One of the best technological advances to emerge over the last few years has been the advent of high-definition DVDs. Two competing standards, HD DVD and Blu-ray, were developed principally by Toshiba and Sony respectively, but there was room for only one standard in the worldwide market. Although Sony lost the videocassette battle back in the 80’s when VHS beat out Betamax as the standard of choice, it would not be vanquished this time around. Blu-ray eventually emerged as the preferred high-def DVD format, and Toshiba discontinued its HD DVD format in February, 2008.
One strategy in choosing a Blu-ray player is to go to the source of the format. After all, if Sony developed this standard, then it probably makes a pretty good player, right? The Sony BDP-S5000ES is one of the best in the industry, and at just under $2,000 MSRP it darned well better be! Yes, you read that right – that’s three zeroes after the two. This is Sony’s flagship player, it plays Blu-ray discs in full 1080p/24p resolution, and it will upscale your regular DVDs to 1080p as well. It also has an Ethernet network connection in the back to hook into your internet connection to access a service called “BD-Live”. This service will allow you access bonus content such as trailers, shorts, additional scenes, and games over the internet. The player also uses its so-called “Super Bit Mapping” chipset to analyze the video pixels to enhance the quality of the image. Additionally, there is a special emphasis on audio, which is output in Dolby Digital plus, Dolby TrueHD, dts, dts-HD, LPCM, or Dolby. Some of the formats are available over the HDMI output, some can be output over Optical, and some over coaxial. And the audio circuit board is isolated from the other components of the player so as to minimize interference from the video processor and other circuitry. Now, that’s what I call attention to detail.
With a price that’s a little more, shall I say, sane, the Panasonic DMP-BD55K retails for just under four hundred bucks. It’s very similar to the Sony BDP-S5000ES as well, as it has many of the same features. In includes a network connection so that user can access BD-Live content, outputs in 1080p/24p resolution, and will upconvert regular DVDs to 1080p as well. It will also decode all of the audio formats the Sony can. Missing is Sony’s bit mapping technique to enhance picture quality and the separate circuit boards for video and audio, but to me that’s not worth an extra $1,600. In addition, online reviews of this player are generally extremely positive. For the money, the Panasonic DMP-BD55K is a very good option in a Blu-ray player.
You really can’t go wrong with either of these players if money is no object. The Sony is supposed to have super high quality components as well as an unmatched attention to detail, while the Panasonic is a less expensive workhorse. If you are looking for the best bang for your buck though, the Panasonic is the clear winner, as it has most of the features of the Sony and does them well at a fifth of the price.