Black Friday kicked off with $25 Blu-ray discs of Jurassic World going for $10 at Best Buy, launching a Blu-ray buying binge that lasted throughout the holidays. Amazon followed up with 12 Days of Deals, featuring slashed prices for more Blu-ray discs. These holiday sales herald the anticipated release of 4K ultra-HD Blu-ray players and discs early this year. As we kick-off 2016, here is the current state of the Blu-ray market and some trends you can expect to see.
The State of Blu-ray
Blu-ray players are currently the best choice for viewing recorded home entertainment with an HD TV. In addition to storing video in high-definition format specifically designed for HD TVs — an advance over DVDs — Blu-ray players are also backward-compatible with DVD and CD technology, and the newest models are increasingly forward-compatible with streaming and 4K technology. Other important aspects to note:
- Many newer players can also play 3D movies and stream Internet video
- Some models can convert 1080p high-definition video to display in 2160p 4K ultra-HD on a 4K TV
- The next generation of players will play content specifically designed for 4K
- Blu-ray players also support multi-channel surround sound
- Some Blu-ray players are portable, letting you play movies anywhere on 7 to 10 inch screens
Player prices now start at less than $100. Expect to pay somewhat more for major brands with features such as 3D, wireless capability and 4K upscaling. Portable models run about $150 more.
Leading Blu-ray Brands
Today’s Blu-ray player manufacturers include Denon, Elgato, Google, LG, Marantz, Onkyo, Oppo, Panasonic, Pioneer, Roku, Samsung, Simple.TV, Slingbox, Sony, TiVo, Toshiba and Yamaha, among others. Most brands deliver comparable picture quality. Pick a model that’s easy to use and delivers the specific features you want.
CNET rates Sony’s BDP-S5500 as the best overall value for its combination of Blu-ray movie playing and gaming capability at a moderate price point. The site also recommends the Samsung BD-J5900 as an excellent value for its image quality and speedy disc access.
For gaming enthusiasts, CNET recommends the Sony PlayStation 3 Super Slim 250 GB Uncharted 3 Limited Edition Bundle. The Samsung BD-H6500, Simple.TV 2, and Slingbox M1, also rate high among top players.
For those who want streaming video service as well as movies on disc, smart Blu-ray players that support streaming media offer the best of both worlds. Consider:
- Sony players such as the BDP-S1500 through BDP-S6500 offer more than 300 streaming apps in addition to PlayStation Now streaming
- Most comparable Samsung models offer 250 streaming apps, with the exception of the BD-H6500/ZA, which offers 2,000 apps and includes Miracast wireless device-sharing display
- The LG BP350 and BP550 offer 15 apps along with Music Flow compatibility to Google Cast music, radio station and podcast content
All Sony, Samsung, and LG smart Blu-ray players include content from major providers Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Instant Video, Pandora and Hulu Plus.
Gaming Console Blu-ray Players
Many gaming consoles double as excellent Blu-ray and streaming content players. The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 can play the latest games along with Blu-ray discs and DVDs, plus streaming content from video and music services such as Netflix, Hulu Plus and Crackle. For a lower price point, the PlayStation 3 also plays Blu-ray discs and offers some streaming services.
4K ultra-HD Blu-ray players and discs had been expected to arrive in the U.S. in time for the Christmas shopping season, but this fall the Blu-ray Disc Association and industry manufacturers rolled this timetable back to early 2016. Panasonic released the world’s first 4K Blu-ray player, the DMR-UBZ1, to the Japanese market in November at a price equivalent to $3,320, but there are currently no announced plans for a U.S. release.
Samsung announced in September that its first 4K Blu-ray player would debut in early 2016. Sony has likewise announced that its first 4K Blu-ray discs will become available in early 2016. The first wave of content will be led by Amazing Spider-Man 2 and other relatively recent releases, to be followed up with older titles such as Ghostbusters.