So which is the best blu-ray player?

Now that the format war is over and we can all stop holding back, its time to consider which blu-ray player to buy. Here are the main contenders;

Sony BDP-S300
Sony’s BDP-S300 is one of the more affordable blu-ray players on the market, and has sparked a fair amount of interest in the hi-def disc battle. The player outputs at resolutions up to 1080p/24, decodes Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Digital and DTS, upscales DVDs to 1080p, plays MP3 and JPEG files and even plays high-definition MPEG-4 AVC-HD footage stored on a DVD, and it supports x.v.colour. The BDP-S300 is a bit slimmer than some of its competitors, with eject and power buttons on top of the equipment. The player features the usual assortment of component, HDMI, composite and s-video connections but, as is common with current blu-ray players, ethernet connectivity is notably absent. Picture quality is excellent on blu-ray and DVD upconversion to 1080p, but there is no Dolby TrueHD decoding and load times are slow, particularly on newer BD Java discs.

Sharp BD-HP20H
The Sharp BD-HP20H is Sharp’s first entry into the blu-ray player market. It includes an HDMI 1.3 output, capable of outputting video up to 1080p/24, plus 7.1-channel audio bitstreams, but DVD playback when upscaled to 1080p has been criticized as softer and noisier than other players. Unfortunately you won’t find an ethernet connection, and the BD-HP20H is a profile 1.0 player, which means it won’t support advanced BD-Java features found on forthcoming profile 1.1 blu-ray discs, such as picture-in-picture. The deck’s firmware can’t be upgraded either, so it will never deliver the full blu-ray experience.

Samsung BD-P1400
The BD-P1400 has seen a radical change in design since Samsung’s previous blu-ray player, with all-over gloss black finish, sloping fascia, and subtle blue lighting. The player supports Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Digital, DTS and DTS HD and can output blu-ray movies in pure 1080p/24 over its HDMI 1.3 connection, but its digital media file support is fairly limited, restricted to just MP3 and JPEG playback. Rare among blu-ray players, the BD-P1400 comes with an ethernet port for making firmware updates, but unfortunately the BD-P1400 is a profile 1.0 player and not 1.1, so it won’t support advanced features found on forthcoming BonusView blu-ray discs, and like all profile 1.0 players (with the exception of the PS3) it can’t be upgraded to 1.1.

Sony Playstation 3
The Sony PS3 accounts for the vast majority of blu-ray players finding their way into people’s living rooms. What’s more, it has cool written all over it. It’s all curves and gloss black, and can be oriented horizontally or vertically. The power supply is also integral, so there’s no power brick or wall-wart to spoil the aesthetics. Manipulating high-definition video and graphics as high in resolution as 1080p at high speeds requires a lot of processor power. At the heart of the PS3 is the Cell Broadband processor, developed jointly by IBM, Sony, and Toshiba. It’s a multi-core design, with eight “synergistic processing elements”, each of which is capable of true parallel processing. The PS3 is the fastest BD player on the market. Sony has included full support for Dolby’s lossless TrueHD codec, in addition to Dolby Digital and DTS. The PS3 is also fully upgradeable so it’s possible that support for other audio formats could be added later. The PS3 has an ethernet connection, which makes firmware updates simple to download. Built-in networking is an advantage for the PS3 over standalone BD players, few of which currently have an ethernet port.

So which to go for? Thankfully, all these players offer 1080p/24 output and DVD upscaling, with a variety of audio formats to choose from, but all except the PS3 have a limitation. The blu-ray format was rushed to market in a half-finished state to compete with Toshiba’s rival HD-DVD format, so many of the features found in HD-DVD right from the start will only appear in blu-ray profile 2. This means that profile 1.0 or 1.1 players will be unable to play all the features of newer blu-ray movies. But the PS3, basically a very powerful PC in a box, is fully upgradeable and therefore a good deal more future proof than the others. It’s already been upgraded to allow 24p output and DVD upscaling (considered to be just about the best on the market). So for anyone concerned about full compatibility with future blu-ray releases, the PS3 is the obvious choice.

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