SMART MOVES. If you just want to stream or watch 1080p video, the least expensive Blu-ray player that allows both still costs $90—the same as it did 2 years ago. However, a Blu-ray player that has built-in Wi-Fi connectivity now costs as little as $100, compared with $120 before.
The End of Analog Blu-ray
LG, Panasonic and Samsung now make a total of 11 streaming models (starting at $120) that allow you to buy and download apps from an online store, just like you would with a computer, an HDTV or a mobile device. In 2012, no models had this feature. These 11 Blu-ray players also make recommendations that are based on the programs that you watch. If you recently watched a comedy that stars Will Ferrell, for instance, the Blu-ray player will recommend other comedies and other Will Ferrell movies.
Unfortunately, we found that most Blu-ray players are slow to load and prone to buffering problems when you browse online content, such as the movie library that’s in a streaming app. Two models, Samsung’s BD-F7500 ($280) and Sony’s BDP-S6200 ($180), now include a dual-core processor for faster menu navigation. We tried these models, and we found that the extra processing speed makes the Blu-ray players more responsive and the process of finding a movie less frustrating.
Speaking of the latest wireless technologies, we found 13 models (starting at $120) that now include wireless Miracast technology. This technology allows you to stream audio, images and video to a Blu-ray player, so you can display on your HDTV whatever content that you play on your computer, smartphone or tablet computer without connecting the devices to a Wi-Fi network. Miracast creates a connection between two devices just like Bluetooth does but with more bandwidth to accommodate larger files.
In addition to Miracast, near-field communication (NFC) technology also is included in five new models (starting at $130). NFC technology uses short-range signals to transfer data between devices. If you have an NFC-equipped Blu-ray player and an NFC-equipped smartphone or tablet, you simply swipe the phone or tablet in front of the model’s front panel to transmit an image or a video, which then will be displayed on the screen of your HDTV.
LISTEN UP. Two years ago, we predicted that by 2014 Blu-ray players would be able to transmit 1080p video to an HDTV without the use of an HDMI cable. Guess what? We saw one in January 2014 at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES): Sharp’s SD-WH1000U ($4,000).
Sharp’s Blu-ray player also is the only one that’s compatible with the latest Wireless Speaker & Audio (WiSA) Association standard for transmitting audio wirelessly. This compatibility means that the Blu-ray player sends clear digital audio wirelessly on a 5-gigahertz band, and the signal won’t be subject to interference from other devices.
We heard a demonstration at CES, and the sound was just as clear and crisp as what we would expect from an ultrapremium wired system. We found that that clarity is particularly noticeable in battle scenes and crowd scenes in that you can hear details, such as clinking swords and voices, more distinctly. Silva agrees.
No other company sells a Blu-ray player that transmits audio wirelessly, but 29 companies have signed on to develop WiSA products, and the association hopes that less expensive (read: $2,000 and less) products will be available in the next 2 years.
Another new wireless audio feature that’s in Blu-ray players at a far more reasonable price is the capability to stream audio from the Blu-ray player via Bluetooth directly to a set of headphones. At press time, two LG models (starting at $130) had such wireless audio streaming for viewers who don’t want to disturb others when they watch the latest blockbuster. It’s almost like having your own private theater.
Al Griffin is a former editor of Home Theater and writes for HDGuru.com and Sound & Vision magazine.