The Best of What's New in Blu-ray and HD DVD Players By Andrew Eisner
By Andrew Eisner
Okay, so the format war is still going strong but the newest crop of Blu-ray and HD DVD players are getting better and cheaper. We looked at all the Blu-ray and HD DVD user reviews, expert reviews, DVD player features, and prices and came up with some good values.
Format War Mess
You’d think the industry would have learned a lesson from the last video format war between Betamax and VHS. But here we are again with Sony and Blu-ray in one corner battling HD
It appears that everyone has taken sides except the consumers. Sony Playstations have Blu-ray players, while Microsoft Xbox uses HD
We can understand why you might be inclined to wait until the dust settles but frankly we’re not sure a winner will emerge anytime soon. A more likely scenario will be a price war making it harder to resist the ultimate home theater experience.
Features to Look For on Blu-ray and HD DVD Players
The latest version of the standard high definition interface is HDM 1.3a that supports more colors and better audio. “Deep Color,” is an optional component in HDMI 1.3 and adds even more color depth. Some of the high-end lossless audio standards like TrueHD and DTS-HD are also optional with HDMI 1.3 so make sure they list those unless your receiver will decode them.
HDMI pass through makes it possible for audio signal to “pass through” the DVD player to a high-end receiver that decodes the high-end audio like TrueHD and DTS-HD.
24 frame video is more compatible with movies that have been produced to play in 24 frames per second theater projectors as opposed to 30 frames per second TV sets. Look for players that support "1080p/24."
VC-1 and H.264 are slowly replacing MPEG2 compression as high definition video codecs.
Blu-ray standards are called "profiles" and the most recently approved profile is 1.1. Unlike 1.0, Profile 1.1 supports “In Movie Experience,” or Picture in Picture which can be used to display a director’s commentary in a small window while you are watching a movie. Blu-ray players’ firmware cannot be upgraded to 1.1. HD DVD has supported PIP from the get go. The first Profile 1.1 players are just now coming to market.
Best Blu-ray and HD DVD values on the market.
|Toshiba HD-A3||Toshiba HD-A30||Toshiba HD-A35|
Toshiba HD-A3 is a very affordable entry-level player that limits resolution to 1080i. You can find it for as low as $200. If you can afford and extra $100 we recommend moving up to the HD-A30.
The Toshiba HD-A30 goes for $100 more than the HD-A3 and supports 1080/24 and HDMI 1.3 with the Deep Color enhancement. The Toshiba HD-A35 adds HDMI pass-through and audio that supports high bit rate audio 7.1 channel audio but we think the HD-A30 is the best value.
|Samsung BD-P1400||Sharp AQUOS BD-HP20U||Sony BDP-S500|
The Samsung BD-P1400 Blu-ray player features 1080p/24, HDMI 1.3 and costs around $350. It gets high marks for image quality but there are scattered reports of reliability issues. The good news is that firmware is upgradeable.
The Sharp Aquos BD-HP20U Blu-ray player in addition to the latest features offers a Quick Start feature that speeds up the loading processing from a very long one minute in most players to 10 seconds. You can buy it for a little over $500.
“Where are the Sony players,” you might ask. Unfortunately, the current Sony Blu-ray players don’t offer the value that would let us give them a strong recommendation. Sony recently announced a couple of new players but unless you are a diehard Sony fan you can get more for your money with other brands.
Meanwhile the Sony BDP-S300 just got a price drop and can be purchased for under $400 but still not a great value.
Panasonic’s DMP-BD30 Blu-ray player will be one of the firsts, if not the first Profile 1.1 player. It does 1080p/24 the latest HDMI 1.3. Reviewers give the video quality high marks but dings for lacking high end audio codecs and port for network firmware upgrades. It’s expected to sell around $500.
Dual Format Players
Players that support both formats cost more than buying two players but pundits assure us that significant price drops for these players are around the corner.
|LG BH200||Samsung BDP-UP5000|
The LG BH200 will save shelf space but not money. It plays both formats and can be purchased for $800.
The soon-to-ship Samsung BDP-UP5000 is expected to sell for under $1000 and will support all the features from both formats including BD-Java and HDi which are the latest standards for enabling interactive menus, gaming, commentary, and networking features.
One of our favorite sites for news and information on high def players and content is High-Def Digest.