The Super Bowl is this Sunday and what better way to enjoy it from the comfort of home than on a brand-new HDTV? ...
Blu-ray Streaming, Wi-Fi
Blu-ray Streaming and 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.
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, Amazon) and Sony BDP-S590 (starting at $148, Amazon). 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.
Don't Bother Cheap Blu Ray Players
Samsung BD-D5700 Review
Sony BDP-S590 Review
Toshiba BDX2200 Review
Vizio VBR122 Review
Sony BDP-S580 Review
Panasonic DMP-BD75 Review
Panasonic DMP-BDT220 Review
LG BP620 Review
Sharp Aquos BD-HP21U
February is an excellent month to take advantage of sales on electronics, home theaters, romantic gifts and more.
Game on! Grab some deals before kickoff this sunday! Here are our favorite Super Bowl deals and sales.