12 best Blu-ray players in the world 2014
1st Jan 2014 | 11:00
From cheap options to 3D and UHD players
When big and bulky Blu-ray players first appeared on the shelves a few years ago they were all about high definition.
Back then, simply getting HD content into your HD-ready TV was the hottest ticket in town - and it came at a high price.
Those first-gen players are buried in the distant past now, leaving us with super-slim machines with loading times in single figure seconds, 3D Blu-ray playback, 2D-to-3D conversion, apps, streaming to and from smartphones and tablets, home networking, and upscaling to Ultra HD 4K resolutions even before Ultra HD TVs are common.
Here are 12 of the best Blu-ray players to give you a flavour of what's available both now and in the next few weeks and months.
Toshiba BDX5300 - £70/US$90 (around AU$103)
Wi-Fi and 3D playback deftly integrate on this great value effort
With Wi-Fi-powered smart TV services and universal disc playback that includes 3D Blu-ray discs, Toshiba has produced one of the lowest priced products in its category. Smart stuff is a four-spiked service in the UK, with BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Acetrax and Picasa, while US customers get Netflix, VUDU, Hulu Plus, Pandora and YouTube.
It's a rather manual approach, but although there are more polished, easier to use and smarter 3D Blur-ray decks around, those on a tight budget and after pure functionality should look no further for a 3D quick fix.
Read our Toshiba BDX5300 review
Toshiba BDX3300 - £70/US$100 (around AU$103)
The anti-3D brigade can bag themselves a bargain Blu-ray, with BBC iPlayer to boot
A spectacular example of Toshiba's well-practised 'everyman' approach to consumer electronics, the BDX3300 is comfortably the cheapest 'big brand' Blu-ray player we've yet seen.
The streamlined selection of smart TV services is wisely restricted to BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Acetrax and Picasa in the UK, but its adds home networking via DLNA and digital file support - though that doesn't include MKV files. Images from 2D Blu-ray are excellent; it may lack finesse and at times appear a tad archaic, but all-round the Toshiba BDX3300 is a bit of a steal.
Read our Toshiba BDX5300 review
Philips BDP5500 - £130/US$190 (around AU$191)
Dependable 3D Blu-ray player with SimplyShare and Skype
Right from the outset of the Blu-ray revolution, Philips set about making cut-price, but thoroughly dependable machines. The Philips BDP5500 is a chip off the old block, with regular features such as 3D playback, 2D-3D conversion, Skype, Wi-Fi-powered smart TV apps (though not many) and some basic home networking.
But that's less impressive than the hi-def pictures - as well as images from digital video files - and all-round build quality. It also features SimplyShare for streaming from a smartphone or tablet to the BDP5500.
Sony BDP-S5100 - £140/US$140 (around AU$205)
Always good value, Sony's latest flagship 3D disc spinner introduces a 'TV SideView' second screen
Often one to play with meaningless branding, Sony has this year come up with both 'Triluminos' colour and something called 'Sense of Quartz' design. Say what? Behind the gimmicks is yet another great value Sony Blu-ray deck that melds Wi-Fi and 3D Blu-ray playback with Lovefilm, Netflix and BBC iPlayer and many other apps in its easy to use smart TV interface.
New for 2013 are simple voice commands and TV SideView, a free mobile app for Android and iOS that enables a tablet or smartphone to act as a second screen related to the Blu-ray disc you're watching, or TV apps you're using.
Panasonic DMP-BDT330 - US$200 (around £133/AU$196)
4K upscaling and Miracast feature on this brushed aluminium beast
Swipe 'n' share is the theme for this year's top-end 3D Blu-ray player from Panasonic, which uses Wi-Fi Direct-powered Miracast mirroring to push content (video, music, photos) from a smartphone or tablet to a TV via the Panasonic DMP-BDT330.
Viera Connect smart TV apps such as BBC iPlayer, Netflix, YouTube and Acetrax are here too, but there's also a future-proofing argument at work in the shape of 4K upscaling. UK pricing is to be confirmed.
Samsung BD-F7500 - US$250 (around £166/AU$245)
4K upscaling and SmartView streaming to a tablet or smartphone
Although it's planning to bring hard disk recorders to the UK, for now the only Blu-ray deck for 2013 from Samsung is this Wi-Fi-fuelled beauty with smart TV and… 4K upscaling. Ahead of the curve on that front (does anyone actually have an Ultra HD TV yet?), the BD-F7500 also claims to upscale SD and low-bitrate digital files to HD quality.
It's also equipped with analogue 7.1 audio outputs, a dual-core processor to super-charge Samsung's extensive Smart Hub apps and AllShare networking, and SmartView to stream video to a smartphone or tablet. Oh, and it plays 3D Blu-ray discs, too. UK pricing is to be confirmed.
Pioneer BDP-450 - £200 (around US$300/AU$294)
Wi-Fi goes walkabout, but HD high jinks claw it back
Judged purely on value, there are few Blu-ray machines this capable with both pictures and sound. Precision is the name of the game here, though there are plenty of other core features.
Wi-Fi isn't one of them - it's inexplicably left off - but given an Ethernet LAN cable the BDP-450 can offer YouTube, Netflix and Picasa, and network with both a PC and an app-packed smartphone or tablet. Convenience is king, with a USB slot on the front for MP3 playback from a flash drive or HDD. The Pioneer BDP-450 also supports lossless audio discs, SACD and DVD-Audio.
Sony BDP-S790 - £240/US$250/AU$430
Ultra HD upscaling chipset sees this 3D spinner through another year
The fruits of 2012's haul of Blu-ray players from Sony, the BDP-S790 has survived the annual cull, thanks to its ability to upscale video to Ultra HD resolutions - and that's crucial given the recent release of Sony's debut UHD TV, the 84-inch KD-84X9005.
Also capable of playing 3D Blu-ray discs and home to the Sony Entertainment Network suite of apps, this Wi-Fi-equipped machine leaves you plenty to talk about - and via built-in Skype, if you like.
Panasonic DMR-BWT735 - price TBC
Remote recording and Pure Sound on this 3D Blu-ray recorder
In a class of one when it comes to 3D Blu-ray recorders, Panasonic nevertheless continues to fit-up its annual offering with some special features. For 2013, the DMR-BWT735 adds remote recording; using an app it's possible to access the Freeview HD TV schedules from anywhere and set up recordings on the hoof.
It can also be networked, streaming content to any Smart Viera TV or smartphone/tablet with a DIGA Player app, while also featuring Viera Connect smart TV apps and twin HD tuners for recording two TV channels simultaneously on its 1TB hard disk.
Denon DBT-1713UD - £300/US$500 (around AU$441)
High-end 'Universal Disc Transporter' with YouTube and Netflix
Why boast about Blu-ray when you can play anything? Designed to be as adept with audiophile formats such as Super Audio CDs and DVD-Audio as well as CD, DVD and Blu-ray, Denon's stab at an all-rounder also includes home networking from a PC, and its own YouTube and Netflix apps.
Supporting MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV and FLAC music files, this mid-range muso's Blu-ray player is nevertheless designed to operate silently when indulging you with 2D or 3D Blu-ray discs.
Marantz UD7007 - £650/US$1,200 (around AU$957)
Precision-engineered 3D ready Blu-ray player for musos
This is from the same stable as the Denon DBT-1713UD, so expect a similar level of attention to detail. Similarly fitted with YouTube and Netflix, the Marantz UD7007 plays 3D Blu-ray, but can also extract the finest analogue stereo audio quality from CD and SACD, lossless FLAC digital music files and DivX HD video.
An aluminium top and a steal chassis create something genuinely high-end, but that build also cuts down on vibration. Cue its Pure Direct audio mode, which silences all other circuitry during music.
Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD - £800/US$1,200 (around AU$1,177)
This top-end 'universal' disc spinner is primed for CD and DVD as well as Blu-ray
Although it plays 2D and 3D Blu-ray discs, it's what's elsewhere on the Azur 752BD that gives it that eye-watering price. Marvell Qdeo video scaling to 4K resolution is part of the answer, but it's what the Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD does with audio that makes it special. SACD, HDCD and DVD-Audio discs are dealt with by a Pure Audio Mode that isolates video processing, and five Wolfson WM8740 DACs for good measure.
As good a CD player as anything out there - and able to play lossless music formats such as FLAC and WAV - the Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD has 7.1-channel audio outputs for Blu-ray discs, too.