When big and bulky Blu-ray players first appeared on the shelves nearly 10 years ago they were all about high definition.
Back then, simply getting HD content into your HD-ready TV was the hottest ticket in town - and it came at a high price.
Those first-gen players are buried in the distant past now, leaving us with super-slim machines with loading times in single figure seconds, 3D Blu-ray playback, 2D-to-3D conversion, apps, streaming to and from smartphones and tablets, home networking, and upscaling to Ultra HD 4K resolutions even before Ultra HD TVs are common.
Here are 12 of the best Blu-ray players to help you make your buying decision:
3D and wired access to Netflix justify the price, but other apps are in short supply
The first Blu-ray deck on our list is the cheapest in Panasonic's 2014 range but is still worth considering. Being priced higher than all other entry-level Blu-ray decks isn't the negative it could be, but the DMP-BDT160 lacks WiFi which might be a problem for you because the optional WiFi dongle costs about £50, while the step-up DMP-BDT260 - which merely adds WiFi - costs just £109. But if WiFi isn't important and you're looking for the best quality images, and perhaps Netflix and BBC iPlayer for good measure, the DMP-BDT160 is a good option.
Attractive and good value Blu-ray all-rounder with Wi-Fi, 3D and Netflix
There's a lot to like about this compact and Wi-Fi-fuelled 3D Blu-ray deck, which has to be considered one of the best value decks around if you're only after the Blu-ray basics. However, the DMP-BDT260 is not the smartest, with the slow-to-load Netflix, YouTube and BBC iPlayer as the must-have apps on what is a very limited smart TV platform. If you're after Amazon Instant, ITV Player or 4OD, you've come to the wrong place.
If apps are sparse and slow to load, discs are very quick to process, while playback of all kinds of video is excellent. Digital file playback offers some extra versatility and so does DLNA networking and DLNA server functions, though despite its all-round prowess there are a few things missing, such as 2D-3D conversion. No matter though, because the DMP-BDT260 is Panasonic's best value Blu-ray deck for anyone after just the essentials.
A great value performer with pin-sharp pictures and 4k upscaling
The DMP-BDT360 is a classic mid-range option that will suit owners of 3D TVs as well as those after some specific apps and Wi-Fi. A simple to control and impressive machine, the DMP-BDT360 is the cheapest Panasonic deck to offer 2D-3D conversion – which works well – and 4K upscaling, which also delivers impressive results. There's an excellent treatment of digital files, too. The poor remote and a basic selection of apps are the downsides, but overall this future-proof deck is impressive and good value.
3D Blu-ray and Netflix with 4K photos and 4K upscaling
If you're after exacting picture quality and have the coming era of 4K firmly in mind, the DMP-BDT460 makes a great value choice. Spanning all the latest Blu-ray features but with its Viera Connect platform missing a few crucial apps, the DMP-BDT460 is a good value high-end choice for 4K home cinemas and photographers, too.
Attached to an Ultra HD TV the DMP-BDT460 spits out pristine upscaled Blu-ray images and pin-sharp 4K photos, while the inclusion of a couple of USB slots and a SD Card slot is handy, too.
A great Blu-ray player but there's no Wi-Fi here
The budget Sony BDP-S1200 is that classic compromise between features and flexibility; it gives you most of the apps you need, but not all, and it lacks Wi-Fi. Its smart stuff could therefore be quite useless unless your router is near your TV. Apps for the BBC iPlayer, Demand Five, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video are welcome, but some UK services were missing.
Sony's SEN platform is cluttered and lacks some essential apps, while the provision of another layer of apps from Opera just adds confusion. The lack of a 3D mode might annoy those who have 3DTVs, too, but what Sony hasn't skimped on is Blu-ray quality and digital file playback, both of which the BDP-S1200 excels at.
Read: Sony BDP-S1200 review
Pulls out nearly all the stops with super W-iFi, screen mirroring and plenty of apps
Sony's all-encompassing effort for 2014 covers 2D and 3D Blu-ray, and copes with a ton of digital file formats over USB. The UK model we tested proffers Super WiFi access to core smart TV apps like BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport, Demand Five, Amazon Instant Video & Netflix. However, it uses an ageing user interface while the provision of Opera TV Apps on top of its own SEN smart TV platform brings a needlessly multi-layered experience that could confuse.
Read: Sony BDP-S5200 review
Dual core processing is the star on Sony's flagship Blu-ray deck
Do you need Ultra HD 4K upscaling? Probably not, but we all know where this is heading. Your next TV will likely be an UHD TV, but by the time you buy it 4K upscaling will have gone to a whole new level than what the BDP-S6200 can muster. In which case we're left with dual core processing (and so a speedier, though ageing user interface), a bigger physical footprint and unconvincing 4K upscaling as the only features that lift the BDP-S6200 beyond its cheaper sibling (above).
Comparisons aside, however, the BDP-S6200 has a decent smart TV apps package, excellent digital file support, and unquestionable quality in in both 2D and 3D Blu-ray disc playback.
Read: Sony BDP-S6200 review
Affordable and fun. Samsung took smart to a new level
This is Samsung's flagship player from 2013 and it's still worth a look as it's now available for just over £100. It's an attractive deck with a user interface that is a total delight. Its bright, contemporary GUI is a pleasure to use and makes setting up and multimedia playback an absolute doddle. The video on-demand portal is primed with just about the best selection of apps on any Blu-ray player. Picture performance is also bang on.
Read: Samsung BD-F6500 review
Multi-talented 3D Blu-ray player with dual core processing and 4K upscaling
Fast forward a year and we arrive at Samsung's latest finest. For all the niceties of 4K upscaling, a wide choice of apps and digital file playback, it's the dual core processing inside this good value 2D and 3D Blu-ray deck that most impresses. With a decent – if oddly organised – collection of smart apps and plenty of advanced features, the BD-H6500 makes a great mid-range option if you're after a does-it-all deck that offers some future-proofing.
The 4K upscaling on the BD-H6500 is better than we've seen on the Sony BDP-S6200, but not as good as on Panasonic Blu-ray players like the Panasonic DMP-BDT460; either way, it's not one of the many reasons to buy the BD-H6500.
Read: Samsung BD-H6500 review
An excellent does-it-all Blu-ray-playing Freeview HD recorder
Just like Virgin's TiVo box (though with one less TV tuner), the BD-H8900 lacks the processing power to truly be a breakthrough product. It's the best value of Samsung's two pricey Freeview HD recorders, but for all of its flexibility, 3D Blu-ray disc playback and excellent digital media-friendly design, the navigation and operation is a low-point.
So too is a muddled approach to key apps, with second-rate apps too high-up on Smart Hub and many catch-up TV apps hidden in an online store. Video quality is generally very good and digital file handling excellent. It's not perfect, but for anyone after a catch-all solution without monthly subs, this is as good as it gets.
Read: Samsung BD-H8900 review
It's no star performer but Toshiba's budget player is worth considering
And finally, can a 2D-only Blu-ray player with no hint of streaming video apps really cut it in the 'smart' market? It has no apps, no networking, the remote is poor and it can't play 3D Blu-ray discs, yet there's something about Toshiba's bare bones BDX1500 – other than its low price – that we like. It's not for avid streamers nor videophiles after the perfect picture, but as a small and easy to house disc spinner for a bedroom, the BDX1500 won't disappoint.
Read: Toshiba BDX1500 review