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Buying a Blu Ray player: what to watch for?

Discussion in 'Playback Devices' started by DaveF, Jan 18, 2009.

  1. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    I'm considering a new HDTV this week and lacking any HD material, I'm considering a Blu Ray player to go with it. I've not kept up with Blu Ray specs and need a crash course in Blu Ray. Are there features that are must have -- I've read how the specs are still in flux? Are there players to avoid? Anything worthwhile for $200 to $300?
     
  2. ratm

    ratm Active Member

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    Im very partial to it, but I bought my PS3 specifically for the blu-ray capabilities AND the ability to internally decode the newer codecs.

    Its got everything I need.
     
  3. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Well-Known Member
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    A major piece of the Blu-ray puzzle can be filled in when you tell us what kind of receiver you have. If you have an older model that doesn't have HDMI capability but does have analog ins for 5.1-7.1 audio, then you'll want one of the Blu-ray players that has analog outs: Panasonic 55, Sony 550, Samsung 2550. This way, you'll be able to experience the new HD audio codecs which make such a difference to go along with the high def picture.

    Sure, you can use the optical or coaxial jacks for audio, and the lossy audio you'll get will sound every bit as good or a bit better than what you hear with DVD, but the full Blu-ray experience is both video AND audio in nature.
     
  4. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    Thanks for the notes.

    Despite being hailed as the best player, PS3 is not an option for me: no IR remote capability. And the hacked BT to IR adapter doesn't interest me.

    I have an older Onkyo receiver; no HDMI and I don't think it has discrete analog inputs. I expected to use digital RCA or TOSLINK. Quick browsing suggests all BR players have digital out, as here.

    Have the specs stabilized? Or is buying a BR player today still buying a feature-incomplete product?
     
  5. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Well-Known Member
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    The specs have stabilized to be sure. I'd pick the Panasonic first and the Sony second. From reading user forums, those two models seem to have a lot of satisfied customers.
     
  6. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    Thanks. Prices are still >$300, so these will go on my watch list.
     
  7. Scott Merryfield

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    If your receiver does not have 7.1/5.1 analog inputs, then you can go with the entry level models from Panasonic (BD35) or Sony (BDP-350). These players can be found for under $250. You will only get lossy DD/DTS sound, just as you do with SD-DVD. However, the bit rates are generally higher for the DD soundtracks, so you will still enjoy a small increase in sound quality.
     
  8. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    OK, thanks. I don't ever see myself using analog inputs: digital on my current and HDMI in the future.
     
  9. T r o y

    T r o y Well-Known Member

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    If you don't mind DAVEF, I'd like to share this thread with ya with this question.
    I too will be jumping on the Blu-ray band wagon next month. I plan on buying the Sony BDP-S550 player. I already have a Mits HC-1500 proj.
    I'm using my Yamaha DSP-A1 as my processor and an Outlaw 165 X 5 CH. AMP for my power.
    I'm buying the S550 mainly for it's 5.1 ch. output to hook up to my yammy's
    5.1 ch. input.
    So my question is .... for those of you who have already been experiencing and enjoying the higher quality codecs from Blu-Ray discs, how do you like it ? and what would you say is the main difference in sound between standard dvd DD/DTS vs. say DolbyTrue HD and DTS Master ?
    I'm so looking forward to the improvement in sound from watching BR discs.
    Thanks for the input you guys provide,
    T r o y
     
  10. ManW_TheUncool

    ManW_TheUncool Well-Known Member

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    At this point, probably the only thing you might miss out w/ a current gen player (outside of perhaps the PS3) is the potential 3D playback capabilities that are being considered for integrating into Blu-ray. But for 3D playback, you'd also need a display that would be capable of that, which would probably minimally require 120Hz capability (even if it's just interlaced video at 120Hz as seems to be implemented in Samsung's DLP RPTVs for instance), besides the special 3D goggles. Of course, who knows when/if the BDA will actually adopt a 3D standard and then have actual players arriving to market for that standard. BTW, isn't Panny trying to push out a (proprietary) 3D-capable player later this year (based on their prototype, modded BD-35 demoed here and there in the past few months)?

    RE: the lossless audio vs lossy audio, I find it somewhat more detailed, refined and smoother in general for movie soundtracks (well, certainly compared to typical lossy DD anyway), but I have not done any real tests to support that perception -- and the diff does most certainly vary. For my $$$ though, the audio upgrade is not nearly as big/apparent as the video upgrade -- and you do often get a noticeable audio upgrade (just because of the typically higher bitrate) even if you can't use the lossless formats. For instance, I'm rarely as reluctant to buy a BD that only has lossy audio vs a BD that has subpar video transfer. YMMV on this area of course...

    _Man_
     
  11. Todd Erwin

    Todd Erwin Well-Known Member
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    When I'm asked to recommend a Blu-ray player, these are my general questions (many of which, I can see, have already been answered):

    1. Does your current audio receiver handle multi-channel PCM over HDMI?
    2. Does your current audio receiver have multi-channel analog inputs?
    3. Can your current audio receiver decode both Dolby Digital and DTS audio codecs via SPDF (optical or coax)?
    4. Are there any additional audio and/or video formats you want to be able to use on your new Blu-ray player?
    5. Can you connect to the internet via an ethernet cable where your HDTV will be located?

    Based on your responses in previous posts on this thread, I'd recommend one of the following players:

    Sony Playstation 3
    If you are looking for what I like to call a "media hub" for your home theater, you should consider the Sony Playstation 3. I know, it's a "game console." But, you can also store your photos and music on the hard drive for easy access, plus it is the only current Blu-ray player that has built-in 802.11 wireless connectivity. You'll need this to access any BD-Live features, plus it comes in handy when a new firmware is released, as it will notify you and give you the option to download and install at that time. The 80 Gb version currently sells for $399 as a stand-alone unit, although some retailers, to be competitive, have created their own "bundles" by throwing in a free game and/or movie, and sometimes even the Blu-ray remote. BTW, speaking of the Blu-ray remote, I only recommend the Sony-branded remote. It has full-functionality, plus does not require a USB dongle that the other third-party remotes do. If you like to use a universal remote for your home theater, sadly, then, the PS3 is not a wise choice, as there is no IR or infra-red, only bluetooth. I own a PS3 myself.

    Panasonic BD35
    My second choice would be the Panasonic BD35. This has become a very popular entry-level BD player, and the general consenus is that it is also more user-friendly among other players in this category, and can play MP3 files. The only downside is that you will need an SD (SecureDigital) or SDHC card for BD-Live storage. But these can be found quite cheaply (I've seen 2Gb cards selling for less than $10 at Staples, Office Depot, etc). Thankfully, Panasonic placed the SD card slot in the front of the player for easy access.

    Sony BDP-350
    My third choice would be the Sony BDP-350. It is a bit less user-friendly than the Panasonic, and cannot play MP3 files. Also, for some reason, Sony decided to place the USB port for external storage in the rear of the unit, and the port is recessed, so it can be hard to find without pulling the player out of the shelf and turning it around. A workaround would be to use a USB extension cable.

    I would stick with either Panasonic or Sony brands, as they have a very good reputation of releasing firmware updates when needed, usually within a week after the problem arises from a new movie release. The same cannot be said for the other manufacturers, especially bargain or store brands like Magnavox, Insignia, Element, etc.

    Both the Panasonic and Sony players only have an ethernet port on the back for BD-Live and internet firmware updates. If you do not want to run an ethernet cable from your interent router to your home theatre, the easiest alternative is to use a powerline etherent bridge. I like the SlingLink Turbo (SL 150-100). My home theatre is in a wireless network deadzone, and this was the easiest way to connect my PS3 and DirecTv HD-DVR to the internet. I also like the design of the SlingLink, as it does not resemble a wall-mounted power adapter, and can be found on Amazon for under $70. The other option would be a wireless bridge, but these often require configuring on a PC first before installing on the Blu-ray player.
     
  12. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    Troy: I have a Panny BD-10 hooked up to an old Sony STR-DE 445 via 5.1 analog outputs. The BD-10 can process most of the lossless codecs (with the exception of DTS HD-MA. I get the core audio on that one).

    FWIW, I have really enjoyed the difference in lossless audio. To my ears it is often a major difference--even on my relatively meager speaker system (Polk R 30 fronts, R15 rears, Polk CSi25 Center and Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer). The sound is so much more alive and full that it's incredible.

    I actually got my first 5.1 system (which included the Sony receiver and crap Jensen speakers) before I got a DVD player! I was using it with my HiFi VCR and cable box.

    Before I re-wired my system I used to do regular A/B comparisons between a BD's lossless track and the other 5.1 tracks (which I was feeding via a coaxial cable) and the difference was always detectable and, as I noted above, often major. Most of the major differences were noted on those films that take advantage of an aggressive surround sound field...or even those with a prominent musical score (like a Shawshank Redemption).

    Anyway, to answer your direct question, the lossless tracks, to me, sound more full and "alive" than their counterparts. The dynamic range seems wider and the listening experience is more enveloping.
     
  13. T r o y

    T r o y Well-Known Member

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    Mike, that is so encouraging! Thanks for the insight.
    I should be getting my player in about a week and I look forward to hooking everything up , resetting levels and hopefully I'll be enjoying the lossless audio tracks like yourself.
    I'll respond back after my first BR experience!

    TroyH
     
  14. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    Troy: You are very welcome.

    One of the reasons I kept doing the A/B comparisons--this is kind of funny--was that when I fed the regular 5.1 tracks via bitstream on the coaxial connection to my receiver, a pretty blue light would light up on the receiver heralding the arrival (along with a bunch of extra words in the receiver's display)! When I send the lossless tracks to the receiver via the 5.1 analogs, there is no pretty light and the display on the receiver makes no "mention" of the "specialness" of the audio.

    It took me a while to get over that and realize that the fact that the receiver seemed more excited by the DD 5.1 or DTS 5.1 than the DTS-HD tracks did NOT equate to my own enthusiasm about the differing audio tracks! [​IMG]

    Also note that the settings in the player need to be set...since the receiver is no longer in the mix. I had to have someone hear explain that to me...but, then, I'm not altogether too bright on the hardware end of things. [​IMG]

    Once you get your gear hooked up...there are a bunch of threads in the HT Software/HD forum on the "best" BDs for high-impact audio.

    I'll just put in my plug for Master & Commander. I have never heard anything better. But there are many good ones out there---and, I suppose, a preference depends a lot upon someone's individual tastes.
     
  15. TheBat

    TheBat Well-Known Member

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    I have an onkyo 605. it can do the trueHD & DTS MA. I also have a philips 47 inch 7403 which can do the 120 refresh rate (just got the tv last week). i also have the ps3 and the panasonic 30. both can do the 24. I use the panasonic 30 as my main player. it can bitsteam the trueHD and DTS MA. I can notice the difference with the new sound off of bluray. its has more power to it then dolby digital and DTS.

    Jacob
     
  16. ManW_TheUncool

    ManW_TheUncool Well-Known Member

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    Are you guys actually level matching your comparisons?

    Anyway, I'd add that when I hear the oomph in a powerful section of a typical lossless track, it does seem to sound more full bodied and convincing than a similar oomph from a lossy track (at least on DVD). I should add though that I do not use a subwoofer (since I cannot be seriously rattling things where I live [​IMG]), but my old pair of Vandersteen 2Ci's driven by an old B&K amp handles the redirected bass nicely enough anyhow.

    And yes, music is definitely better w/ the lossless sound vs lossy, but most music-oriented non-movie titles (I'd be interested in) come w/ stereo PCM anyway (and aren't often better for the surrounds at this point).

    _Man_
     
  17. T r o y

    T r o y Well-Known Member

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    Mike,
    awesome! I can't wait to hear my setup when I get the BR Sony player hooked up and tuned in. I'm still impressed with how my system sounds with plain vanilla 5.1 lossy soundtracks. I guess I'm in for a treat with the improved lossless higher codec BR soundtracks to come!
    So mike, right now I see the words Dolby Digital or DTS Normal when I play my standard dvd's but you're saying I will only see words like 'MULTI-CHANNEL' or something similar when I start playing my BR discs? Is this right ? But I guess I'll be taking comfort knowing the sound I'm hearing out of my Klipsch speakers is the new and improved TRUE HD or DD plus or DTS MA soundtracks. I can't wait!
    Thanks
     
  18. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    That's MY experience with the Sony receiver. Yours may be different, though. Looking forward to your report! [​IMG]
     
  19. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    Connection question: Can I connect a Blu Ray to a TV by HDMI and output surround audio by analog out (or digital audio) to my receiver? If so, I can integrate BR into my system (and I start watching prices). If not, then it's off until after a receiver upgrade.
     
  20. Todd Erwin

    Todd Erwin Well-Known Member
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    That's how I have my PS3 connected currently.
     

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