For those who demand the very best.
It might seem a bit quaint to be talking about something that plays physical media, but many of us still have a wall of discs – or at least a couple shelves – and might even still be adding to that collection. I personally added Blade Runner 2049 to my collection this summer because though the availability of streaming content continues to grow, it still doesn’t encompass everything, since new content is added and old stuff is removed from services monthly.
If you want the highest quality picture (4K HDR) and the best sound (Dolby Atmos) there still isn’t a streaming option that beats a Blu-ray disc. Why? Because of bandwidth. As the detail and range – including color, light, and sound – increase, so do the bandwidth (and subscription) requirements. But with Blu-ray those needs are irrelevant as all that information is on that beautiful round disc of joy. While the cost for a Blu-ray player can soar into quadruple digits, there are also plenty of options for the same price as dinner and a movie at the theater.
Blu-ray Player Buying Guide (Short Version)
If you want to stay on the cutting edge of display technology you’ll want look for a Blu-ray player that has the ability to play 4K (or UHD) HDR discs. These are now becoming more prevalent (there’s a possibility you already have one if you have an Xbox One S or X) and prices don’t have to be exorbitant. What you do need is a 4K TV that can display decent HDR. Spoiler: Not all HDR TVs are good at HDR. If they don’t have enough light output and deep enough blacks, the bright highlights HDR is supposed to produce won’t pop. The TV will also need some form of local dimming – which allows one section of the screen to stay dark while an adjacent area stays bright. If it doesn’t have local dimming, don’t expect HDR to look much different from SDR.
4K HDR Blu-ray discs are marketed as such. If it doesn’t say 4K on it, it’s a 1080p disc (or 720p in some cases). 4K Blu-ray discs are still being rolled out, so there’s a chance your favorite movie hasn’t been released yet, especially if it’s older. Some 4K players will upsample a regular Blu-ray to 4K and make it look a little better, but so will your 4K TV (and probably better than the player) so it isn’t a feature you need to worry about.
There are 3D players available too, but like 4K they will require a 3D TV or projector, and a 3D Blu-ray version of the movie.
Best Cheap Blu-ray Player
If you’re looking for an inexpensive replacement or a player for a second room and 4K isn’t a concern, Sony’s S3700 is an easy choice. It has Wi-fi and includes streaming apps like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. DVDs will also be up-converted to 1080p and look better than they would through a regular DVD player.
Best Entry Level 4K Blu-ray Player
For 50 bucks or so more than the Sony, you can get a 4K HDR player. The UBK80 supports HDR10 (but not Dolby Vision), Dolby Atmos sound output and 3D. What you’re losing are all the streaming apps and internet connectivity. However, as a 4K player it’s fine, and about as basic as it gets.
Best Multi-Format 4K Blu-ray Player
If you’re looking to play a range of different types of discs, the Sony UBP-X700 can do it. In addition to playing 4K HDR Blu-ray discs, it plays almost every other disc format (except for DVD-Audio). It does a great job upscaling both DVDs and Blu-rays to 4K, so your entire disc collection will look pretty on-screen. It accepts Dolby Vision in addition to HDR10 and supports all the big streaming apps too. There are also two HDMI outputs so one can go to your TV and one can send audio only to your receiver soundbar.
Best 4K Blu-ray Player for Gamers
Microsoft’s HDR support with the Xbox One took a bit of a stumble out of the gate, but a firmware update solved those problems soon after. What we’re left with is a great 4K HDR Blu-ray player that supports both HDR10 and Dolby Vision. The Xbox One S or the Xbox One X are designed to act as the center of your home theater setup so all the streaming apps are supported. And oh yeah, you can play games on it too.
Best High-End 4K Blu-ray Player
Up until April 2, 2018 the best Blu-ray players you could get were from the company Oppo. Unfortunately they announced on that day that their production would cease, although product support would still continue. It left a bit of a void in the upper-end market. Until now. Pioneer has filled the void by releasing in September the UDP-LX500.
As with all the Pioneer Elite products, it’s built solidly with the goal of limiting unnecessary vibrations and noise. It’s also the only player on my list that has an LCD display. It doesn’t quite reach the (very) high bar set by the Oppo UDP-205 for audio playback, so if you can find one and are looking to spend the money I’d snatch it up. But as a currently available Blu-ray player it’s tough to beat.
John Higgins has been writing and testing all manner of audio, video, computer, and gaming gear since the early ’00s. He has written for print and online publications including Home Theater, Wirecutter, Sound & Vision, SoundStage!, and Channel Guide. He is also a post audio editor, composer, and musician in Los Angeles.