One way to make your head spin is to research home theater upgrades. Another way is to sit in a chair and spin around for awhile (I do this at work most days).
There are many different kinds of blu-ray players that are produced by a variety of manufacturers. Some only play blu-ray discs while others can stream Netflix and browse the web. Depending on what you’re looking for, you could spend anywhere from $20 to $250. Like any other kind of technology product, there are lots of numbers and phrases that are promoted. Some of them are straightforward and others are fairly misleading. Let’s walk through the important information you should know while researching blu-ray players or when planning to purchase one.
Upscaling: Probably the least understood feature of blu-ray players. Upscaling is tricky because it is simply optimizing the image for the tv it’s playing on. This usually is a 1080p image, standard blu-ray format, upscaling the resolution to near 4K. It’s important to note that this process does not add any extra detail to the image because it can’t change the quality of the original source material. This is how most blu-ray players work, they can upscale 1080p content but can not play 4K content natively. A lot of these players are considerably cheaper (sub $125) than 4K players because it requires a lot less hardware to upscale something than to play UHD content from the get-go. There is one major 4K blu -ray player that can play 4K blu-rays, the Samsung UBD-K8500. There will be more of these types of players released in the early part of 2017. Right now, the Samsung UHD player is selling for ~$200 at Best Buy and on Samsung’s website.
Wifi: Most new blu-ray players have wifi built-in. The fancier players will have dual-band wifi capability. Dual-band means your router puts out two different frequencies, one is a 2.4 GHz band and the other is a 5 GHz wireless band. The blu-ray players that have the “ac” standard will be able to utilize the 5 GHz band and its increased bandwidth (the benefit of the 5 GHZ band diminishes as distance and obstructions to the router increase.) Your player will ask you which band you want to connect to and you can usually test the connection strength so you’re getting the fastest network speed.
Dolby and DTS: There is another post I wrote (Dolby vs DTS) that details the difference between Dolby and DTS, check the link out for more info. For blu-ray players, the main thing you should be concerned about is that it can play or decode the audio that your sound system can use. For example, my Sonos system is only capable of playing Dolby 5.1 audio. When I don’t have my blu-ray player convert the audio from Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD to 5.1, it doesn’t output anything. Just make sure that whatever format your sound system can use, that the blu-ray player can output that same audio format. You can usually find the necessary information about audio compatibility in the user manuals for both blu-ray players and sound systems.
USB: Most blu-ray players have a USB port, some have 2. You can use this port to play content from a flash drive or external hard drive. The only real difference between some players and others is that some use USB 2.0 and some use USB 3.0. USB 3.0 being a quicker way to transfer data than USB 2.0.
Streaming: Most players also support streaming apps. The generic suite including Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Video, and Pandora are available on almost all players out there. If you’re in need of a particular app, make sure it’s available before you buy your player (or that your smart tv can run that app.)
CEC: CEC stands for consumer electronics control. Every manufacturer has their own title for this function but they all do the same thing. CEC allows commands to be sent to connected devices. As an example if you hit the power button to turn on your blu-ray player, your tv will turn on at the same time. It can keep you from needing to have two remotes at all times and can be a time saver. You might have to enable it in the settings menu on your tv and on your player to make this work, or they may be enabled by default. There are some small differences between versions of this but you’ll generally not have any issues if you have a Sony player connected to a different branded tv.
That’s a wrap of blu-ray player technology and the big titles you should be aware of. I considered creating a separate post with a player buying guide, but I think that pretty much any blu-ray player will suit your needs. The vast majority of the differences reside in the software/menu differences and the aesthetics. Let me know in the comments section if I missed something that’s important or if you want more detail on a particular section. Thanks for reading!
Updated 1/4/2017: Edited content for coherence.