A great gift idea this year is a Blu-ray player. Why? First of all, your ancient piece-of-shit DVD player that you bought for $74 at CVS really needs an upgrade. Sure it still works, but DVDs look like fuzzy garbage on your new HD television. (I can now add my DVD collection to the thousand boxes of trash labeled “CDs” in my storage locker–they look and sound horrible compared to HD content.) A Blu-ray player will help upscale the image quality of your DVDs , squeezing a few more years out of them before you finally get the balls to throw them all in the dumpster where they belong.
Second, you can take advantage of the Blu-ray discs Netflix offers–the sound and picture will match what you’ve become used to watching Fringe in HD (that show with the dude from the Wire and Pacey Witter from Dawson’s Creek).
Lastly, many of the players out there offer some cool add-ons, like the ability to stream Netflix , Pandora, and YouTube videos.
Below you’ll find our review of four of the most popular Blu-ray players.
LG BD390 – Editor’s Pick!
The good: This was the fastest player we tested. One of the downsides to all Blu-ray players is the slow start up time, this one was able to power up and play a Blu-ray disc the fastest. The image quality is great, it comes with built in 802.11n Wifi, it can play content off a USB drive, and has a 1GB of memory. It also streams YouTube and Netflix videos.
The bad: The remote is not backlight, hard to use in the dark.
Summary: Available for $259 from Amazon, this player is a great bet.
The good: With a street price under $150, its the cheapest model we tested. Average speed.
The bad: No internal memory, no ability to stream internet content.
Summary: A good option for the price.
The good: This player looks awesome. If your baller status relies on how slick your Blu-ray player looks, this is an option for you. Has a cool looking, backlight remote.
The bad: At $499 this ties the Oppo as the most expensive player we tested. Average speed, no ability to stream internet content.
Summary: This is Harman Kardon’s first Blu-ray player, and until they add functionality or lower the price point we can’t see a reason to recommend this.
The good: Although you’ll probably throw it all away, the packaging for the Oppo player is awesome, and it includes an HDMI cable and a great remote. The picture quality is the best we tested, includes 1GB of memory, plays all kinds of weird formats like SACD and DVD audio.
The bad: Expensive ($499), average speed, no ability to stream internet content, no wifi.
Summary: Recommended if budget is not an issue, you use another device for digital streaming content, and you’re concerned with the best possible image quality.
Chris Force is the founder and editor of ALARM Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter.