Group Test: Blu-ray Disc players
Fuel for your HD TV
Round-up Happy Christmas, the format war is over. Now that Toshiba has abandoned HD DVD, Sony’s Blu-Ray has emerged as the new standard for high-definition discs, and the millions of folk who've been watching ye olde standard-def TV programmes on their HD TVs can go out and buy themselves a Blu-ray player safe in the knowledge it's not about to become obsolete.
Admittedly, there's the possibility that we’ll all soon be downloading all our films off the internet. However, downloading HD movies is still a pretty slow process as the files are so huge. We suspect that we’ll have to wait for the next generation of broadband before this really takes off. Besides, who’s going to wait to download an entire season of Heroes when you can pick up a box set in your local Woolies on the way home from work?
Decent movies on BD at last?
This means that Blu-Ray is currently the best game in town for people who want the full HD home cinema experience. So we decided to take a look at some of the players that will be on sale this Christmas. Generally speaking, all these players provide excellent image quality. We tested the players with a good mid-range 42in Samsung TV that provides 1080p full-HD resolution, and even relatively low-cost players, such as Sony’s entry-level S350, proved capable of producing outstanding HD playback.
As always, though, there are a few bits of hi-tech jargon that you need to look out for when buying a Blu-ray player. The first thing to ask about is the HDMI interface used to connect the player to your HD TV. You need to make sure that the player has HDMI version 1.3, with the 'deep colour’ feature that enhances image quality. Most players currently on sale have HDMI 1.3, but there’s another option called the ‘Blu-ray Profile’ that can vary from player to player. Most current players support Profile 1.1, which provides a picture-in-picture option - sometimes also called ‘BonusView’ - so that you can watch special features in a small window superimposed over the image of the main movie.
The latest players also support Profile 2.0 - aka ‘BD Live’ - which allows the player to connect to the internet and download added extras such as ringtones and screensavers – and which can also be used to try and flog merchandise such as T-shirts and film soundtracks. There’s even a Profile 2.0 Starship Troopers disc that allows you to upload your own photos into the film so that you can appear to take part in some of the big battle scenes.
Personally speaking, we don’t consider Profile 2.0 to be essential, but if the player has an Ethernet interface then at least you have the option of downloading Profile 2.0 and other updates in the future.
Way more convenient than downloading?
Finally, home cinema buffs that want the very best surround sound audio will want to check the player’s audio support. Some players include ‘decoders’ that will work with the very highest quality surround sound formats, such as Doby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio. However, even the cheapest Blu-ray players support conventional 5.1-channel Dolby, which should be enough to keep most people happy.
To summarise, a minimum spec of HDMI 1.3, Profile 1.1 and 5.1 sound should be more than enough for a great home cinema experience. You can get those features from several players that cost around £200-250, which means that - after years on the periphery - Blu-ray has finally made it into the mainstream.
Next page: Sharp BD-HP20H
I assume you havn't checked out the latest 80GB PS3. 90w power consumption (nominal), 110W (under load). That's pretty darn low. The latest units are what I would call silent (from normal viewing distances).
Consider the 360 draws twice that...
It's also worth pointing out that CNN gave the PS3 a A Rating for it's Blu-ray abilities, beating every standalone on test. (not like the audiophile snob test that they did here).
PS3 not getting highest marks
There is one flaw with the PS3 playing films.
Because of the sheer power, size and activity of the machine it generates quite a few watts on heat, all of which need to be removed. Now, when I was working at EA the PS3s were all actually rather loud, now while this doesn't really affect gaming, I can imagine hearing that whine of the fan while watching, for instance a quiet crime thriller, maybe off putting. However, the development PS3 kits we had would also "spin down" when they weren't actually being used much, which I hope is a feature of the retail boxes (as I'll be ordering one very soon).
With standalone BD-players I see the need for a wifi connection as more important than with the PS3... afterall the people who are happy to have cables running the building (or already have cables running the building) are more likely to want a games console.
With myself retiring from high-end PC gaming (what with the rebranding of games as HD, as if my 1600x1200 PC wasn't high enough definition) and the (what I think) disaster of Vista, the PS3 is one hell of a bargain.
@Tezfair and a few other luddites
"I read that in the US all this DVD technology is being ditched in favour of Broadband HD content. Seems that HD style DVDs will end up the same way as the minidisc. Glad I didn't rush out to get one!"
Dewd....get real, we're gonna be waiting a very very long time before the UK's broadband infrastructure can cope with HD downloads that the whole country can realistically use. It's pie in the sky that one. I agree with AC, these so-called HD downloads aren't much better than DVD quality, if at all.
To the rest of you luddites moaning about DRM and this and that (and you haven't even got any HD kit evidently!), sorry guys you have no clue. I got my PS3 hooked up to my Onkyo TX605, a 40" Samsung 1080p with 5.1 sounds delivered by my B&W 620 series, a matching HTM-62 centre unit and a Rel Quake. It's utterly awesome. Hell I don't even go to the cinema any more because this is way better, I can sit in the comfort of my own house with some mates get pished and enjoy some hi-def action all for the cost of a £3.75 rental HD-BR.
Paris....because she probably enjoys some 5.1 action as well.
Hmm, many misconceptions...
Firstly there are some great features not mentioned in the article.
The Samsung BD-P1500 has a fantastic (and unique to the P1500 and P2500) that if you connect the device via optical to a legacy amp that doesn't have HDMI it will re-encode ALL of the higher end HD Audio into maximum bitrate DTS audio (1.5MBps) this is a massive upgrade over standard DD or DTS and great if you want a "cheaper" system but still excellent sound.
Similarly the Panasonic BD35 and BD55 will re-encode all HD Audio to LPCM and bounce that over to the amp - handy if your amp can't decode DTS HD MA etc...
The Sony and Panasonic models can be converted to multi region for SD DVD using a "One For All" remote... and with a hardware mod can do multi region for Blu Ray too.
As for many people querying the quality of the internal decoders, using Profile 1.1/2.0 and the PiP functionality you actually need the player to do the decoding otherwise you'll only get a single channel of audio - namely the film. This isn't an issue for me at all, but may be for many people.
Buying a computer device is great if you want that as part of your home cinema system, but there are only a couple of sound cards that have HDMI audio on them and actually work properly... not ideal if you really appreciate the high end stuff.
For those querying an amp, a cheaper player (such as the excellent Sony S350 - very cheap at Amazon at £163 http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B001DN1SP4/202-3314281-8268652?ie=UTF8&tag=spoavetstu-21&linkCode=xm2&camp=1634&creativeASIN=B001DN1SP4 and worth noting that the Blockbuster deal doesn't start until December 1) the Sony DG-R820 is £261 delivered and whoops the Onkyo - http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B001EWE98C?ie=UTF8&tag=spoavetstu-21&linkCode=as2&camp=1634&creative=6738&creativeASIN=B001EWE98C
Cracking system there for very little outlay (relatively speaking!)
@Mad Hacker @Tezfair
You don't need to spend mega-bucks on a HDMI amp. There is a decent range of Sony HDMI amps, as well as Onkyo for less than £300. Both very good buys.
@Tezfair, clearly you havn't seen how bad "HD" downloads are. Compared to DVD they look a little better, but take ages to download. Compared to proper HD, Blu-ray, they look shit. Still consumers like crap products, i mean iPods sell...