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Blu-Ray Player Review
Why Upgrade to a Blu-ray Player?
The top performers in our review are Sony's BDP-S6700, the Gold Award winner; Samsung's UBD-K8500, the Silver Award winner; and Sony's BDP-S6500, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a Blu-Ray player to meet your home entertainment center's needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our Blu-ray player ratings.
While older DVD players are hamstrung with middling standard definition images, Blu-ray players boast features and image quality that can match the performance of top HDTVs. Most Blu-ray players can also integrate with other home theater hardware like speakers with ease.
For users who want minimal clutter, Blu-ray players can be the perfect complement to an HDTV and turn your family room into a true home theater. Our home theater speakers section highlights options if you want to pair your home television and Blu-ray player with dedicated audio hardware. For additional information, you can check out our reviews on 3D Blu-ray players.
Blu-ray Players: What We Tested, What We Found
The best Blu-ray players we tested are capable of playing a broad array of video and audio formats, including 3D and 4K Blu-ray discs. Below is a list of criteria to consider when looking for the best Blu-ray player for your home entertainment system.
Build Quality & Usability: Easy Interfaces & Scrolling
As home theater hardware, Blu-ray players aren't nearly as performance-tied as product families like smartphones or tablets. Still, ease of use plays a vital role in what makes the best Blu-ray player.
In our evaluations, we measured the performance of each player in several areas. Factors like cleanly designed interfaces and quick loading speeds were strong points for our top rated Blu-ray players. If you want to adjust settings, like audio sources and subtitles, you don't want to scroll through submenu after submenu. Similarly, we factored in the boot time of each Blu-ray player on stock settings into our ratings. While boot time was only one of several data points we used – many players have quick-start settings that allow for instantaneous power on times – it can be an indicator of player performance in secondary areas.
Qualitatively, we evaluated the design and build quality of each player and its accessories. While these specifications are secondary to player performance, they still play a strong role in daily use. Poorly designed remotes or players with low-quality bodies can be an inconvenience.
Connectivity: Cables, Cables & Cables for Your Player
Home theater setup can often quickly devolve into a mess of cables for various devices, but top Blu-ray players manage to work around these issues. Before making a purchase, consider your current home television and the cable types it needs to function. Do you want the player to use component or HDMI cables for connectivity? What audio standard does your home theater use if you have a secondary audio source? If you plan to use the player as a dedicated multimedia hub, do you want a USB port on the player?
In addition, internet connectivity is an important feature for most home users. Along with allowing streaming apps to function, internet connectivity allows your Blu-ray player to download updates when needed. Most budget players will only have an Ethernet jack for physical connections, but higher-end models include Wi-Fi support.
Our hands-on testing is designed to simulate typical, real-world experiences with Blu-ray players. For our tests on evaluated players, we obtained review models through a combination of retail purchases and units provided by manufacturers. The manufacturers have no input on our testing methodology, and our rankings are not shared with them prior to publication.
Blu-ray Players: What Else Is Important?
Features by the Numbers: 3D & 4K Support
For most home users, Blu-ray players that provide basic high-definition playback functionality will be enough. However, higher-end and mid-range models increasingly provide features that were previously only found in premium models.
4K is a display standard that refers to media that plays at a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels and possesses higher image quality than traditional high-definition content. TVs with 4K support display content at this higher resolution.
4K compatibility on Blu-ray comes in two formats: Players with native support can play 4K content by default, while players with upscaling simulate a 4K image from a standard high definition source. Image quality on upscaling players will be usable on a 4K television but won't be comparable to native 4K content.
3D support is also a similarly commonplace feature on most non-entry-level Blu-ray players. In order to take advantage of either feature, you'll need an HDTV that has 3D or 4K support.
Few home theater users want to clutter their TV stand with unnecessary peripherals or add-ons. As a result, most Blu-ray players include applications for popular streaming services like Netflix and Hulu that consolidate your content services on a single device.
Apps for services, like streaming music or radio, can also sometimes be found in the Blu-ray player menu or App Stores. While applications can sometimes have variations in menus or layout compared to versions on dedicated streaming devices, they're often easy to use and load. Budget Blu-ray players tend to have slow load times for these apps, though.
Blu-ray Players: Our Verdict & Recommendations
Our top Blu-ray players benefit from future-ready features and strong performance. The Sony BDP-S6700 can easily fit into your home theater setup thanks to its low profile and connectivity options. It has Wi-Fi and supports wireless Bluetooth audio playback.
Similarly, the Samsung UBD-K8500's native 4K support and full selection of audio, video, and network standards allow it to be a stellar choice for enthusiasts and home users. While the Sony BDP-S6500 lacks the Bluetooth support found in its higher-end counterpart, it still benefits from exceptional performance and many of the same specifications of the S6700.
Other value-friendly alternatives include the LG BP350 and Seiki SR4KP1. Both models lack many of the features found in premium models like 3D support, but each benefits from low price tags that will appeal to users who only need the basics from their Blu-ray player. The Seiki's barebones features can make it a hurdle for most home users, but its region-free support provides benefit for users who frequently watch international movies.
Contributing Reviewer: Brandon Carte