If you waited for the price of feature-packed Blu-ray Disc players to fall to affordable levels, your wait is over. You can get a new Blu-ray player for $90, and all companies sell models that have Internet streaming capability for as little as $100, compared with the $180 that it cost in 2010.
In addition, a Blu-ray player that has built-in Wi-Fi connectivity costs $120, whereas it would have cost $250 in 2010. Even models that are capable of showing 3-D movies are inexpensive: They cost at least $125, compared with $400 just 2 years ago.
CONNECTIONS. The lower prices are good news, but if you want to watch Blu-ray movies at the highest resolution—1080p—your high-definition TV must have the correct inputs. That means that it must have High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) inputs.
Due to a provision in Blu-ray’s Advanced Access Content System (AACS), which is a standard for content distribution and digital-rights management that’s meant to thwart piracy of HD video, Blu-ray players that were manufactured on or after Jan. 1, 2011, can output HD signals only through HDMI cables. (Models that were made before that date can send HD signals through component analog outputs.) If you don’t connect via HDMI, a new Blu-ray player will produce only standard-definition video resolution—a noticeable difference even to the average viewer.
Furthermore, the AACS provision mandates that as of Jan. 1, 2014, no Blu-ray player can have analog outputs at all. In other words, if you have a TV that doesn’t have HDMI inputs—and most TVs that are older than 6 years old don’t—you won’t be able to watch any videos on a Blu-ray player that was made after that date unless you purchase a new TV, too.
And if you haven’t shopped for HDMI cables before, the experience can be bewildering, because prices for cables range from $2 to $222. However, we’ve never found any difference in picture quality or sound quality between using an inexpensive HDMI cable and an expensive version. (We challenged 25 manufacturers and HDMI experts, and none provided any evidence that any difference exists between HDMI cables.)
Manufacturers of cables also claim that expensive cables last longer than the less expensive variety does. But our experience with HDMI cables over the years never has led to a situation in which one failed or wore out, and we couldn’t find anyone who has had a problem with an HDMI cable failing or wearing out.
Consequently, we believe that you’re better off to spend little on HDMI cables and put your money elsewhere. Even if you bought a $2 cable and it broke and you had to buy another $2 cable, you still would be $96 ahead than if you had purchased a $100 cable at the outset.
Burning Bright: External-Optical-Drive Prices Fall
In the next 2 years, you might not have to worry about the cables at all. Because every company that makes Blu-ray players also makes HDTVs, we believe that you’ll see a built-in wireless HDMI connection between Blu-ray players and HDTVs in the next 2 years. We know of no plans to make this happen, but HDMI adapters that can transmit 1080p wirelessly exist. These adapters won’t disturb the picture the way that some forms of wireless connectivity can, and they’re small enough to be built into Blu-ray players. For now, wireless adapters are stand-alone transmitters, and they cost at least $200.
3-D EVERYWHERE? If your HDTV has HDMI connectivity, you can watch 3-D video, and all major manufacturers of Blue-ray players now include 3-D capability in everything but their lowest priced models. (Of course, you still will have to connect a 3-D Blu-ray player to a 3-D-enabled HDTV to see a 3-D picture.) What’s best of all, you no longer need a $50 adapter to make your 3-D HDTV work with your 3-D Blu-ray player, as you did 2 years ago.
Unfortunately, only about 200 3-D Blu-ray titles are available. That’s way more than the handful of titles that existed 2 years ago, but it’s still a miniscule percentage of the market. (No 3-D DVD titles exist.)