Editor's Choice: Top 7 Blu-ray players

31st Jul 2008 | 14:14

Editor's Choice: Top 7 Blu-ray players

Seven of the best high def disc spinners grouped together for your perusal

Blu-ray hasn't exactly been the roaring success that some people thought it would be. Player sales have not soared, and BD movie sales have been anchored firmly in the shadow of DVD.

But that's not quite the full story. Because if you place the Blu-ray timeline alongside that of DVD, you'll see something interesting. Blu-ray is actually faring slightly better than DVD was doing at the same time in its life cycle.

And while that doesn't necessarily mean much, it's at least an indicator that there's a lot to come from the Blu-ray format over the next few years.

With HD television sales still going berserk, the market for Blu-ray is getting bigger all the time. And with price erosion progressing exponentially, the cost of investing in Blu-ray is coming down month-on-month.

Here are the best Blu-ray Disc players currently on the market (in order of price):

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Samsung BD-P1400 - £190

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1400The Samsung BD-P1400's feature list is superior to the company's debut Blu-ray deck (BD-P1000), and is bolstered further by a firmware update which we suggest all buyers implement as soon as they can.

The BD- P1400 has was given a radical makeover, supplanting the angled lines of the P1000 with a gently curved fascia. The first player design had its fans, but in our opinion, this model looks better.

Standard DVD playback is actually very good, with the player doing a reasonable job of curing jaggies and passing both our horizontal and vertical text crawl tests. It's a actually a better DVD player than the Panasonic BD30.

Those looking for a strong HD picture will be pleased, but its lack of Profile 1.1 support will limit its appeal. The BD-P1500 (below) fixes many of the 1400's problems, but for £190 this is an excellent entry-level player.

Read our full review

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Samsung BD-P1500 - £250

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1500The Samsung BD-P1500 complies with BD Profile 1.1 from the box.

This allows it to spin such BD-Java-laden discs as Men in Black and Batman Begins (including picture-in-picture) without coughing and spluttering like a 1976 Austin Allegro.

There's even a firmware patch reportedly on the horizon, most likely in September, that'll upgrade the machine to comply with Profile 2.0. Once that's enforced, the wonders of BD-Live will be accessible too.

The BD-P1500 is also superior to its ground-setting progenitor in that it features bitstream outputting for Dolby TrueHD.

Unfortunately, DTS-HD MA or HR decoding is nowhere to be found, which is mildly bizarre considering it was present on the BD-P1400.

Perhaps the biggest difference between this player and the first of the generation is in price. At £250 it's refreshingly affordable, particularly in comparison to the £450 Panasonic DMP-BD50.

Read our full review

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Panasonic DMP-BD30 -£280

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BD30The Panasonic DMP-BD30 was the world's first Profile 1.1 Blu-ray player. At the time that made it pretty special, although the Profile 2.0-sporting BD50 has now rendered the claim all but meaningless.

The player is super-slim, standing just 59mm tall. Ergonomics are a bit bonkers, though.

The Disc Open button is bizarrely located to the right (opposite to the disc loading tray itself) while the Power button sits above the disc tray to the left.

This arrangement is as logical as a loft full of Big Brother contestants. I often turned off the player by mistake when instinctively seeking to eject a disc.

If you're looking to buy into Blu-ray, it's because you want a disc-spinner that will blow your socks off visually, and this Panasonic doesn't disappoint. When it comes to picture clarity, the BD30 is one of the best BD players yet to grace our Tech Labs.

Read our full review

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Sony PS3 - £289

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ps3At under £300, the Sony PlayStation 3 must still be considered one of the best Blu-ray players on the market. There are two obvious reasons for this.

Firstly, it's a tremendously powerful games console as well as a BD player and yet still costs less than most standalone BD players.

And secondly, it will never be out of date because the firmware is constantly being updated. You don't need to worry about Profile 1.1 or Profile 2.0. The PS3 will always support the latest standard.

Not only that, but it upscales DVDs to 1080p beautifully, and is able to stream media wireless from a PC. It's a brilliant device.

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Sharp BPHD20H - £290

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sharpThe BDHP20H is powered up and blasting out 1080p in the time it takes most high-definition disc players to flash up a 'Welcome' message.

Considering that this has been the biggest complaint with most HD disc spinners to date, Sharp could be onto something.

Add that to some high-end Blu-ray disc features and a smooth mirrored finish, and the Sharp seems extremely desirable. It's also terrific value.

But first impressions don't exactly last: it does have some startling omissions that could harm your home entertainment.

It might have the ability to output Blu-ray discs at both 1080p resolution and at 24 frames per second - normally an expensive option on a hi-def player - but there are certain basic features that the BDHP20H lacks.

It'll play Blu-ray discs, of course, and accepts DVDs and CDs. But it can't use blank media storing DiVX or MPEG video files. Nor can it view JPEG pictures, or music formats such as MP3 or WMA. Also unwelcome are the CD sides of DualDiscs.

This player launched at £400 - so now at under £300, despite the flaws, it's a good value player.

Read our full review

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Sony BDP-S500 - £400

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sonyUndoubtedly, this is a machine that oozes class and backs up technological boasts with grit, graft and grind where it matters.

However, beyond the firework show of whizzes, bangs and pretty colours, it's only Profile 1.0. It won't even play all of the BD Java content currently found on some discs.

That specific caveat aside, though, the S500 is an object of modest beauty. Everything bar tricky BD Java-duties is handled with the care and mastery of a machine built by engineers who obviously care about video and audio.

Even the exterior design has been painstakingly laboured over, with aesthetic flourishes that justify its price point.

Unlike its stablemates, the S1E and S300, the front fascia is no fingerprint-attracting flap.

It's still prone to display dabs as prominently as a police case file, but it's automated - smoothly lowering when you press the tray eject button - thus negating the need for digit-specific gropings.

Despite only being Profile 1.0, this is a nice player. But the price will probably be enough to put most people off, given the quality and lower prices of the other players on display here.

Read our full review

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Panasonic DMP-BD50 - £450

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bd50Created to deliver the highest possible quality video and audio standards, as well as finally unlocking the forbidden pleasures of BD Live (whatever the heck they might be) via an Ethernet port and local storage, Panasonic's DMP-BD50 appears to offer it all.

We've already seen Panasonic's precursor to this deck in the shape of the award-winning DMP-BD30.

That was a Profile 1.1 player which sold out shortly after its introduction (purely because when stock was ordered from Panasonic's Japanese factory, the disc world was still embroiled in a format war and demand was expected to be subdued).

This is ostensibly the same player with some superior functionality that brings it bang up to date. But the extra features come at a cost, and while Panasonic has been prepping the BD50 for launch, Sony has been stealthily upgrading its PlayStation 3.

A programme of regular firmware updates saw it beat the BD50 to the Profile 2.0 post. So has Panasonic's thunder been stolen? Actually, no.

While its BD Live functionality will probably help garner the deck headlines, there's more to this player than a talent to go online.

It features state-of-the-art silicon capable of advanced audio-visual signal processing. Picture-wise, it outputs up to 1080p24 from Blu-ray and boasts the same processing power that made the BD30 HCC's favourite player.

Lurking within Panasonic's reference UniPhier chipset is the P4HD pixel processor for detail retrieval, as well as a PHL (Panasonic Hollywood Laboratories) Chroma Processor that up-samples colour data to max out the nuances in the BD format.

If you want the best performing standalone Blu-ray player available, this is the machine to get.

Read our full review

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