Before BD, there was the DVD which was a vast improvement over the earlier VCD format. With the coming of HDTV, there was a demand for better video to show-off the new TV. The logical successor to DVD was HD-DVD backed by Toshiba and gang but Sony and their backers had other ideas who developed the Blu-ray discs, BD in short at about the same time. So the HD format war was on, akin to the earlier VHS-Betamax contest in the videotape days. Unlike the videotape war that was long-drawn, the HD format war was short and swift. Toshiba surrendered in early 2008 (after just 2 short years of war) and we are now left with the BD format for our HD needs so we need not crack our heads to decide which HD format to go for. BTW, it is called BD because it uses a blue laser instead of a red laser (as in DVD) for reading the disc; leave it to the marketing genius in coming out with catchy names.
The advantage of BD over DVD is the much bigger storage capacity which is 50GB (for double layer BD) against the 8GB for DVD. With this capacity, you'll get videos in full HD at 1080p (1,920x1,080 pixels) as against the 480p (720x480 pixels) for DVD; full HD audio such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, and room for plenty of special and extra features. To enjoy the HD image, you must have a HDTV and for the HD sound, you must have a decent AVR as some entry level AVR do not support HD audio. And you must use a HDMI cable for the connection to get the best result.
As in all new purchases, the main consideration for many of us is the budget. So what are the features that are important so do we do not pay for features that we do not need? To get a BD player that is current, make sure that it is classified as Profile 2.0. The profile classification is an indication of what extra features on a BD that a player can handle. When BD player first came out, they were Profile 1.0 with just basic functions and subsequently came Profile 1.1 players that can access "Bonus View" features on a BD. Profile 2.0 is the current profile and this can handle BD Live. Not all extra features are available on all BD as it varies from title to title but a BD player with Profile 2.0 should be able to handle all the extra features that are currently available and for the near future as well.
"Bonus View" is basically a picture-in-picture feature where the film director gives a running commentary on the movie in a small screen within the main screen. BD Live is basically access to an internet site for additional contents such as trailers, deleted scenes, etc. that can be downloaded via a BD with this feature. Thus Profile 2.0 BD players will have either WiFi capability or at least an Ethernet (LAN) port for accessing the internet. Currently, most people find the BD Live contents not really worth the effort but probably there will be better contents in future so getting a Profile 2.0 BD player will keep you and your player up-to-date. Thus BD players with the BD Live logo below is with Profile 2.0
Make sure the BD player that you are looking at has HD Audio support and these are the Dolby True HD and the DTS-HD Master Audio, anything less should not be considered. These two are the lossless HD audio that are improvements over the Dolby Digital and DTS audio format found on DVD. Even if you do not have an HD AVR now, it is just a question of time so your BD player will be ready when the time comes. In any case, the BD player can downmix these HD audio to basic stereo for basic needs. So make sure your BD player has these HD audio logos on the box or on the player itself.
All BD players will have a HDMI port as mandatory to give you the best connection to a HDTV or AVR but for connection to an older CRT TV, there should be composite (red, white, yellow) and component (red, blue, green) connectors. For audio connection to older AVR without HDMI port, there should be either an optical digital or coaxial digital output port and some players have both. As mentioned above, there will also be a LAN port for connection to the internet for Profile 2.0 BD Players. These are the basic connections that should be available on BD players that you are considering.
USB port or memory card slot
Some players have one or both of these so that you can connect a USB thumb drive or an external HDD or slot in a memory card to play video, music or photo files. The type of file supported varies from player to player so it is best to get a stand-alone HD media player that will have move functionality and flexibility. My HD media player blog has general guidelines in choosing one. On some players, you can use the USB port to upgrade the firmware of the player downloaded from the internet or you can choose to upgrade directly via the internet.
Another point to check is whether the USB port can support HDD formatted in NTFS or just FAT32. The maiximum file size supported in a FAT32 formatted HDD is only 4GB meaning you cannot play those big movie files that can only be saved in NTFS formatted HDD.
While all Profile 2.00 players will have a LAN port for wired connection to the internet, some models have built in Wifi (or Wifi enabled that requires a separate adpator or dongle) for wireless connection but the cost will be higher.
Movie Frames (24fps)
Many BD players can output video at 24 frames per second from the HDMI port. This is the frame speed of film used for movies so this is supposed to give a better picture quality. However, this will only work with HDTV that support this 24fps feature. Depending on how this is implemented, the improvement may not be that obvious to most viewers.
The higher end models will be 3-D capable but you will need a 3-D HDTV to enjoy this feature. There are not many 3-D BD titles available at the moment as this is still new in the market so this feature is not essential for most people.
Many BD players has access to their own portals where you can access social networks such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc and also streaming video services such as Netflix, Vudu and the like. Each manufacturer has coined specific names for their portals, e.g. for Samsung it is Internet@TV, for Sony it is Bravia Internet Video and Panasonic, it is Viera Cast but contents vary and change as the portals are updated.
Despite the great improvement in terms of audio and visual of BD over DVD, there are some quirks which will be highlighted in my next post.