Though I am very interested in technology and especially in technology that optimizes the creation of art and the enjoyment of art (video, images, audio, etc.), I am not an early adopter of technology by any means. I didn’t buy a DVD player until they had been on the market for several years, didn’t buy a flat screen HDTV until they had been on the market for a number of years, etc.
I finally got a Blu-ray player, the Samsung BDP-2550 for $349. You can read a CNET review here. It’s equivalent to the BDP-2500, except that it’s exclusive to Best Buy; you can buy the BDP-2500 almost anywhere else. There are a couple of reasons I got this one in particular: a) it has the REON HQV processor in it which is like a supercomputer-on-a-chip for upsampling standard definition DVDs to close to High Definition quality–no other Blu-ray players that I know of have this processor, though it does appear in several very high-end AV receivers; b) it has an ethernet port which allows you to (if you already have a Netflix subscription like I do and have a broadband connection) stream movies directly from your Netlifx queue to your TV in real-time and c) you can stream Pandora internet radio directly from the InterWeb to your stereo. I was able to update the firmware over the ethernet connection and it added some audio decoding and the Netflix streaming capability as part of the update.
So, do Blu-ray discs live up to the hype? No, they exceed the hype. Rarely in consumer products of any kind, much less electronics, does this happen, in my experience. However, if you pair a good blu-ray deck with a great TV (I have a Pioneer Elite 50" Pro 1120, which I purchased 4 years ago for more than I would like to admit), you get something which is truly beyond all reasonable expectations in improvements in quality. It’s like you’ve been watching something through a piece of gauze (standard definition) and you don’t realize it until it’s been removed (blu-ray).
The first movies I got on Blu-ray were 2001: A Space Odyssey (also the first movie I got on DVD when I bought my first DVD player, and my favorite film) and Hellboy II: The Golden Army, which I raved about earlier on standard definition DVD. Both look amazing. However, as great as they are, they pale in comparison next to the BBC documentaries Planet Earth, The Ganges, Wild China and Galapagos (which I was able to get as a boxed-set through Amazon for $99–remember you can buy things at Amazon through the portal on this site, and I get 4% of your purchases–wouldn’t you rather give it to me than to Amazon?). I have never seen anything better in the home. It’s the closest thing to looking through a window that I think you can achieve on a display at this point.
Will you notice a difference? Yes, unless your vision cannot be corrected to 20/20. Is it worth buying now vs. later? That depends upon whether you watch DVDs (vs. watching broadcast/cable/satellite TV). If you mainly watch TV (I don’t get any kind of broadcast signal in my home, so all I watch are DVDs and AVI files), then it’s probably not worth it. If you watch primarily movies like I do, it’s very worth it. Netflix rents blu-ray now, so you can watch almost all of the new releases in a far better format than previously possible.
Also, if you have sufficiently decent AV receiver and speakers, Blu-ray delivers sound quality which is audibly better than that delivered via AC3 on DVDs. In fact, there are a number of famous musical artists, like Neil Young, who are going to release strictly audio recordings on Blu-ray because the sound quality is so much better.
The best blu-ray players at this point for under $500 (and unless you’re rich you shouldn’t pay more than that) are: PlayStation 3, Panasonic DMP-35K, and the Samsung I bought. The Panasonic is the least expensive of the three–you can get it for as little as $249.
I’m currently watching Pan’s Labyrinth in blu-ray and it is amazing.
Let me know what you think of blu-ray once you get it.