What's the Best Blu-ray Player

While Sony's Play Station 3 provides great value, doing double-duty as a Blu-ray player and a video game system, true videophiles are unhappy with PS3's Blu-ray playback. The PS3 is prone to creating visual artifacts, stuttering on fast pans and having trouble rendering motion-intensive scenes. Thus, some enthusiasts demand a standalone player for their Blu-ray needs. If you're one of them, consider these Blu-ray players:

Panasonic DMP-BD50K
Panasonic's July '08 introduction to the Blu-ray market is an absolute winner, and the most feature-rich standalone Blu-ray player to date. The DMP-BD50K is the first Profile 2.0-compliant stand-alone Blu-ray player, offering BD-Live capabilities and a full array of high-resolution soundtrack decoding. BD-live support makes Panasonic's Blu-ray player capable of accessing Internet-enabled features via Ethernet connection and an SD card (not included). While BD-Live content isn't currently well developed, featuring primarily movie trailers and other features just as easily included on the disc, enthusiasts look to the future for innovative online content.

The big area in which the BD50K stands out is onboard decoding for all high-resolution soundtrack formats. This feature has been underdeveloped or missing entirely in other Blu-ray players, so its inclusion in the BD50K makes it highly desirable to audiophiles. Decoding both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, this BD player makes it unnecessary to upgrade your receiver to take advantage of high-definition soundtracks.

The Panasonic DMP-BD50K performance represents yet another breakthrough in the field of stand-alone Blu-ray players. The BD50K outperforms every other stand-alone BD player in terms of load time, smooth playback without artifacts and effectively decoding different sources. While some of these performance benefits were slight over its closest competitor, nothing could match the BD50K's performance.

Samsung BD-P1500
The Samsung BD-P1500 is the closest competitor for the title of best standalone Blu-ray player, and its greatest strength is not performance but price. At around half the price of the feature-rich Panasonic player, the Samsung can afford to be less of a powerhouse because the difference in price speaks for itself. The value-conscious consumer won't be disappointed with Samsung's latest entry in the BD-P series, as the image quality is very good on most Blu-ray discs.

One point of contention is the Samsung BD-1500's lack of support for DTS-HD Master Audio. If you want to listen to a high-definition soundtrack encoded in DTS-HD, you'll need a receiver equipped to handle the decoding, since Samsung didn't include this feature. Samsung claims that it intends to update the firmware to include DTS-HD support at a later date, so you're not necessarily out of luck if you buy the model before this feature is included.

The other cause of disappointment with Samsung's model is a lack of support for Profile 2.0. Again, Samsung promises to address this shortcoming and add Profile 2.0 support to a firmware update in the future.

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