Blu-ray Players – What You Still Need to Know

How do you enjoy watching movies and your favorite TV shows while in the comfort of your own home? Is it via video streaming, cable, satellite, video-on-demand services, over-the-air broadcast or blu-ray disc? Many consumers including myself, use a combination of these video avenues for our home viewing. But which of these will give you the best viewing experience (picture quality)?  If you chose blu-ray, then you are (in my opinion) enjoying the best possible picture quality available to you in your home.

However, with the exception of 4K video which is superior to any 1080p produced blu-ray disc and thats only if the 4K content you’re watching has been produced with excellent video quality and doesn’t suffer from video compression artifacts. But when 4K blu-ray disc does arrive in the near future, the blu-ray disc once again should be the king of picture quality in your home.

Is Blu-ray Dead?

Sony BDP-S1 First blu-ray player released in US

Sony BDP-S1
First blu-ray player released in US

I don’t believe so, especially with 4K disc on the horizon. Blu-ray players were released in the US in July of 2006 and have grown to be one of the most successful video formats in history.  The first generation players were of course expensive and had very slow disc loading times (some players still do). And many of the early release disc titles were mastered with poor picture quality. So like most new technological advanced products, blu-ray had to go through its growing pangs.

Fast forward eight years and the format has fully matured and has produced some of the finest picture and sound quality to date. In addition, many of today’s players have very fast disc loading times and are packed with great features and  provide excellent performance.

There are many in the industry that say physical disc media (including standard DVD disc and blu-ray) are about to become extinct due to all of the streaming and download options available. And yes, these options have hurt sales of disc media… but let’s not put the nails in the  blu-ray coffin just yet.

Let’s take a look back on the history of a few past physical disc media formats. For those of you who are old enough, do you remember the 12inch LP?, also known as vinyl records. They were supposed to go the way of the dinosaurs, but guess what? They didn’t and are still around today as a niche market item. In fact, they have made a big come back and are steadily growing in popularity and sales.

Next on the list… how many remember DVD Audio and SACD (Super Audio CD) high resolution audio disc? Well, they were put on the extinction list. However, both of these formats have survived(although on a very small scale) as small niche markets.

Can you see the point I’m making here… if history continues to repeat itself, I believe the worst that can or possibly happen to DVD and blu-ray is these formats becoming restricted to niche markets. And I can’t see that happening anytime soon, in my opinion.

So in the mean time the blu-ray format isn’t quite on life support yet, especially since disc sales were up in 2013.

There is also a new blu-ray format that has recently hit the market… it’s called blu-ray High Fidelity Pure Audio disc that play 24bit/96kHz music tracks. However, in my opinion if this format does survive, I see it being limited to a small niche market.

Blu-ray Picture Quality

There is a lot of talk on the internet and elsewhere on the subject of picture quality among  blu-ray players. The general consensus is that there is very little to no picture quality difference.

I personally tend to agree with this. I have done my own A/B testing of many players in the past and have found only slight differences in a few cases… for example, I did a comparison between my reference player an Oppo BDP83SE and a Sony BDP S1000ES. I had to view key scenes (Hellboy blu-ray disc)with lots of detail to see these differences and only with the image paused and sitting close to the screen (4 to 5ft on  a 65″display).

The difference I saw was in the fine detail of the image.  I contribute these small differences to the video processing in these players. Under normal viewing circumstances these small differences cannot be seen.

Oppo BDP-103D

Oppo BDP-103D

And speaking of video processing in blu-ray players, many models like Oppo’s  BDP-103D and BDP-105 feature a Marvell Qdeo video processor that provide features for detail enhancement and noise reduction(to name a few) that will give these players the edge over other models without this type of processing.

The benefits of this processing will reduce artifacts like compression noise and picture softness on very large displays and front projection systems, giving you a cleaner picture.

Blu-ray Features

Many blu-ray players are packed with excellent features at very affordable prices. Some keys features you should  look for include:

  • Wi-Fi – for connecting to your computer network (look for an Ethernet port if you want a hard wired network connection)
  •  Fast disc handling time (reduces the time you have to wait for a disc to start playing)
  • Web features including an internet browser and audio and video streaming for services like Netflix, Vudu, Amazon, YouTube and Pandora to name a few.
  • Up conversion – for converting your standard DVD’s to 1080p quality for better picture. You may also want to consider a 4K up conversion player if you have a 4K TV, or planning on purchasing one.
  • 3D – if you desire to watch 3D movies. You will also need a 3D capable HDTV and 3D glasses.
  • Connections – HDMI ports are standard on all new players. You may also want to consider optical or coaxial  audio ports if you want to connect to an A/V receiver that doesn’t have HDMI ports.
  • Multichannel analog outputs will be needed if you have an older A/V receiver with no HDMI ports and you want to enjoy the uncompressed sound tracks on blu-ray discs. Your A/V receiver must have multichannel inputs to complete this connection. Many audiophiles like to use these connections to take advantage of the high quality digital-to-analog converters (DAC’s) used in many high- end players for their excellent audio output.

    Panasonic DMPBDT330

    Panasonic DMPBDT330

Click the link for Amazon’s top rated blu-ray players.

Why I Prefer Blu-ray

Blu-ray has better picture quality than streaming services such as Netflix and Vudu, and cable and satellite’s video-on-demand service. This is due to the lower bit rates and the compression needed to deliver these services over the internet.  With blu-ray disc’s higher storage capacity, it does not suffer from these limitations.

Blu-ray has much better sound. Blu-ray discs provide uncompressed multichannel audio by way of DTS Master Audio and Dolby True HD audio tracks. These high resolution formats allow up to 7.1 uncompressed audio. Streaming services don’t offer these formats because of the higher bandwidth required to stream them. With streaming you get PCM stereo or Dolby Digital 5.1. or Dolby Digital Plus which can give you up to 7.1 channels of audio.

Conclusion

Blu-ray may be the last mass-market disc format we will ever see; however, in the meantime it will continue to be one of my favorite ways to view movies in my home. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy movies and other programming via streaming. It’s just not my preferred option.  I know many of you prefer streaming, and if you put picture and sound quality aside, it does have advantages over blu-ray – convenience being one factor… you don’t have to buy or rent a disc.

You can also do your viewing on your tablet or cell phone, even away for home. So in the end what matters most is that we all enjoy our movie viewing experience regardless of how its achieved.

I think it’s time for a movie. Who’s got the popcorn!

 

How do prefer to watch a movie?… blu-ray, streaming or both. Please leave your comments.

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