Which comes first, the player or the display? That’s an age-old question in consumer electronics where products and features change by the nanosecond. Today it applies to 1080p TVs and the latest-generation high-definition disc players: Blu-ray and HD DVD. If you want to make the most of your 1080p TV, you’ll want to get a compatible high-def disc player because virtually all Blu-ray and HD DVD titles deliver a 1080p signal. We won’t see that for quite a few years from broadcast TV.
Next decision? Blu-ray or HD DVD. Both deliver excellent quality. Just as VCR buyers once had to choose between Beta and VHS, consumers now have to choose which version they want to commit their libraries to. Pick the format with less staying power and you could find yourself with a limited stash of discs down the road.
Or, you can hedge your bets. Samsung and LG offer dual-format players that spin both discs. LG’s BH200 Super Blu Player ($999) is the second-generation dual-format player from LG, and unlike the first-gen model, the new player has the capability to handle interactive features of both formats including BD-Java, BD-Live (due next summer) and HDi. The LG BH200 outputs 1080p video resolution at 24-, 30- and 60 frames per second.
Samsung’s BD-UP500 Duo HD Player ($1,049) also supports both Blu-ray and HD-DVD formats along with their respective interactive technologies, HDi and BD-Java. The interactive features provide additional studio content such as trailers and director’s comments, games and behind-the-scenes footage.
A dual-format player frees you to pick up a high-def disc at the media store and not worry whether it will play in your device. You’ll avoid the frustrations some people will encounter when they rent a hi-res DVD from Blockbuster and try to play it on their HD DVD player. The rental chain decided last summer to commit to the Blu-ray format going forward because it found that 70 percent of customers were renting Blu-ray discs instead of HD DVD. In addition, Target committed to Sony’s $499 BDP-S300 as its exclusive Blu-ray player for its stores (it sells PS3, too, which has a built-in Blu-ray drive) this holiday sales season. Target will, however, sell discs for both formats.
Toshiba continues to make HD DVD player very appealing to consumers, though, and is on its third generation of high-res players. The company dropped the entry point for HD DVD to $299 for the HD-A3, which outputs in 1080i. Toshiba’s step-up models, the HD-A30 ($399) and HD-A35 ($499) add 1080p resolution and 24p output, along with HDMI-CEC, which enables two-way control between the player and TV via HDMI 1.3.
Toshiba’s top model, the HD-XA2 ($799), adds sophisticated Silicon Optix Reon processing and lists for $799. All Toshiba players have Ethernet jacks, which when linked to the Internet, give you access to interactive online information including bonus features and additional content.
Onkyo joins the HD DVD camp this fall with the $899 DV-HD805. Packing an HDMI 1.3a output, the DV-HD-805 delivers full high-resolution audio via HDMI for Dolby True HD and DTS-HD Master Audio—the latest, lossless surround-sound formats that deliver sound that’s virtually indistinguishable from the master recording.
Notable Blu-ray introductions for the fall include Samsung’s HT-BD2 Home Theater Solution with Blu-ray ($1,499), which combines a 7.1-channel receiver, Blu-ray player, five speakers and a subwoofer in a 1,100-watt packaged system. The Blu-ray player outputs 1080p/24 for use with TVs that can accept a 24p input.
Panasonic’s second-generation DMP-BD10A Blu-ray player ($599) features an audio upgrade package built around 7.1 channel surround, and Dolby True HD and DTS-HD Master Audio. In order to reap the benefit of Dolby True HD and DTS-HD High Resolution Audio, you need an A/V receiver that supports those formats via HDMI 1.3.
Sharp joined the Blu-ray camp with the BD-HP20U ($549). The player outputs 1080p video at 24 frames per second and offers Dolby TrueHD multi-channel audio output via HDMI 1.3. The slimline player boasts a Quick Start feature that’s said to bring up the menu in a speedy 10 seconds from the time you close the drawer.
Pioneer has replaced its first-gen Blu-ray player with the Elite BDP-95FD ($999). The player supports Dolby True HD, DTS High Resolution Audio and HDMI-CEDIA. The BDP-95FD also includes Home Media Gallery technology which allows you to stream digital images from a PC to your TV via the player.
Sony beefed up its Blu-ray line up with the BDP-S2000ES and BDP-S500 models. The ES version is the first Blu-ray player in Sony’s upscale heavy-duty ES series. Both offer 7.1 channel Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, and DTS-HD High-resolution Audio along with 1080/60p and 24p output. Suggested retail prices are $1,300 and $700, respectively. The company also announced Blu-ray recorders for introduction in Japan this year, although no plans have been disclosed for the U.S. market.
Denon and sister company Marantz will have their first Blu-ray players in stores this fall and early next year, respectively. The upscale Marantz BD8002 ($2,099) player features the 10-bit Silicon Optix Realta chipset and HDMI 1.3 features including Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding.
Denon will ship two Blu-ray models: the DVD-3800BDCI ($1,999) includes the Silicon Optix Realta chipset and decoding for the lossless audio formats from Dolby and DTS. The $1,199 DVD-2500BTC outputs the Dolby and DTS bitstreams for decoding in a compatible receiver.
At this time, nearly 300 Blu-ray titles were available in the U.S. with another 400 due by the end of the year. The HD DVD camp reported 500 titles—worldwide versus U.S.—with plans for 1,000 worldwide by year end.
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