While the latest Blu-ray players from several major brands aren't doing anything to lower the price barrier for Blu-ray ownership, Magnavox has introduced the first sub-$300 model, which is selling at Wal-Mart.
However, many models, including the Magnavox, are Profile 1.1 players that offer BonusView (picture-in-picture) capability, but not the Internet-access capability (called BDLive) of Profile 2.0 players. Even at lower prices, we still believe that holding off a bit longer—when fully featured players are both more plentiful and cheaper—makes the most sense for the majority of us. (Find other helpful buying advice in our "How to choose a high-def DVD player.")
But these all-inclusive players are now on the way. For example, Panasonic's newest standalone player is a Profile 2.0 model, and Samsung's new standalone model, a Profile 1.1 player, can be upgraded later this year to meet the Profile 2.0 specifications.
The down side, however, is that these players are still relatively expensive: $400 for the Samsung model, and $700 for the Panasonic. With the exception of the new Maganavox, the least expensive new Blu-ray players, even those from secondary brands, are $350. It's possible, though, that the introduction of the Magnavox model will put pressure on those second-tier brands manufacturers to get their player prices below $300.
Magnavox: Under $300 at Wal-Mart
The new Magnavox model, made by increasingly busy contract manufacturer Funai, has been sighted at Wal-Mart at a retail price of $298. The player, model NB500MG9, is a BonusView model that features 1080p/24 output (which sends film-base video at its native 24 frames-per-second rate to a TV or projector that can accept it; therefore, no conversion—3:2 pulldown—is needed to match the video to a TV’s 60 fps display). The Funai website has the owner's manual for the NB500MG9 (You'll need Adobe Acrobat, however.) if you'd like to see all of its features.
Pioneer: Elite-, Pioneer-brand Blu-ray models
Not surprising given its brand positioning, Pioneer is hitting the mid- and upper price tiers with two new Blu-ray players, one bearing its step-up Elite badge (the BDP-05FD, $799, seen above) and the other (the BDP-51FD, $599) its first Pioneer-brand model. Both players, which will be available this summer, are Profile 1.1 (BonusView) models that emphasize audio, as well as video, performance.
Both feature 1080p/24 output, as well as internal decoding of all Blu-ray audio formats, including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master audio. They also have 7.1-channel audio audio outputs for those who won't be connecting the player to a receiver with HDMI inputs. The Elite model has gold-plated connectors, capacitance touch-key buttons and an aluminum face plate. It also comes with a 2-year, rather than 1-year, warranty.
Panasonic's newest Blu-ray model is the DMP-BD50 ($700, click on the image at left for a closer look), perhaps the first standalone Profile 2.0 standalone player on the market (the Sony PlayStation 3 game console can be upgraded to Profile 2.0). As such, it supports not only BonusView, but also BDLive, which allows viewers to access Internet-based content. Other features of the player, which will be available in early June, include 1080p/24 video output, internal decoding of both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master audio, plus Panasonic's new video processing circuitry (called "Uniphier"). The player also includes an SD card slot for viewing digital photos and videos.
Samsung's newest Blu-ray player is the BDP-1500 (Click on image at right for a closer look), available in June, is a Profile 1.1 player (with an Ethernet port) that can be upgraded to full Profile 2.0 capability (BDLive) via a firmware update later in the year. Although price wasn't officially announced, some retailers are taking preorders for $400. While the model will be able to decode Dolby TrueHD lossless audio, it currently doesn't support DTS-HD Master lossless audio (DTS-HD High Resolution will be supported via a firmware update).
Both Panasonic and Samsung are introducing new home-theater-in-a-box systems that feature integrated Blu-ray drives.
Panasonic's is a "wireless-ready" home-theater-in-a-box system with an integrated Profile 1.1 Blu-ray player. The system (SC-BT100, $1,000), which comes in a 5.1-channel configuration, can accept a pair of optional ($200) wireless speakers and a transceiver for full 7.1-channel operation. The system (Click on the image at left for a closer look.) has a Whisper-mode Surround feature, which dynamically boosts bass and surround-channel levels as the volume is turned down for a full surround effect even at low volumes. The system has an integrated iPod dock that allows music and videos to be played throuugh the system, an SD card slot for playing back digital stills and videos.
Samsung is introducing its second—and less expensive—Blu-ray HTIB system, the HT-BD2S ($999). The BD2S (Click on the image at right for a closer look.) is a complete 7.1-channel system that features smaller satellite speakers and a price that's a third less than its bigger-speakered sibling (the HT-BD2T). Like that model, however, it has a Profile 1.0 Blu-ray player, so no BonusView or BDLive.
—James K. Willcox