Even though the Blu-ray format has emerged as the de facto standard for high-definition DVD, you might want to hold off on buying a player. We think prices could drop later in the year, but that's not the only reason to wait. Technologically, the Blu-ray format is still maturing.
As a result, many early adopters are finding, to their dismay, that the players they purchased—likely at premium prices—lack features that will be included in newer, lower-priced models.
One thing that HD DVD got right was that it mandated a minimum set of features, including interactivity and online access, which had to be included in every player sold. Blu-ray, by contrast, has continually updated the features on its players. Currently, Blu-ray is on its third player "profile," which describes the specific features included in the player.
The first players—so-called Profile 1.0 models—will play Blu-ray movies (plus DVDs and, generally, CDs), period. An updated profile—dubbed Profile 1.1—added picture-in-picture capability that lets you view a Blu-ray movie while calling up additional content, such as a director's commentary, in a smaller window on the screen.
The latest profile—Profile 2.0, or BD Live—adds an Ethernet port for Internet access capability, enabling you to get the latest movie trailers or interactive games from the web. Unfortunately, earlier players can't be upgraded to the latest profile. The one exception we know of is the latest version of Sony's PlayStation 3 game console, which can be updated via a firmware upgrade to conform to the BD Live specifications. The first standalone Profile 2.0 players are expected to arrive shortly.
In our opinion, that's a compelling reason to continue waiting. While many of us may be happy simply playing movies, why settle for less than a fully featured model, especially since it will likely carry a cheaper price? But it's up to you to make sure that you're getting a player that has all the Blu-ray functionality currently being offered—something the Blu-ray format has unnecessarily complicated.
—James K. Willcox