Today's players do much more than just play discs

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.

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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, WWE Network, or MLB.TV.

Lifestyle photo

Top-notch picture

All standard Blu-ray players deliver Blu-ray discs in 1080p resolution for a high-definition picture with deep colors and sharp detail. Since they don't require compression, discs are capable of a picture better than high-definition streaming. Blu-ray players 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.
  • 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.
Oppo UDP-203

A look at the sturdy disc drive and powerful video circuitry inside the Oppo UDP-203 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player.

Ultra HD Blu-ray is here

4K Blu-ray players and discs are available and can maximize the performance of Ultra HD TVs. You can order the Samsung UBD-K8500 now, and there are many Ultra HD Blu-ray movie titles available. We're also very excited about the first 4K Blu-ray player from Oppo, who might be the most highly-respected Blu-ray player manufacturer today. (We use an Oppo player in our vendor training room for movies and music.) Ultra HD Blu-ray picture

These players offer a resolution of 3840-by-2160 pixels, four times the resolution of 1080p, and a larger color spectrum. They also play discs with High Dynamic Range (HDR) that are capable of incredibly realistic picture contrast. We explored this new format deeper last year in the article “4K Ultra HD Blu-ray."

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, 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. 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. 

Back of the Cambridge CXU

"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.
Last updated December 28, 2016
  • David Willis from Fort McCoy, FL, USA

    Posted on 6/6/2015 2:50:00 PM


  • albert schulz from california

    Posted on 6/24/2015 4:28:03 PM

    Can Blu-ray dvd players play both region 1 and 2 disc's

  • Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/26/2015 2:00:00 PM

    Albert, all of our Blu-ray and DVD players play region 1 discs, made for the U.S. market.

  • Deepak Deodhar from Pune,India

    Posted on 7/7/2015 1:21:01 AM

    Can I get a better viewing of ordinary cd or dvd .if played on blue ray player?

  • Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/8/2015 12:39:27 PM

    Deepak, Most Blu-ray player have video upconversion to give standard DVDs a boost in picture quality

  • Ken from Vero Beach

    Posted on 10/31/2015 8:13:39 PM

    Where can I find a list of Blu-ray dvd players that support Dolby Atmos? Thank you.

  • Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    Posted on 11/2/2015 9:41:30 AM

    Ken, every Blu-ray player that supports Dolby TrueHD should support Dolby Atmos. That includes every player we currently carry (I just double-checked). You'll want to make sure that the HDMI audio output is set to "bitstream," and that you have an Atmos-enabled home theater receiver.

  • John Torbert from Birmingham

    Posted on 7/3/2016 2:51:50 PM

    Are there any inexpensive players with front panel displays? I need an inexpensive unit for the interim before I change to 4K resolution in a few years. My old Samsung quit playing audio through it's HDMI port. I'm used to seeing the display. Is this being replaced by an on-screen interface that is more functional?

  • Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/4/2016 9:36:22 AM

    John, Unfortunately front-panel displays have largely been dropped. I also like quickly glancing down to see how far I am through a show or movie (rather than pushing a button so it shows up on-screen). I think it is trade-off for the more compact player designs. I've forwarded your question to an Advisor to see if we can find anything that might work for you.

  • BigFED from DFW

    Posted on 7/15/2016 10:34:27 AM

    Whatever! This is "ENTERTAIMENT"!!! It is NOT a life altering event! The ABILITY of the equipment to replay anything exceeds to quality of most programs!!!

  • Larry from Raleigh, NC

    Posted on 7/28/2016 12:48:50 PM

    I have read that the standards for 4k UHD are still in flux. Should I wait to by a 4k DVD player until this all shakes out? Or will say the Samsung K8500 be able to accommodate future standards with a software upgrade?

  • Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/9/2016 9:15:08 AM

    Larry, the standards to Ultra HD Blu-ray are set, but you might be referring to the two HDR formats. Our TV guy Steve Kindig recently broke down HDR-10 and Dolby Vision.

  • John Micieli from Palm Coast Fl

    Posted on 11/6/2016 9:50:44 AM

    Hey Jeff, What is Dolby Atmos. I have a Sony 7.1, ( purchased from Cruthcfield ). receiver that plays DolbyTrueHD and DTS-Master Audio, that sounds great. Is the Dolby Atmos new?

  • Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    Posted on 11/9/2016 12:59:25 PM

    John, Dolby Atmos is a three-dimenional audio format that completely envelops you with movie effects, including sounds from above. DTS has a similar "object-based" sound format called DTS:X. This article explains both.

  • Scott P. from Pittsburgh

    Posted on 1/6/2017 5:31:00 AM

    How does an Xbox one-s 4k compare to a stand alone Blu Ray, 4k player?

  • Eric from Bloomington

    Posted on 1/11/2017 12:08:51 PM

    The Oppo 203 is a fantastic BD and UBD player and its audio qtly is at the top of the class.

  • Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    Posted on 1/12/2017 5:08:16 PM

    Scott, I haven't had a chance to try out the XBOX ONE S, but will send my thoughts when I have. Would love to hear from someone who has used it.

  • Susan Hall from Little River, SC

    Posted on 2/2/2017 3:53:22 PM

    I have 4 speakers installed high on the walls in my living room and a 5th one on the floor. The 5 CD surround sound home theater unit continues to get hung up when the CDS are rotating, so I am ready to give that up and now don't know where to begin to replace it. Is there a DVD/CD player that would connect to the speakers I already have installed to provide surround sound? Should I forget the speakers and purchase a DVD player that has a good sound on its own............the surround sound effect is not particularly important to me, but the speakers are already speakers were bought and installed in 2007. I have a 47" flat screen Vizio TV, but it is not a smart TV........I bought a roku and do have Netflex ...................any ideas?

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