Home Theater Review


16 Terms You Need to Know Before Buying a Blu-ray Player

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Oppo-BDP-103-universal-player-review-angled-small.jpgIf you've recently purchased your first HDTV, congratulations. Now it's time to add some HDsources to go with it. While your old DVD player should work with your new TV, to enjoy the highest quality picture and sound with movies, you need to upgrade to a Blu-ray player and Blu-ray discs.

Blu-ray is currently the only high-definition disc format, and there's no shortage of players on the market from which to choose. As you try to decide which product is right for you, here's a list of 16 terms that you need to know. These are all potential features offered on the newest Blu-ray players. 

Standard Features 
These features come standard on every new Blu-ray player, even the lowest-priced models.

HDMI is the connection that allows you to transmit a 1080p video signal and a high-resolution audio signal from your Blu-ray player to your HDTV and/or home entertainment system. On the newest Blu-ray players, HDMI is the only output through which you can pass high-definition video, so don't forget to purchase an HDMI cable. In older players, you could also output a 720p/1080i HD signal through the analog component video output; however, as of January 1, 2011, manufacturers are no longer allowed to transmit HD over analog (this is called the Analog Sunset). Therefore, many Blu-ray manufacturers no longer include analog video connections at all. 

High-Resolution Audio 
Just like Blu-ray provides a step up in video quality, it also provides a step up in audio quality compared with standard DVD. Blu-ray discs support the Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio formats, which allow for the transmission of up to eight channels of uncompressed audio. In comparison, the basic Dolby Digital and DTS formats found on DVD (and TV broadcasts) transmit up to 5.1 channels in a compressed form. Most new Blu-ray players can decode both of these high-resolution audio formats, or they can pass the formats in their native form to be decoded by an A/V receiver.

Video Upconversion
All Blu-ray players are backwards-compatible with DVD, which means you can still watch all of your older DVD movies through your new Blu-ray player. Blu-ray players can upconvertstandard-definition (480i) DVDs to a high-definition (1080p) resolution. Upconversion is not as good as true high-definition because the player is essentially making up information to fill in the dots; some players do this more effectively than others. 

New Blu-ray players are required to have an Internet connection, usually via a wired Ethernet port. Connection to your home network allows for quick firmware updates via the Web, but it also allows you to access BD-Live content. BD-Live is downloadable, interactive Web-based content that might be offered on a Blu-ray movie disc; types of BD-Live content include making-of featurettes, movie trailers, trivia, and games. 

The USB port(s) on a Blu-ray player can serve multiple purposes. You can use it to load new firmware if the network method is not available. You can attach a USB thumb drive to serve as local storage to save the BD-Live features described above (some players have internal memory to store BD-Live content, while others require you to add a USB drive for storage). You can often play digital media files (music, movies, photos) stored on a USB drive. Finally, if your Blu-ray player does not have built-in WiFi, you might be able to add that function using a WiFi USB dongle.

Step-Up Features 
These features might not appear on a manufacturer's entry-level Blu-ray players but can often be found in the mid-level (and higher) models.

Smart TV/Blu-ray
Manufacturers use the word "smart" to describe the various Web- and network-based features that might be offered on a networkable TV, Blu-ray player, receiver, etc. It includes streaming video-on-demand services like Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu Plus; streaming music services like Pandora; streaming photo sites like Picasa; social media services like Facebook and Twitter; games; and much more. Smart services vary per manufacturer (you can read our reviews of some major ones here). Some include a Web browser. Many Blu-ray manufacturers offer a free control app for your iOS or Android device that lets you control the player over your home network; some of these apps include the ability to flick media content (like your personal photos and videos) from the mobile device to your Blu-ray player for viewing on the big screen.

Click on over to page 2 to learn the rest of what you need to know before buying a Blu-ray player . . .

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