Blu-ray &Hardware &Online Video Steven Kippel on 19 Jun 2012

The affordable Blu-ray Disc player

The affordable Blu-ray Disc player

Some say the largest factor in DVD adoption in American homes was the PlayStation 2, the video gaming phenomenon that has still yet to be surpassed. But another important factor was the sub-$100 DVD player, which put DVD players in the homes of non-gamers. Blu-ray Disc players have recently dropped below $100. Are they worth your time?

I’m going to cover two BD players here. There are more than two in this price range, but these two come from major brands and aren’t the store-brand or generic brand players which may not have enough features to be worth it, or in the least the ability to support a warranty. They can be found online or in retail stores such as Target, Costco, and Walmart at similar price points.

The Samsung BD-E5300 is the entry-level Samsung BD player available on Amazon for $79.99 and is eligible for Prime (free 2-day shipping). I’ve recommended Samsung BD players to everyone who has sought my advice for the fact that they are high-quality and provide the most internet features. However, the BD-E5300 is an austere device. Its features include BD, DVD and CD playback, of course, including Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD audio decoding (no DTS HD Master Audio support). Its connections are sparse: only an HDMI video output, a coaxial digital audio output, a USB input and an Ethernet connection. This is fine for most people, but it’s the internet features which are lacking, and out of character for Samsung. Where Samsung BD players have had an App platform providing the widest array of content providers and internet apps, the BD-E5300 only has a selection of five providers: Netflix, CinemaNow, YouTube, Vudu and Pandora. Apart from that, Samsung’s AllShare can link to DLNA-enabled devices to stream local video and audio files. Wi-Fi is not available on this model.

The Sony BDP-S185 is the entry-level Sony BD player available on Amazon for $84.97 and is eligible for Prime. It has the same physical characteristics as the Samsung BD player above: a single HDMI output, coaxial digital audio, USB and Ethernet. The BDP-S185 also includes analog audio and composite video outputs, though that’s useless if you want high-def content. It also plays BD, DVD, CD with Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD audio decoding. The BDP-S185 does have a leg-up on the Samsung when it comes to internet content, and for $5 more seems to be the better deal. Sony gives the consumer a growing list of content sources, including Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, CinemaNow, Crackle, Sony Entertainment Network, Pandoa, Music unlimited, Slacker, YouTube, Flixster, NHL Vault, and a lot more. They’ve also provided basic social media apps through a service called Socialize, which includes Twitter and Facebook. The BDP-S185 is also DLNA-enabled for streaming files on the local network. This device is not Wi-Fi enabled.

Which Blu-ray Disc player should I buy?

Between these two players, I would have to recommend the Sony BDP-S185 unless you are using a complete Samsung setup using their proprietary HDMI control scheme. Otherwise, the $5 premium Sony is charging simply provides more features.

Full disclosure: after comparing the two players, I chose the Sony player for myself for the simple fact that I’ve already purchased content on Amazon Instant Video, and Samsung would not allow me to access it.

The player powers up quickly, plays BD movies and DVDs quickly, responds quickly to commands, and is a small form factor. It’s not quite as fast as the more expensive players, but for most people it works just fine. My only complaints are with the internet video. Wi-Fi wasn’t important to me, but that is necessary for some people. However, even with an Ethernet connection, sometimes the video app has to be relaunched to make a connection. The Netflix app isn’t very elegant, but that’s probably because I became accustomed to the very clever PlayStation 3 interface. The BDP-S185 interface has tiny artwork which makes it difficult to see, and the search function is cumbersome.

Sony has a network video box for just under $50, but for $30 more this box provides Blu-ray Disc playback as well.

I think these price points are absolutely affordable for everyone, even someone like me with three kids and a very tight budget.

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