2. The right region code
Much like DVDs, Blu-ray is region coded. Unlike DVDs, most of the players available right now actually implement that region coding, though that seems to be changing. It’s pretty easy to pick up a multi-region DVD player, but when you buy a Blu-ray player, you need to get a region-appropriate player.
Blu-ray divides the world into three regions:
- Region A: The Americas (including Canada and Latin America) as well as east and south-east Asia.
- Region B: Africa, Europe, The Middle East and Oceania (that includes Australia)
- Region C: China, Russia, India and the various former Soviet nations.
If you buy a player at retail in Australia, it’s most likely to be a region B player. That means it can only play discs that are either designed for the region or discs that are not region coded (fortunately, a large number of available movies are not region coded and can be played anywhere).
You may well be tempted, especially with the current exchange rate to buy a US player, and order all your discs from the US. At the moment that’s a perfectly valid choice, though you may get in trouble later on if the exchange rate takes a turn for the worse, and doing so can also limit your ability to play Australian-bought DVDs (more on that in a moment).
Even better, a small number of players are appearing that support, either natively or through modding, both Region A and Region B discs. Several newer Samsung models, such as the BD-P1400 are multi-region, and reportedly there are several Sony models that can also play both region A and B discs. If you plan to order movies from the US, these are really your best bet.
However, we should throw in a warning here: buying a Blu-ray player from overseas can also run you into trouble playing DVD movies you’ve bought in Australia. Most existent Blu-ray players recognise DVD region coding (Australia is region 4), so if you plan to use it to play DVDs as well, you need to get a player that matches the region of your current disc collection.
3. HDMI cable included
HDMI cables are still ridiculously expensive, typically in the region of $80 or so. If you really hunt around you can get one for around $40 (which is still pretty insane). But it’s better to get a player that comes with one, so you don’t have to.
4. Multiple output ports
The next thing to look at is outputs. You should have at least one HDMI 1.3 output (the one that you’re most likely to use), as well as component output. Composite and S-Video output is useful if you plan to ever connect the player to an older TV set.
Analogue audio outputs are also necessary if you plan to connect the player to an older set or amplifier. Cheaper player will typically only come with two analogue audio outputs (left and right), while high-end players will often come with both stereo audio outputs and 5.1 channel analogue outputs.
5. Digital audio output and internal decoders
Audio support in Blu-ray players is quite variable. If all you intend to do is plug the player into your high-definition TV set and be done with it, it’s not something you really have to worry about. If you have an expensive AV multi-speaker and receiver setup, however, it’s something that you need to pay attention to.
Blu-ray players will transmit audio to the audio receiver (which may, in fact, be the TV set if you just plan to use the TV’s speakers) either over the HDMI cable, an optical cable or a coaxial cable (if you don’t have a digital receiver, you can also just connect the speakers to the analogue output ports of the player).
All Blu-ray players are required to support Dolby Digital, DTS and PCM decoding, and all movie discs will come with audio tracks encoded in one of those formats. The players will be able to decode those tracks and send them over the HDMI or optical cable to the receiver. Some discs will also come with additional audio tracks, however, usually in Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus.
TrueHD and Digital Plus support 7.1 or 8-channel audio. Support for decoding these formats is optional in Blu-ray players, and tends to only appear in more expensive models. (Note that some players may not have a TrueHD or DD+ decoder, but they may be able to send the TrueHD signal to an external receiver that can decode it).
So which Blu-ray player should I buy?
Right now, the answer to this question is easy: buy the PlayStation3. It’s the most affordable, most capable, most up-to-date and most solid Blu-ray player on the market right now. It’s also the only profile 2 player to be found at the time this article was written, though we hope that changes soon.
The PS3 also happens to be a pretty good games console and network media player. When prices come down on stand-alone players and new model are released the PS3’s status as the best Blu-ray player available might change, but for now it’s the one to get.
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