How to Choose a Blu-Ray DVD Player

It's time to buy a Blu-ray DVD Player. The format war with HD-DVD is over. Blu-ray is the next-generation digital storage device. Although Blu-ray discs have the same dimensions as a regular DVD, they can store approximately six times more data, giving them enough capacity to deliver high-definition 1080p video to your home theater system. Blu-ray technology makes use of a short-wavelength blue laser to store and read data, which gives the format its name.

Blu-ray Player Benefits
Is a Blu-ray player that much better? If you own a high-end HDTV that supports 1080p images, the answer is yes. If your TV doesn't support 1080p, you'll still get a better picture from a Blu-ray player than a standard DVD player, but you won't notice the improvement as much.

If you're still in the process of upgrading your home theater system, save the Blu-ray DVD player for last, and make sure that the TV and home theater receiver you choose can support HDMI connections that deliver the best quality audio and video.

What's in the Box?
When you're looking at Blu-ray players, make sure you know what comes in the box. Some Blu-ray players don't include HDMI or component cables, so you may need to purchase those separately. You'll also want to make sure you have the appropriate audio cables to connect to your receiver or television. Before you buy, take stock of what is included with the Blu-ray player, what essential cables you'll need and whether your system supports the connections of the Blu-ray player you want to buy. Many manufacturers offer cables at a reduced price or as part of a bundle package with a new Blu-ray player, so look for special deals to ensure you get the most bang for your buck.

Component cables carry high-definition signal, but at a slightly reduced quality. Refrain from using component cables unless you don't have any HDMI slots available. For optimal video quality, use a good HDMI cable to hook up your new Blu-ray player. Monster brand cables have a well-deserved reputation for being the highest quality cables available. If you're running cables for more than three feet, Monster cables are the best choice. For shorter distances, you won't lose much signal down the path, and any brand of cable will do.

Understanding Product Specs
When shopping for Blu-ray players, comparing product specifications provides a great starting point. Comparing supported formats, features and audio outputs gives you a way to measure one Blu-ray player against the rest, and you can usually eliminate several players right away that simply don't meet your needs.

A Blu-ray DVD player works with standard DVDs as well as Blu-ray discs, so you'll still be able to enjoy your DVD collection. Some Blu-ray players don't support rewritable media, such as DVD-R or CD-R/W. If you have a lot of noncommercial discs, check the specs to make sure it supports the formats you use. Features to look for in a Blu-ray player include chapter skip, fast forward and rewind, frame advance and a resume function that restarts a DVD from the point you stopped watching.

Audio presents another series of challenges. Almost every Blu-ray player supports Dolby and DTS 5.1 surround sound. Support for newer audio technologies, such as 6.1 and 7.1 surround that adds additional speakers, is found only in higher-end Blu-ray players. Although high-definition sound is a new technology, it's worth thinking about the future usefulness of a Blu-ray player if you plan on upgrading your sound system in the next five years.

Firmware
Digital rights management is a serious topic for movie and television studios, and various methods are in place to prevent copying and playing back copied Blu-ray discs. The Blu-ray standard has not yet been finalized, which means that Blu-ray players sold today may have trouble accessing features or playing discs unless you upgrade their firmware.

Before you buy any Blu-ray player, find out how to update the firmware. Some Blu-ray players can connect to the Internet and do this automatically, which is the simplest solution if you've got a high-speed Internet connection at home. Blu-ray players without an Internet or Ethernet connection require you to download firmware updates on a PC and burn them to a compatible DVD that gets loaded into the player.

Profiles
The Blu-ray Disc Association initially established three hardware profiles for Blu-ray manufacturers, rather than requiring all of the standards to be implemented immediately. Profile 1.0 was the introductory standard, which many Blu-ray players still use. Profile 1.0 Blu-ray players are capable of playing movies, but don't do much else. Profile 1.1 adds higher memory requirements, as well as additional audio and video standards to enable features such as picture-in-picture.

Profile 2.0 Blu-ray players include an Internet connection and 1GB of built-in storage. These players have the ability to download trailers and bonus content, as well as enabling online shopping and gaming. Profile 1.1 Blu-ray players are the best choice for the budget-minded consumer who still wants to be able to play all content, while Profile 2.0 is perfect for the true movie enthusiast looking for total immersion through additional Internet-based content.

Getting Started with Blu-ray
With standards, firmware and audio support still up in the air, you might be wondering whether it's worth it to get a Blu-ray player. If you demand the best audio and video experience available, a Blu-ray player should be part of your home entertainment system.

If the thought of early obsolescence bothers you, you can dip your toe in the Blu-ray waters with a video game system. Sony's PlayStation 3 offers next-generation gaming on Blu-ray discs and plays movies as well. Although the Blu-ray player won't match the audio and video output of a standalone player, it does offer the added bonus of games and Web browsing, allowing you to start to enjoy Blu-ray movies now while you wait for the specs to be finalized.

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