Buyers guide to Blu-ray players

Shopping for a high-defintion Blu-ray DVD player? Here are some tips.

If you've rented DVDs or browsed the home entertainment displays at an electronics store lately, chances are you've heard about Blu-ray, a high- definition DVD format.

Blu-ray emerged as the next- generation DVD format at the beginning of last year and since then manufacturers and movie studios have begun to churn out Blu-ray players and DVDs. If you want a high-definition DVD player, Blu-ray is the way to go. But what should you look for?

First off, you'll need a full high- definition television that can show video at 1080p resolution to appreciate all of the benefits of Blu-ray. HD TVs with 720p resolution scale down high-def images to display them.

It's important to know Blu-ray players can play standard (non- Blu-ray) DVDs, so you won't need to throw away your movie collection.

Make sure the player is a Profile 2 or BD Live player, as these are the latest breed and come with a swag of features that Profile 1 and 1.1 players don't have. BD Live players can be connected to the web for content updates, security fixes, internet gaming and chats.

If it's not obvious what profile a player is, check for an Ethernet port (for connecting to the internet), which should mean it is Profile 2.

Like DVDs, some Blu-ray movies are region coded, meaning they will only play on players that are coded to a certain geographical region (such as Africa and Europe).

New Zealand is in Region B for Blu-ray, so if you've got Region B movies, you'll need a Region B or multi-region player to view them.

High-definition also refers to sound. High-resolution formats such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS- HD Master Audio deliver studio- quality sound but will need to be decoded for you to hear it.

Most Blu-ray players will decode the sound themselves, but some don't - meaning the decoding needs to be done by an audio-visual receiver or HDTV tuner.

In terms of brands, Sony, Samsung, LG and Panasonic are all reliable and recommended by those in the know. - Sources: PC Authority, Consumer Search, iPodObserver.

Samsung BD-P1600, $649

This player comes with BD Live and a built-in Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoder. Other features include wireless internet support (you will need to buy the dongle or USB receiver), and JPEG photo playback. It is Region B but can be modified to play movies from all other regions.

Panasonic BD60, $650

It has a built-in Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoder and its VIERA Cast technology allows you to stream YouTube clips and content from other websites through your TV. This BD Live player also includes an SD memory card slot so you can view your own photos and videos in HD.

Sony BDPS350, $800

This region B player can be upgraded to BD Live and will upscale standard DVDs to high- definition through your TV's HDMI input (for digital connector cables). It includes built-in Dolby TrueHD decoder and its bonus-view feature lets you watch commentary from actors and directors while a movie is playing. The Sony PlayStation 3 ($800) is also a worth a look if you want to play games and watch movies. While not a dedicated Blu-ray player, it still has BD Live and built-in Wi-Fi, and decodes Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio formats.

Panasonic BD80, $850

Like the BD60 it has BD Live, a Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoder and VIERA Cast technology. It also has 7.1 analogue audio output, which means even if your TV or audio receiver doesn't have an HDMI input, you'll still be able to enjoy high-definition sound.

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