With HD DVD now a footnote in home entertainment history, it's finally time for you to get off the fence and buy a Blu-ray player. The good news is that prices of these high-definition decks have dropped considerably since the first generation launched, but the bad news is that the format's evolving specifications makes it more difficult to buy one than it really should be.
Certain features are supported by some players but not others, which means your chosen deck could become outdated quite quickly. So to find out which one is most deserving of your hard-earned cash, we've rounded up and tested four of the latest decks under £400. Let the Blu-ray battle commence...
Price: £350 More info: Panasonic Key features: Profile 1.1; Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS HD Master Audio, DTS HD bitstream output; 7.1-channel PCM out; Dolby Digital & DTS decoding and bitstream output; HDMI v1.3 output; 5.1-channel analogue outputs; 1080/24p output; SD card slot; DivX, MP3, AVCHD and JPEG playback; DVD upscaling to 1080p; plays BD-R/RE discs; HDMI CEC
The DMP-BD30 is the world's first dedicated Blu-ray player to support 'Profile 1.1' features, such as picture-in-picture video playback and audio mixing. No other player, with the exception of the Sony PS3, supports these features, giving Panasonic's deck a distinct advantage over its three 'Profile 1.0' rivals from the off.
The DMP-BD30 is slim and sleek, and conceals a nice surprise under a flap on the fascia - an SD card slot that lets you play AVCHD video and JPEG photo files. The unit also supports MP3 and DivX stored on CD and DVD, plus it even plays recordable Blu-ray discs.
It's also packed with picture boosting technology and supports all four hi-res audio formats; Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS HD and DTS HD Master Audio, plus 7.1-channel PCM - all of which can be fed to a compatible receiver using the player's HDMI v1.3 output. But sadly it doesn't decode any of them internally, so you'll need an up-to-date amp.
The player's picture performance is immense. The 1080p picture output at 24 frames per second looks scintillatingly sharp and vibrant, with no noise or motion problems to speak of. Playback of the Resident Evil: Extinction disc reveals the picture-in-picture feature works smoothly, though it didn't always mute the main soundtrack when playing secondary video. Overall though, the DMP-BD30 will take some beating.
Supports picture-in-picture, superb hi-def pictures, lots of features Minus points
No hi-res audio decoding, some audio mixing issues
Price: £300 More info: Samsung Key features: Profile 1.0; Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS HD, Dolby Digital and DTS decoding and bitstream output; HDMI v1.3 output; 5.1-channel analogue outputs; 1080/24p output; MP3 and JPEG playback; DVD upscaling to 1080p; HDMI CEC
Samsung got off to a bad start in the Blu-ray arena with the disappointing BD-P1000, which lacked several key features. The company puts this right with the BD-P1400, which comes equipped with 1080/24p output and Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital Plus and DTS HD decoders.
The unit's gloss black finish and curved fascia are stunning, while on the rear connections include an HDMI v1.3 output and unusually an Ethernet port for making firmware updates (but not for accessing online movie content).
Like all four decks on test, the Samsung upscales DVDs to 1080p, and it plays DVD-RW and DVD-R discs, but digital media support is limited to MP3 and JPEG.
Unlike the Panasonic DMP-BD30, the Samsung is a Profile 1.0 player and can't be upgraded, so any picture-in-picture features won't be available during playback, which could prove frustrating if extras are your thing.
Picture quality is excellent on the whole, with detail presentation and colour intensity that could stop traffic. Our only qualm is some juddering during camera pans in the 24fps Movie Frame mode, which stops when you switch to 60Hz.
Sound quality is superb whether using the 5.1-analogue outputs or HDMI, rounding off a very competent performance from one of the best Profile 1.0 players on the market.
Great looks, good hi-res audio support, solid HD images Minus points
No picture-in-picture support, some juddering in 24fps, Profile 1.0
Again an interesting review of Blue Ray hardware! However, when is at least one manufacturer going to be bold enough to provide multi-region capability? Doubtless it won't be too long before the inevitable 'hack' is made available, but it seems almost incredulous that multi- region is not now a provision incorporated into these new models. As I understand, multi-region was available with on some DVD players, so what is the big issue?
Perhaps with some influence, these manufacturers can begin to sit up and take notice of what is actually required in a Blue Ray player! So come on, lets make a fuss!