Everyone knows there’s no such thing as a free lunch.…
Blu-ray has been the de facto high-definition movie standard for over two years now, but surprisingly few people have pulled the trigger on a player. Know why? The players are expensive, the movies cost more than their DVD counterparts, and the benefits of Blu-ray not exactly obvious. Allow me to clear up a few things. First, the players are no longer expensive. You can easily find them selling for under $100. In fact, Kmart currently has a refurbished Magnavox Blu-ray player for just $49.99. Throw anything else into your cart to get free shipping (which kicks in when your cart total exceeds $50).
Second, while Blu-ray movies do indeed cost more than the DVD versions, why buy when you can rent? Blockbuster and Netflix both offer Blu-ray rentals. Another option: Buy Blu-ray movies that include DVD versions in the same box (an increasingly common option), then sell the latter on eBay or Craigslist. At the very least it’ll defray your overall cost.
Finally, if you have an HDTV of any kind, a Blu-ray player is a must. Older DVD players can’t produce nearly enough pixels to take advantage of your high-resolution screen, which is why DVD movies tend to look grainy and washed-out. Even the cheapest Blu-ray player will make a huge, huge difference in image quality.
And there’s another benefit: Blu-ray players can not only play your existing library of DVDs, but also “upscale” the video. I’ll spare you the techie details of that, but the movies you already own will look considerably better than they did on your old DVD player.
So, what should you look for in a Blu-ray player? All models have certain features in common, like support for 1080p output (the max viewable on HDTVs) and the aforementioned DVD upscaling.
Higher-end models include an Ethernet port (or, better yet, Wi-Fi), which allows them to connect to the Internet. That’s important if you want some of the bonus content that’s included with certain movies. If so, look for players that support BD-Live and/or Blu-ray Profile 2.0. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to run an Ethernet cable from your router to the player (unless the latter supports Wi-Fi, that is).
If you’re a Netflix subscriber, by all means choose a player that supports the service. These models can stream the movies and TV shows in your Watch Instantly queue. You won’t get Blu-ray quality (that’s Netflix’s limitation, not the player’s), but it’s still a ridiculously awesome feature.
Some players support other services as well, like Amazon Video and Pandora online radio. To me these don’t compare with the Netflix option, but they’re certainly nice extras.
One last thing: You’ll need an HDMI cable to connect your Blu-ray player to your HDTV. As I wrote a few weeks back in The Myth of the Expensive HDMI Cable , don’t bother with the “fancy” ones costing $20 or more. You can get a perfectly good HDMI cable for as little as $5–possibly even less.
Self-proclaimed cheapskate Rick Broida has been a technology writer for over 20 years. He has authored over a dozen books, including, most recently, “How to Do Everything: Palm Pre.” Currently he writes the Cheapskate blog for CNET, the Hassle-Free PC blog for PC World, and technology stories for Popular Science, Wired, and other magazines.