The benefits of Blu-ray are crystal clear: Video from traditional DVDs contains fewer than 350,000 pixels, while 1080p HD video packs more than two million, which translates to sublime, high-resolution detail. If you want to make the most of your 1080p HDTV, you should upgrade to a Blu-ray player.
And there's never been a better time to do it. The current crop of Blu-ray players offer stellar HD picture quality, fast disc-handling, and extras like integrated Wi-Fi, 3D support, and audio and video streaming.
These days you can find a well-rounded player that performs well for less than $200 if you do some smart online shopping. Still, there are a lot of choices out there. Here's what you need to consider when choosing the right Blu-ray player:Blu-ray Basics
If you have a 1080p HDTV, you have the most to gain from Blu-ray, since a television with full HD is equipped to show every one of those glorious pixels. A couple of years ago when 1080p TVs were fetching a premium and Blu-ray player prices were still prohibitively high, it made sense to wait to make the move to Blu-ray. But today, 1080p is more standard than exception in HDTVs, and it's clear that Blu-ray is replacing DVD. Simply put, buying a new DVD player today, no matter how inexpensive, doesn't make much sense; you're just investing in technology that's on its way out. The good news is that all Blu-ray players can upconvert traditional DVDs, (and they'll even look better than they would if you played them on your DVD player) so getting one doesn't mean you have to ditch your DVD collection or keep your old DVD player around.
As for the discs, there are two features you should know about: Bonus View and BD-Live. Bonus View is basically picture-in-picture, which lets you view different angles of the same scene, or allows a director to explain how a movie was filmed, for example, and requires a secondary audio/video decoder. Pretty much every player manufactured in the last two years supports this feature. Discs with BD-Live offer additional downloadable, streaming multimedia, or interactive Web content. Some models are described as "BD-Live ready," meaning that they lack the necessary internal storage to support the feature, but you can add more memory (via a USB key or drive) to enable it. If you think you want to use BD-Live, it's best to look for a player with enough built-in memory to support it, like the LG BD690.
All players include a High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) port that can stream audio and video over a single cable. HDMI supports Blu-ray's maximum video resolution as well as all audio formats, including the lossless ones (Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio) that some A/V receivers support, so it's the best way to hook the player to your HDTV. A few manufacturers include an HDMI cable in the box, but with most models, you need to provide your own.
Also, all current players will include an Ethernet port for a hardwired network connection, and many, like the Toshiba BDX5200, and our Editors' Choice, the Samsung BD-D5700 integrate Wi-Fi, so you can wirelessly connect the player to your network to access the Web for media streaming, BD-Live, and firmware updates.
Most players make good use of that Web connection. Specific services vary by manufacturer and player, but you can typically view photos and stream audio and video from a variety of sources such as Picasa, Netflix, Vudu, YouTube, Pandora, and Slacker. Some manufacturers, like Samsung and Vizio, also include widgets that display news, weather, and give you access to social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Then, of course, there's the Sony PlayStation 3, which in addition to being a very solid Blu-ray player, also lets you stream video and play hundreds of games.
What About 3D?
If you think you want to upgrade to a 3D TV in the near future, you need a Blu-ray player that will play 3D discs. Each major manufacturer has at least one 3D-enabled player in its lineup, many offer more.
If you're ready for Blu-ray, it's high time to dive in. Check out reviews of the latest players in our Blu-ray Product GuideThis buying guide is in partnership with Ziff Davis Media.