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This year's model
Member Name: hogsflesh
Date: 15/07/11, updated on 15/07/11 (62 review reads)
Advantages: Inexpensive, plays Blu - Rays and DVDs well enough
Disadvantages: Menus a bit clunky, online connection slightly unreliable
This was the model I went for. It's cheap enough to not be an utter disaster if it doesn't work out, but expensive enough to reassure me that I'm getting something reasonably durable. It has the slimline black appearance that seems to be de rigueur for these (macho) appliances these days.
Setting up was very easy. Plug the thing into the TV, switch it on, bob's your uncle. However, it doesn't come with any connector cables of any kind, so bob's only your uncle if you've already got something to plug him in with. There are various different options, but HDMI is apparently the best in terms of picture quality, so that's what I went for. The player takes maybe 20 seconds to switch on and be ready to play.
You'll also need to connect to the internet to download firmware updates. You can get a wireless adaptor to plug into the player (it has three USB ports), but it doesn't come with one. I'm not sure if any old wireless USB adaptor will do or if it needs a bespoke one. As it's right next to my router anyway I just stuck a spare Ethernet cable in the back of it. It will prompt you when it thinks you should upgrade, flashing a message up on screen, even if you're halfway through watching something. This is a bit clumsy, like your butler lumbering in to tell you the new washing machine's arrived when you're in the middle of a swingers' party. The actual download and install of the update takes only a couple of minutes.
The little buttons on the player are a bit too small, but who presses buttons on a player anyway? The remote is a nice, dinky size and easy to get to grips with. It's more or less the same as any DVD remote (but somehow much smaller) and I figured it out in about a second. There's a menu when you first switch the player on, which is slightly less intuitive than it could be, but which is easy enough to find one's way around. It's slightly inconsistent about whether it will autoplay disks you put in, or just leave you to select them from the menu screen.
So obviously it plays Blu-Ray disks, and equally obviously they have much, much better picture quality than DVDs - sharper, more detailed, with better colour definition and blacker blacks. I've not got another Blu-Ray player, so have no idea how it compares to different models - presumably some are better than others. But this is certainly going to keep me happy for the foreseeable future. How durable the format itself is remains to be seen, but I reckon there will be a couple of years' life in it, which is enough to warrant getting a player.
The player itself whirs a bit when you first put a disk in, but isn't notably noisy when it's playing, a criticism I've seen levelled at some players. This is a single region player (Region B), but a lot of American Blu-Rays are being released as all regions, so this isn't a major disaster. I've already picked up American Blu-Rays of my two favourite movies. There's plenty of information on the web about which releases are region free and which aren't.
I can't really judge how good its sound quality is as my TV has fairly basic speakers. It's not what I bought the player for, but there are impressive looking options available.
My taste in cheap, old, never-going-to-get-upgraded horror movies means I'm not ready to wave goodbye to DVDs just yet. It plays DVDs too, of course. It's supposed to 'upscale' DVDs, making their picture quality slightly better. I have to admit, I can't notice any difference between the picture quality for DVD playback on this, on my DVD player, or on my Xbox 360. I'm keeping my all-regions DVD player anyway - this player is only region 2, and I buy an awful lot of multi-region imports. (You can reportedly enter a code that lets this play multi-region DVDs easily enough, but I've no particular reason to do so. That only applies to DVDs, not Blu-Rays - as far as I can tell, you're stuck with just the one Blu-Ray region.)
The one problem it's had was with an old Dr Who DVD. I was watching in it 4:3 aspect ratio (the old TV ratio), as that's what it was recorded in. Twice the player randomly flipped me into widescreen without warning. It only happened on that one disk, though (other Dr Who DVDs I watched didn't do it) so I'm not too worried.
You can also go online and watch internet video sites, of which plenty are available (presumably software upgrades will add more in the future). I've only had a quick look at this as I watch very little TV anyway. BBC iPlayer can be a bit temperamental - sometimes it seems to have trouble connecting, which can sometimes require switching the player off and on again to get it to do anything else. Sky News and Youtube both work. Youtube obviously involves you having to search for things, and you use the numbers on the remote rather like a mobile phone's texting (although sadly it doesn't do predictive texting.) Still, I got my favourite youtube video (a Russian man singing) up within maybe two minutes, so it's not that bad. Obviously youtube video quality isn't best suited to big TVs, though.
The player can also handle music - pop a CD in and it plays it. It plays various common sound file formats, and you can plug an external hard drive full of music into one of the USB ports if you so wish. Here, though, is where the limitations of the navigation system become apparent. The hard drive in question has loads of music on it - it's a backup of all the music I have on my PC, which is an awful lot. Scrolling through it all takes ages, and if there's a way to skip to things I couldn't find it. The huge list, ludicrously, doesn't loop, so if you're browsing your Frank Zappa albums and suddenly realise that, actually, you're in the mood for a bit of Abba, you have to scroll all the way back up again. Which takes ages.
It can also play video files, and you can view photos on it, from various USB storage devices or DVDs (or even CD-ROMs, I guess). Here's where another annoyance rears its head. The menu has separate options, for photos, video and music. Although the USB drive will appear under all three categories, it will only play things if you select it from the right one. So if you put in a drive full of photos but try to view it through the Video category, it will tell you there are no playable files on the disk. This seems annoyingly pedantic when we're all used to computer operating systems which allow you to browse whole drives at once.
But really all these extra features - internet video, music, photos - are irrelevant. I bought this to watch films on, and it lets me do that to my satisfaction. Even if Blu Ray proves to be an ephemeral format, just a final footnote to the physical media era, it'll do me very nicely as a DVD player too. I paid £100 for this on amazon (it's cheaper elsewhere, it turns out), and if you're looking for a simple-to-use and reliable player, this seems to fit the bill.
Oh, and it has a thin blue light on the front that looks sort of science fiction-y. What a time to be alive!
I'm only relating my own experience of this as a relatively tech-illiterate consumer. If you want to know the technical details, they are here:
Summary: A decent, inexpensive Blu-Ray player