Who doesn't love a good movie? Many of us still trek to the local megaplex on the weekends to see a show, but with a cheap Blu-ray player you can watch high-definition feature films from the comforts of home. Blu-ray players are the successors to DVD players, and the picture has never looked better. Blu-ray players were very expensive when they first appeared, but as with most electronics, prices on these devices dropped pretty quickly. Although top-end players sell at price points well north of $1,000, you can find a good cheap Blu-ray player well south of $150 and refurbished models for less than the lowest starting prices on new units.
Cheap Blu-ray Players Buying Guide
The top manufacturers of cheap Blu-ray players are the usual electronics heavyweights, including Sony, LG, Samsung, Panasonic, Pioneer, and Vizio. Our favorite cheap Blu-ray players are the Panasonic DMP-BDT220 (starting at $130) and the LG BP620 (starting at $139), both of which feature 3D playback, stream video well, and load movies quickly. The Sony BDP-S580 (starting at $131) and Panasonic DMP-BD75 (starting at $80) are two solid, cheap Blu-ray players; the former supports 3D playback and lots of streaming services, and the latter is a no-frills model that dishes up sharp-looking video at a shockingly low price. The Toshiba BDX2200 (starting at $85) and Vizio VBR122 (starting at $120) fall within our price range but don't pass muster because many users report they often freeze up when streaming video. If you're willing to spend big bucks on a high-end player, though, check out Oppo Digital's BDP-93 (starting at $500). It supports DVD-Audio, a format well loved by audiophiles, and experts say the audio and video quality are unmatched by any player costing less than $1,000.
Cheap Blu-ray players are fairly simple devices and don't have many features that distinguish one from another. That said, there are a few things to look for when comparison shopping. For example, many viewers now want a Blu-ray player that can stream video from services such as Netflix, Vudu, YouTube, and/or Amazon. All the models on our list of best cheap Blu-ray players include at least some streaming services, but if you favor a particular service, read the fine print to make sure the one you're targeting streams it. If you have or plan to get a 3D TV, you'll no doubt want a cheap Blu-ray player that supports 3D movies; cheap 3D Blu-ray players aren't terribly expensive, but they do cost more than players without this feature. Additionally, only some cheap Blu-ray players come with built-in Wi-Fi for wireless connections, though all can be hard-wired through an Ethernet port.
Apart from these characteristics, cheap Blu-ray players are more or less the same. They can all play and "upconvert" DVD movies as well as play audio CDs. They all support a variety of surround sound formats, and, according to the expert reviews we've seen, they all consistently play bright and clear video.
An important note to thrifty consumers: Blu-ray players are meant for high-definition TVs. If you don't own an HD set, you might want to hold off buying a Blu-ray player, cheap or otherwise, until you purchase the equipment that can show off content to its best advantage.
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Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
Blu-ray Player Reviews
The best reason to buy a cheap Blu-ray player? You get to enjoy movies at the highest video quality possible. Indeed, Blu-ray player reviews indicate that in terms of picture quality, there seems to be little difference among those we researched, even the cheapest models. We found that they all do an excellent job replaying video in 2D and those with 3D capability also perform well when playing 3D movies. As a Blu-ray players review of the Panasonic DMP-BDT220 (starting at $130) by CNET points out, features (for instance, which file formats are supported) and ease of use matter more than image quality when choosing a Blu-ray player because by this measure, at least, there's little discernible difference among current models. Consumers and other experts seem to agree -- not many Blu-ray player reviews discuss the devices' video prowess. Instead, the reviews offer general commentary about the visual display, using adjectives such as "excellent," "superb," and "awesome" without delving into detail. Complaints about the quality of video playback with the models we researched are rare, and when they do pop up, are nothing more than nitpicks.
Screen resolution has a lot to do with the quality of the image you see on your TV, and resolution of 1080p is about as good as it gets. Blu-ray movies look their best when played at a resolution of 1080p, so any budget Blu-ray player on the market today -- including all those we researched -- supports this resolution. DVDs normally play at 480p, but all Blu-ray players can "upconvert," or manipulate, the DVD to a higher resolution, such as 1080i or 1080p, which makes DVDs look even better on Blu-ray players than on DVD players. (See our buying guide to LCD TVs for a primer on resolution.)
Blu-ray Players Speed.A topic often raised by experts and consumers in Blu-ray player reviews concerns how quickly the device starts playing a movie once the disc goes into the tray. Although CNET maintains that speed has ceased to be a defining performance attribute among the newest Blu-ray players, some are definitely faster than others. It's typical for Blu-ray players to require 30 seconds or more to load a disc, and Blu-ray Live discs take even longer (perhaps more than a minute) due to their extra features.Loading times for the models we researched vary. Oppo's Digital BDP-93, a mid-market model starting at $500, may be the fastest-loading machine of the bunch; an expert from HomeTheaterReview.com says it was consistently faster than other comparably-priced players tested, especially when loading 3D Blu-ray discs. Back in the budget range, the LG BP620 (starting at $139) proved to be a comparative speed demon; a Blu-ray players review by PC Mag reports this model can load a disc in a mere 20 seconds. The Panasonic DMP-BDT220 hit the 30-second target, according to a Blu-ray players review by Techradar. Ditto for the Panasonic DMP-BD75 (starting at $80), although a Blu-ray players review by Pocket Lint reports load speed of 19 seconds with one test movie. PC Mag says the Toshiba BDX2200 (starting at $85) has enough horsepower to fire up discs in about 28 seconds but adds that a Blu-ray Live movie takes more than double that time (about one minute and 14 seconds) to get going. Loading time for the Sony BDP-S580 (starting at $131) tested out at a leisurely 42 seconds, notes CNET, although the Vizio VBR122 (starting at $120) turns out to be the ultimate slowpoke; Tech Hive found that this model needed 54 seconds to load a simple Blu-ray disc, which is truly sluggish by today's standards.
Blu-ray Streaming, Wi-Fi
The current crop of Blu-ray players boast more features than past models even as prices continue to plunge -- a clear win/win for consumers. The most important new features you'll see are support for 3D Blu-ray movies, Wi-Fi Blu-rays, and a proliferation of Blu-ray streaming services.
Blu-ray Streaming.Perhaps the most popular new feature cropping up in Blu-ray players is support for streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, CinemaNow, and Pandora. These services let consumers stream videos or music to their players directly from the Internet. All of the models we researched support Blu-ray streaming services, but the specific services vary from model to model. If you favor a particular Blu-ray streaming service, make sure the player can accommodate your interests.Blu-ray streaming relies on either an Ethernet connection or a wireless connection to move video through an Internet router to the player. All the models we researched feature an Ethernet port for wired connectivity. Three of our picks for best cheap Blu-rays -- the Panasonic DMP-BDT220, LG BP620, and Sony BDP-S580 -- are Wi-Fi Blu-rays with support for wireless streaming right out of the box. The Vizio VBR122 also qualifies as a Wi-Fi Blu-ray, as do two other models we researched, the Samsung BD-D5700 (starting at $129; $80 refurbished) and Sony BDP-S590 (starting at $148). The Panasonic DMP-BD75 requires a wired Ethernet connection to stream video and the Toshiba BDX2200 is "wireless-ready," which means you'll need a separate wireless LAN adapter before you can wirelessly connect to your home network; alternatively, just use the Ethernet port.
Whether a Wi-Fi Blu-ray excels at wireless streaming depends partly on the device but also on the speed and quality of the network connection and router in your home. Hiccups in the network connection will mar Blu-ray streaming regardless how much the player cost. If you have problems with Blu-ray streaming via a Wi-Fi connection, using an Ethernet cable may resolve the problem.
That said, the reviews we read suggest that some Wi-Fi Blu-rays stream content better than others, although as noted above, it's hard to know the source of the problem. CNET is impressed with the performance of the Panasonic DMP-BDT220, a Wi-Fi Blu-ray, when streaming Netflix. At Amazon, users say wireless streaming seems to work seamlessly and setting up the DMP-BDT220 with a home network is easy. Consumers who posted reviews of the LG BP620 at Best Buy likewise assert this Wi-Fi Blu-ray delivers good-looking content and Netflix streaming is problem-free.
Other Wi-Fi Blu-ray players we researched seem to struggle to some degree with wireless streaming. The Vizio VBR122 gets dinged in some reviews at Walmart and Amazon for slow streaming and freezing up when playing Netflix. Samsung's feature-rich BD-D5700 is generally well regarded by experts and users but comments posted at Best Buy and Crutchfield indicate that the player sometimes falters (e.g., choppiness, lagging, freezing) when streaming Netflix. And while some reviews at Amazon say wireless streaming with the Sony BDP-S580 is adequate, others complain about navigational and operational challenges.
Using an Ethernet connection for Blu-ray streaming is usually pretty reliable but not guaranteed. Some consumers report on Newegg that Netflix playback with the Panasonic DMP-BD75 is slow and occasionally freezes up. We noted the most griping about Blu-ray streaming problems in consumer reviews of the Toshiba BDX2200. Many posts at Amazon and B&H complain that the player freezes, especially when streaming Netflix video.
Blu-ray Players Inputs/Outputs.Blu-ray players have one primary function: to transfer audio and video from the player to another source, usually a TV, but also to a home stereo receiver or home theater system. Blu-ray players don't require as many outputs as other electronics devices that connect to still other devices -- such as a TV to a DVD player, VCR, and game system -- but all budget Blu-rays have at least a single HDMI output for transferring video and audio from a Blu-ray movie to a TV.Most Blu-ray players also include other types of outputs, such as component or composite video outputs. If your TV lacks an HDMI input, you can use the Blu-ray player's component outputs (if it has them); among the best budget Blu-rays on our list, only the Sony BDP-S580 features a component output. Component video connections are a little better than composite in terms of resolution, but still only support 1080i or 720p, so turn to this option only if your TV maxes out at those resolutions. As a matter of last resort, you can connect a Blu-ray player to a TV using a composite output, but this is the lowest resolution video connection between the two devices; the Sony BDP-S580, LG BP620, Panasonic DMP-BDT220 and DMP-BD75, and Toshiba BDX2200 come with composite outputs.
Some people like to play audio from a Blu-ray movie through a home theater system or stereo receiver, so look for a budget Blu-ray player with an audio output (either an optical audio output or coaxial audio output) to enable a direct connection; the Panasonic DMP-BDT220, LG BP620, Sony BDP-S580, and Vizio VBR122 meet this standard. Some Blu-ray players like the Panasonic DMP-BDT220, LG BP620, and Sony BDP-S580, also have good old analog stereo audio outputs that you can use to connect to your stereo.
Blu-ray Sound, Formats
A Blu-ray player's format support for video is of primary importance, no doubt, but many users also connect these devices to surround sound home theater systems for a truly immersive movie experience. There are several surround sound formats, such as Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital TrueHD, DTS, and DTS-HD. These formats provide high-quality, multichannel audio for home theater systems comprising several speakers, such as a 5.1 audio system (five speakers and one subwoofer). All the players on our list support several surround sound formats. If you're connecting a Blu-ray player directly to a TV, you won't benefit from multichannel audio support because the TV plays stereo sound through its two speakers. However, if you have a home theater system, you'll appreciate the multichannel audio that the Dolby Digital and DTS formats provide.
Blu-ray Players Format Support.Blu-ray players are versatile little machines that aren't restricted to playing Blu-ray movies. All Blu-ray players are also compatible with commercially-produced DVDs and audio CDs, and frugal consumers with libraries of DVDs invariably report improved image quality (clarity, sharpness, color) when these older-format discs are played on a Blu-ray. One user, for example, who concedes in a post on Amazon to lagging behind the technological curve, says playback quality of DVDs and audio with CDs on the Panasonic DMP-BD75 is totally groovy.In the budget end of the market, Blu-ray format support is fairly wide ranging. Most players support a variety of formats, such as dual-layer Blu-ray discs, recordable Blu-ray discs, recordable DVDs, and recordable CDs. In other words, you can use an inexpensive Blu-ray to play nearly all the content you have on disc. Additionally, three of our top picks -- the Panasonic DMP-BDT220, LG BP620, and Sony BDP-S580 -- support 3D Blu-ray playback.
Blu-ray format support by all the players on our list also includes DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance), which lets you send certain media files from your PC through your home network for playback on the Blu-ray. Devices that are DLNA-compatible can play a variety of photo, audio, and video formats, such as MP3 files, MP4 files, MVK video files, or WMA files. Blu-ray format support typically extends to common file formats such as CD audio and JPEG file types, and most players support additional file types, such as ACC and MKV files, as well. But Blu-ray format support varies quite a bit, so check the manufacturer's specifications for the particulars. Note, though, that devices capable of playing specialty discs, such as DVD-Audio or SA-CDs, aren't cheap; the Oppo Digital BDP-93 features such Blu-ray format support, but this player is several times more expensive than our best budget picks.