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Discover New Music

  • Gimme Fiction

    • 10 out of 10
    • Spoon
    • Gimme Fiction by Spoon is a terrific album by an Austin band that I was lucky enough to catch on an Austin radio station during a Christmas visit.

  • The Dresden Dolls

    • 10 out of 10
    • The Dresden Dolls
    • The energetic duet of Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione that make up the Dresden Dolls have created a wonderfully haunting sound in their self-titled album. They have been able to construct an imme

  • Aretha Sings the Blues

    • 6 out of 10
    • Aretha Franklin
    • While she didn't always have the best taste in song selection, Aretha Franklin is a must-study for anyone with interest in the human voice. She has the kind of powerful, recklessly passionate deliv

  • 2112

    • 10 out of 10
    • Rush
    • We all know it, right? Well, ya just gotta have it. 2112 finally showed Rush out on their own, doing their own thing, and doing it well, IMHO.
  • Supernature

    • 10 out of 10
    • Goldfrapp
    • On their latest CD, Supernature, Goldfrapp has put together a successful mix of 1980-era New Romanticism, German cabaret, and T. Rex glam that leaves you riveted even through the album's lulls. It's a great amalgam that sounds current without sounding at all dated.

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Blu-ray Buyer’s Guide for the Weekend

You're ready to make the leap and buy a Blu-ray player for your HDTV this weekend. Here's what you need to know, simply and straightforward.

First, Blu-ray players are like binoculars. The less you pay, the less you get in mechanical and optical quality. While many retailers are offering special deals this time of year, it's wise to know where the Blu-ray player you're eyeing fits into the price spectrum and what features are essential.

Samsung Blu-ray

 Samsung BD-P2500

For example, the Samsung BD-P1400 is last year's model. It has HDMI 1.3, 1080p output, has lots of advanced HD sound output options, like Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby TrueHD, but has no onboard memory and cannot be upgraded beyond Profile 1.0. This year's model, the BD-P1500 is Profile 1.1, otherwise very similar. Finally, the latest model, the BD-P2500, introduced for the holidays, has all that plus 1.0 GB of RAM, upgradeability to Profile 2, and can receive Netflix content over Ethernet.

For more details on Profile 1, 1.1, and 2.0, see this iPO article. You need to decide if the interactive features are important to you. If they're not, then you may be able to get a good price on an older model. However, see the Gotchas below.

For more information on the various HD sound formats, here is a good tutorial. My perception is that more movies are being released with advanced Dolby options, like (uncompressed) Dolby TrueHD than DTS HD Master. But that's just my experience.

The best thing to do is settle on a brand, a solid brand like Sony, Samsung, LG or Panasonic. Then look at the product history, as I did above, and make a chart of the features you want to have. Then shop for the best price on that specific model.

What you probably don't want to do is buy an off-brand model from a label you've never heard of, buy on impulse based on a really low-ball price, and then find out later that it doesn't have a key feature, such as Ethernet input, desired HD sound formats or the number and type of output connectors you need.

Netflix Compatibility

There are only two current Blu-ray players that have Ethernet plus the required firmware to receive Netflix content. The LG BD-300 and the Samsung BD-P2500 (or the BD-P2550 which is a Best Buy only model number and requires a firmware upgrade for Profile 2.)

You'll have to be a Netflix customer at one of the unlimited levels to access Netflix content with your account info.


1. Blu-ray discs require better hardware than DVDs for holding the disc stable as it rotates. That's one reason why Blu-ray players are more expensive. Cheaper Blu-ray players might cut corners on this -- although I don't have any definitive information. I think it's best to stay with the name brands who have a reputation to protect.

2. Some expensive Blu-ray players have costly chips to improve the look of DVDs. You can pay $2,000 for the Denon DVD-3800BDCI player with the Realta HQV video processor from Silicon Optix. Or you can buy a no-mame player for $128 at Wal-Mart. Defining your needs and finding your price point will require some research first.

3. Don't buy features that you can't use. For example, if the player has x.v.Color (deeper color bits), but your HDTV can't exploit that, then you're wasting money.

4. Lots of Blu-ray players advertise 24 fps (movie mode, which is really 48 fps) but most HDTVs can only accept 60 Hz input. So the HDTV has to do a special frame conversion that results in possible "judder" of the picture in high speed motion. (Even then it's almost impossible to see in normal viewing.) 60 Hz output into a 60 Hz TV will be fine for all but the purists. If you have one of the new 120 Hz HDTVs, then it can accept 24 fps without that special conversion. It's a nit, but the point is to match your Blu-ray player to the specs of the HDTV.

5. An Ethernet port is essential, even if it isn't a player, listed above, that supports Netflix. Internet firmware updates are far easier than downloading, burning a DVD, and manually updating.

6. All Blu-ray players will play DVDs (but not HD DVDs) Some will upconvert DVD output to 720p or even 1080p. The more accurate, fast, and capable the electronics, the better that upconversion will be. Without deep research into the specs, the best advice is to either use an upconverting A/V receiver, stick with a name brand Bu-ray player that is in the middle to top of the product line, or let the HDTV do it. Volumes shave been written about this, but the bottom line is to be sensitive to that trade between price and quality. Salesmen and women won't know much about this, so asking is futile.


For the average Mac customer who is into quality, I would recommend mid-line products from Sony (BDP-S550, ~$310), Samsung (BD-P2500, ~$300), LG (BD300, ~$300) or Panasonic (DMP-BD55K, ~$330). These players have the horsepower to make DVDs look good and aren't missing anything you'd ever need.

It's possible to go a step down, say, the Sony BDP-S350 or the Samsung BD-P1500 or Panasonic DMP-BD35 and get into the $200 range if finances dictate, but I can't recommend anything cheaper. Be careful to compare the specs to see if anything important to you is missing if you chose this course. Maybe there won't be.

Finally, I've been watching movies on Blu-ray for a year now. It's easy to see the superiority of a Blu-ray movie, and it makes watching movies especially satisfying. DVDs are fine for routine stuff, but the fact is, the difference is clearly visible, and DVDs for a major movie or two you love and want to buy for Christmas just don't cut it anymore.

Blu-ray will light up your living room on an HDTV.

6 comments from the community.

You can post your own below.

I already have a nice DVD collection! said:

My progressive scan, 1080 upscaling HDMI DVD player is “GOOD ENOUGH” for my new 46” Sony Z-series HDMI television.  While there is more clarity to the picture when connected to a standalone BluRay player, (standing about four feet away from the screen you can see the actor’s pimples and sweat) or the Playstation with a BluRay disc, it’s really NOT worth switching over to a different format.  BluRay does not enhance the overall movie-watching experience when seated six to eight feet away from the screen.

Since DVDs were introduced, I have invested in a nice collection.

I can play all of my regular DVDs in the family SUV, Minivan, and portable DVD players.  They can also be played on any computer with a DVD drive.

I’m not switching.


Anonymous said:

As soon as the price of blank recordable BluRay discs are sold for less than the price of a new BluRay movie, you can rest assured that “the industry” will quickly introduce a new and improved format for consumers to “embrace” during the next holiday-buying season.

BluRay is not really about enhancing the the movie watching experience for the general public.  It’s all about enforcing a better copy-protection scheme to prevent consumers from making backup copies of the DVD’s that they already have purchased.


deasys said:

No thanks, I’ll pass.

I can rent (and almost immediately begin watching) multi-channel HD movies from the comfort of my couch via Apple TV. Blu-ray doesn’t interest me at all.


marcsten said:

For people who say DVD is ‘good enough’ I am always confused. I can’t see how one can sit and watch a blu-ray and not see a considerable difference. My 11 year old daughter even notices a considerable difference. If you are saying the difference doesn’t matter to you, that’s understandable, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the small additional price to the rest of us.
As for downloads, I want a disc. Period. I don’t want it on a hard drive or on my computer. There are lots of convenience reasons for this. That’s just a question of preference. Oh, and the blu-ray picture is noticeably better that download too.


W. Harrington said:

“but that doesn?t mean it isn?t worth the small additional price to the rest of us.”

What’s up with mercaten’s comment.  They are missing the whole point!  And that’s obviously what Sony and the other Blu-Ray promotion groups are hoping for!!

It’s not a small additional price, it’s a huge price.  It’s all about a change of format.  A new player, new discs for any movies you have already purchased and now need to upgrade, and complete and total lose, (for the time being), of being able to make inexpensive backups for the $14 to $30 BluRay movie discs that get easily scratched or cracked.

Once you get immersed in the story of a movie, it really doesn’t matter what format you are watching it in.  It could be a 3” media player or cell phone, an old 26” tube television with a VHS tape, or a movie theatre with a DLP state of the art THX certified system.


John Martellaro said:

I think people get hung up on the idea that their entire DVD collection needs to be replaced by Blu-ray equivalents.  I certainly don’t think so. In the year I have had a Blu-ray player, I’ve purchased only six Blu-ray movies, but have enjoyed another dozen via Netflix. 

When my wife and I see a fun movie at Wal-Mart on DVD for $5, it’s cheaper than going to the theater.  SD isn’t a problem. But when Quantum of Solace comes out next year, I’ll buy it on Blu-ray.  It’s a mixed environment, and I select according to my preferences and budget.

Also, life is too short to copy, steal and hoard movies. If I want to see a movie again, I just add it to the bottom to the Netflix list.

The notion that Blu-ray discs are more fragile or scratch more easily was started by the HD DVD camp back in 2006 when it was true. Nowadays, the Blu-ray association is using a pretty good scratch resistant coating. I’ve never had a problem, and my experience with Netflix Blu-ray discs handled by the previous renter’s kids and the U.S. Post office is a testament to their durability.

As reader marcsten noted, Internet HD may be at 720 or 1080 resolution, but there is heavy additional compression.  Internet HD can have a bit rate as low as 5 Mbps.  Cable and satellite HD bit rates are typically 10-12 Mbps.  The OTA broadcast standard, set by ATSC is 17 Mbps.  However, data comes off the Blu-ray disc at 25 to 40 Mbps—with plans to increase that in the future.

- J.M.


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