Discs aren’t dead yet. Sure, we live in an age of streamed media, and although services such as Netflix and Amazon would love for DVDs and Blu-rays to disappear, it isn’t going to happen any time soon.
If you’ve invested in a TV and soundbar, then maybe it’s time you thought about adding a disc spinner to the setup. Blu-ray players are a must for those who prioritise picture and sound quality, or those who don’t want to rely on a film collection that lives in the cloud, with titles evaporating with every given day.
Now is an exciting time for Blu-ray players. Not only is it possible to get your hands on great Wi-Fi-enabled models for well under £100, but 4K Blu-ray decks have finally arrived too.
They’re the best way for people with 4K TVs, but less-than-lightning-fast internet, to get Ultra HD films into their home. There are only two 4K Blu-ray players on the market right now, and both are good enough to make it into our list. Then there’s the new Xbox One S, a games console that offers the most affordable way to play UHD Blu-rays.
UHD Blu-ray decks aren’t cheap, though. So we’ve also included several picks for those happy with 4K upscaling, and with Full HD rather than 4K TVs. After all, a great 1080p picture is better than a bad 4K one.
This Week’s Best Blu-ray Player Deals
Sony BDP-S6500 at Amazon.co.uk | Was £99 | Now £89
Xbox One S with Fifa 17 at Amazon.co.uk | Was £350 | Now £214
Samsung UBD-K8500 at Amazon.com | Was $400 | Now $192
What is Ultra HD Blu-ray?
The rollout of UHD Blu-ray machines won’t happen overnight. Panasonic and Samsung have already released their first models, and the Philips BDP7501 is another early contender, but fans of Yamaha, Oppo and LG machines will have to wait.
If you’re set on UHD Blu-ray, make absolutely sure the player you’re considering supports the new standard. You may see the Sony UHP-H1 described as a 4K player, for example, but it actually only offers 4K upscaling.
For the uninitiated, UHD Blu-ray essentially refers to 4K Blu-ray discs. Whereas the current standard conforms to the Full HD 1,920 x 1,080 resolution, Ultra HD Blu-ray uses much higher-capacity discs to deliver films with a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160, which is the same as 4K TVs. The discs are fairly expensive right now, as is the norm for any new format.
What’s the difference between 4K upscaling and a real UHD Blu-ray? With a real UHD disc, the raw data caters for every pixel on your 4K TV. When upscaling, a player will use clever algorithms to emulate or approximate that extra data.
It’s a digital artist’s impression at 4K, if you like, but the results can often get eerily close to the real thing.
At the time of writing, there’s a boutique selection of Ultra HD Blu-ray discs out there, including recent AAA blockbusters such as The Revenant and some big-budget classics such as Independence Day. However, you can expect the selection to ramp up very quickly. Universal Pictures plans to release more than 100 4K Blu-rays by the end of 2016.
So while you ponder whether you’re happy with classic Blu-rays or UHD ones, take a look at our favourite Blu-ray player picks.