The Insider: Get a clearer picture of the HD revolution

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The Independent Online

If you own a high-definition television and you’re looking for the ultimate viewing experience, then you may already be considering buying a Blu-ray player. Sales are soaring and prices are falling, but can the format stand up to the success of DVD? And are those extra features really worth the hype?

“Blu-ray players and discs give better viewing quality with sharper and more detailed pictures compared with DVD players and even HDTV broadcasts, but a great picture isn’t all it is about,” says Martyn Hocking, editor of Which? “If your player is complicated to use, or doesn’t do the things you thought it could, chances are you’ll be more frustrated than fulfilled by your Blu-ray experience, so it pays to do your research.”

Most models can be connected to amplifiers and speakers, giving you “cinema-like” surround sound. However, Blu-ray player connections must match connections on the surround-sound system for this to work. There are two types of connection – coaxial (wire) and optical (fibre-optic) – so make sure you get the right one.

Despite the interest in Blu-ray players, not all films are available on Blu-ray discs, especially older films. But Blu-ray players do play traditional DVDs, apart from the now-defunct HD DVD format discs, so there’s no need to throw out your old DVD collections just yet.

All Blu-ray players come with HDMI sockets, which manufacturers claim enhance the viewing of standard DVDs on HDTV, although Which? rarely sees an improvement. But many models don’t come supplied with an HDMI lead, and to buy a good one can cost you between £20 and £40.

The majority of players can also play standard CDs, with some even capable of playing MP3 files. Models which support the reading of Jpeg picture files will also let you view photos in fullscreen HDTV glory.

Some models come with “bookmarking” and “resume” features. Bookmarking lets you mark your favourite scenes in a disc and “resume” will start the disc where you stopped it, as opposed to going back to the beginning each time. Energy-saving auto-power-off features automatically switch players to stand-by mode when left idle.

The remote control is your connection to the machine, so finding one that is sensibly laid-out is crucial for ease of use. Also check on-screen menus, as the design and layout of these will affect how easy the player is to use.

Equally important are the front panel controls. Try a few simple operations, such as skipping scenes, via the front panel buttons. In the event of the remote disappearing, this could be the only way you can operate the Blu-ray player.

In the latest Which? test, LG’s BD300 (£245, above) was praised by testers as a great all-rounder. It scored highly for picture quality and sound quality, and boasts several useful features including a USB port and “disc resume” function, plus it comes with an HDMI cable.

The Samsung BD-P2500 (£200, pictured top) is also recommended by Which? In addition to great picture and sound quality, it comes with auto-stand-by, resume and bookmark features, and lots of audio outputs. Power usage is high, though, and it doesn’t come with an HDMI cable.

Where to buy

Most high-street, independent and online retailers sell Blu-ray players.

Questions to ask

Do I need to get a new TV as well?

You won’t be able to view Blu-ray in high definition without a high-definition TV. Many older HD-ready sets may not do full justice to the quality of Blu-ray playback.

Are Blu-ray discs more expensive than standard DVDs?

Yes. Blu-ray discs typically retail for about a third more than what you’d expect to pay for a standard DVD.

Would I be better off with a PlayStation?

The Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3) plays games and Blu-ray discs for the same price as a normal Blu-ray DVD player. However, usability is an issue as having to use a game controller to navigate discs and access menu systems can be difficult, although you can buy a special PS3 remote control.

Will it play discs I buy overseas?

Blu-ray discs use a similar regional-coding system to standard DVDs. Region A covers the Americas and South-east Asia; region B is Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Australasia; C relates to Central and South Asia and Russia. If you buy a cheap disc in the States, it won’t play back on your UK-bought machine. The system was developed to combat global piracy.

The Insider is written by ‘Which?’, the independent consumer champion. For more information go to \[Prestige\] |To get three issues of ‘Which?’ magazine for a special price of £3, call 01992 822800 and quote INADVICE.

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