Advice Guide

How to buy the best Blu-ray player

by Elisa Roberts Back to advice guides

Blu-ray players are a step up from DVD players, displaying films in high definition with great clarity. We explain the benefits, and what to look out for before buying one.

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Should I buy a Blu-ray player?

The primary selling point of Blu-ray is that it will display your favourite films and TV shows in full high definition, meaning that they will have more clarity than your old DVD collection - although Blu-ray players play DVDs, too. Despite being expensive when they first came on the scene, Blu-ray players are now much more affordable, so you'll find the cheapest start at around £60 and the majority fall between £100 and £150.

The step up in image quality from DVD to Blu-ray is noticeably different; colour, detail and sharpness is better - ideal for large screen TVs. But the benefits don't end there.

  • 1080p HD picture - The step up in image quality from DVD to Blu-ray is comparable to the difference you would have seen when you originally moved from VHS to DVD. If you're a movie buff who wants to watch your films in the best possible quality, than you'll definitely appreciate a Blu-ray player, especially on a larger TV, where you'll be able to see the tiniest details.
  • High definition sound - it's not just about the picture - you can enjoy high quality audio, too. To fully benefit from uncompressed audio, ideally you'll connect the Blu-ray player with an HDMI cable to a surround sound system, an A/V receiver and speakers, or a sound bar, rather than listening through the TV's speakers.
  • True HD vs 'HD channels' - online streaming services like Netflix, digital TV services such as BBC HD and even satellite services such as Sky TV HD don't broadcast completely uncompressed HD footage. Blu-rays give the best quality.
  • 3D film effects at home - not everyone likes 3D but it still has its fair share of fans. The best way to enjoy it at home is a magic combination of a 3D TV and glasses, 3D Blu-ray disc and 3D Blu-ray player.
  • No need to stream - unlike online streaming services like Netflix and Now TV, playing Blu-ray discs doesn't need a fast internet connection and generous data allowance. Even without fast and reliable broadband, you can still enjoy movies at their best.

Even if the last time you sat down to watch a recent Hollywood film was just last week, unless you watched it on Blu-ray the likelihood is that you didn't see it - or hear it - in the best possible quality. Whether it's Skyfall, Avatar, Finding Nemo, or the haunting opening helicopter attack sequence in Apocolypse Now, if you're not watching the Blu-ray version, you're probably missing out.

Who makes them?

The main manufacturers of Blu-ray players are big-name brands such as LG, Samsung, Sony and Panasonic, although other well-known companies also produce them, including Toshiba, Philips, Pioneer, and Yamaha.

Despite being prohibitively expensive at launch, Blu-ray players are now much more affordable, so you'll find the main brands offer several models from budget up to their very best, fully-featured decks. Of course, there's still room for premium decks for the home cinema buff the likes of Denon, Onkyo, Marantz, and Cambridge Audio, which can cost from £200 up to £800. But is it really necessary to part with that sort of cash? In short, no. But get it wrong, and you could be left with dire-looking 3D or a dreadful DVD picture.

Want to know which Blu-ray player is best for you? Take a look at all of our Blu-ray DVD player reviews.

How do I choose a good Blu-ray player?

So you want good Blu-ray quality, but what else? Consider the features that you'll really need and use. There's no point paying a premium and buying a 3D-capable or even a 4K-upscaling model if you don't have a TV that supports it.

Good for DVDs

It's easy to overlook DVD quality, but not all are made equal - if you have a large DVD collection then make sure you find a Blu-ray player that receives a good rating for DVD standard definition (SD) picture quality.

3D Blu-ray films

3D-ready Blu-ray players are fairly common and many of those we test can play 3D discs. Many TVs are also 3D-capable, and you don't have to spend a fortune for this. The majority do a good job but we catch out any with a poor 3D effect in our tests, so you're not. 

Find your ideal 3D popcorn partner among our Blu-ray player reviews.

Smart TV

If you're a casual Blu-ray disc renter or purchaser, but like the idea of watching catch-up services from the BBC, Channel 4 and Channel 5, then go for a Smart TV enabled model. Most of these will be wi-fi enabled, so they will connect to your home network wirelessly, although some cheaper or older models will need to be physically attached to your internet router with an ethernet cable.

Discover which Smart models excelled among our Blu-ray player reviews.

Play your own movies via USB

If you'd like to play your own movies and images in the Blu-ray player, check for USB or SD card slots. These allow you to put your own content on a memory stick and play it back on the TV. Seeing your photos and home movies on a big screen TV can be a nice way to share them with your friends and family. Check the technical specifications section of our Blu-ray player reviews for this feature, though many newer TVs offer this, too.

Easy to use

Blu-ray players are fairly simple in terms of tech products, and most should be capable of doing a decent job of playing your discs. However, the interface and menu can make a world of difference, and a poorly placed volume button on the remote, or tricky to find menu settings can lead to years of irritation. Try to have a play with a few models in store to see how you get on with the remote and menus. You can always order it online if you see it somewhere cheaper. But as we check how easy they are to use, find a model we rate highly for ease of use in our Blu-ray player reviews.

4K upscaling

Most people have a Full-HD TV in their homes, but those with 4K - or ultra-high-definition (Ultra HD) picture quality - are now available to buy. These can upscale the picture up to four times the detail of HD, and the 4K-upscaling Blu-ray players we have reviewed essentially do the same job but only with Blu-ray discs. However, a 4K disc format doesn't exist - at most there are some 'Mastered in 4K' Blu-rays, so consider if you really need to pay extra for this feature.

Head to our glossary for more information on 4K upscaling Blu-ray players.

Don't forget the HDMI cable. You'll need one to connect the player to your TV. Check to see if one is included.