Monday, April 4, 2011

Entry level BD players compared

After all the theory in the previous post, now is the time to look at some entry-level BD players and see which one is best for you. Below are some of the commonly available entry-level BD players (in alphabetical order) with some of the unique features that may be the deciding factor in your choice.
  1. LG BD550
  2. Panasonic DMP-BD45/DMP-BD65
  3. Philips BDP2700/BDP3100
  4. Samsung BD-C5500
  5. Sony BDP-S370
Below are the good, the bad and the ugly of the various models which may be important for you.
  • The Panasonic DMP-BD45 is only with Profile 1.1 and thus does not support BD-Live while all the rest are with Profile 2.0 and can be connected to a network via the LAN (RJ45) port to enjoy BD-Live. To get Profile 2.0 on a Panasonic you have to move up to the DMP-BD65.
  • On the HD Audio aspect, all the players support both Dolby True HD and DTS-HD Master Audio except for the Philips BDP2700 that does not support DTS-HD Master Audio. To get both on a Philips you have to move to the older BDP3100.
  • Only the Sony BDP-S370 can play back SACD.
  • Both the Samsung BD-C5500 and the LG BD550 supports HDD formatted with NTFS and FAT32, all the rest only support FAT32 formatted HDD and thus limit the file size to 4GB.
  • In the Philips remote control, there is no Open/Close button for the disc tray! All the others have this. Also it does not have (programmable) buttons on the remote to control basic functions of the TV. The rest have these but the actual functions vary from brand to brand but at least the On/Off button for the TV is there. However, there is no guarantee that it will work for all brands.
  • Only the Panasonic remote control has (programmable) volume control buttons for an AVR (audio-video receiver) but again it may not work for all brands.
  • Only the Philips manual lists VCD as one of the playable discs but in practice, some VCDs are playable in the other brands to varying degree but there is no support for PBC (play back control) thus losing selection function on VCD. The LG rejects VCD outright! VCD PBC option is available on the Philips for full VCD menu control.
  • Only the Panasonic has a SD card slot where you can slot in your SD card from your camera or camcorder to view the media files.
  • For digital audio output, only the Sony has BOTH optical and coaxial outputs while the LG and Philips have only coaxial and the Panasonic and Samsung only optical output.
So the above is a summary of the major unique features (or missing features) that may help you decide the BD player that best meets your requirement. These are either taken from the user manuals or from my own user experience so if some readers find something different in their usage, please comment and share with others here.

Since I have the pleasure of using the Samsung BD-C5500, the Sony BD-S370 and the LG-550, below are my observations and opinion on the differences in these 3 models (other than those covered above) but I would not know about these features in the other brands, i.e. Philips and Panasonic.

User Interface. Best looking (and most colourful) is the Samsung, with 5 selectable screen background skins. Sony has the XrossMediaBar menu similar to the PS3 so owners of the PS3 will feel very much at home.
Remote Control. The Samsung remote control is the biggest (and some say ugliest) but it has luminous navigational buttons that glows in the dark, very handy in a dark room. Least responsive is the LG, you need to point right in front of the player to get any action. Also you cannot change the audio or subtitle with one click since they can only be accessed after pressing Display as there are no Audio or Subtitle button on the remote. To me this is the least user-friendly remote control.
Technical minded users will love the Sony since the Information button will show the current bit rates of the video and the audio which are not shown by both the LG and Samsung. It also has option to select the HDMI colour setting (YCbCr) as either 4:2:2 or 4:4:4 while the others do not have this option, just YCbCr is shown.

Samsung has the best screen saver implementation when playing CD. During playback, the screen saver will come on (after a while) and display the Samsung logo with the track number that moves around the screen, very clever and useful.

As for BD loading time, it varies depending on the BD title but overall, the Sony is the fastest.

In terms of picture and audio quality (PQ and AQ) they are all very similar to my untrained ears and eyes. I suppose any difference will only show up in high-end equipment so for most of us, any of them will do the job adequately. All can upscale your old DVDs to give them a new lease of life.

All models are Region-locked to the region that they are sold in for both BD and DVD but the Sony (very surprisingly) is region-free for DVD in the model sold locally in Malaysia.

You can read other users comments in Amazon on the various models in the links here. 

There is another BD player that I should mention. Price wise it is not at the entry level but for gamers, it is their only choice, the Sony PS3. The main function is of course for playing games but it will play BDs just as well as any of the other entry level BD players with some other network features. But unless you are a PS3 gamer, it is much cheaper to go for a standalone BD player. 

In conclusion, there is no best BD player among the entry level models as each has its pros and cons. You can only pick the best for your usage with the features important for you. I hope the above will help you in some way to make the choice of a BD player easier. But do test out the actual player you pick at your local store since specifications may change over time and may vary for the same model sold in different countries. Good luck and enjoy whichever you pick.

Ronald Kwok