I’ve been wanting a bluray player since the format launched. However, a few things held me back. First, there was this competing format, HD-DVD. It seemed that whichever format I selected would be guaranteed to lose so I sat on the fence and waited. Bluray seemed to be have technical superiority but HD-DVD seemed to be more available.
Well, to my surprise, HD-DVD threw in the towel much more quickly than I expected and bluray was the clear choice for high definition media, but which player to choose?
This, as it turned out, was a difficult decision, mostly because the bluray consortium has made life far more complicated for consumers than it should be. First, we have three different bluray profiles, 1.0, 1,1 and 2.0. When I started looking there only a few 1.1 players and no 2.0 players. It didn’t seem to make sense to buy a player that wouldn’t be able to take advantage of features on newer discs, so I waited. Again.
The first 2.0-capable player was the Sony Playstation 3. Sony has done a good job of keeping the PS3 up to date on Bluray. And reports from the field were that the PS3 was a very good player and faster at disc loading than any standalone player. There were limitations: only 2-channel analog audio, lack or infrared remote control and potentially loud fan noise. The former was not an issue for me since I’d be using HDMI connections. The lack of IR could be overcome with third party products though all are from tiny, little mom-and-pop shops currently. The reports of fan noise were all over the map and with no real objective data and the likelihood of a fair degree of unit-to-unit variation, I’d be taking my chances here.
There were some other potential advantages to the PS3. You get a game system. It has some media streaming capabilities (but sadly, not capable enough for what I’d want). None of these were enough to swing me over tot he PS3 camp. I kept looking.
The profile 2.0 players finally started to appear. Well, one did, the Panasonic BD50. It cost significantly more than a PS3, was somewhat slower at disc loading. It could bitstream advanced audio codecs which the PS3 can’t, but honestly, for bluray, the player ought to be doing the decoding since that’s the only way to handle secondary audio properly so the lack of bitstreaming on the ps3 wasn’t a disadvantage for me. However, if I was reading the manual correctly, the Panasonic player couldn’t decode 7.1 mixes and send them out as 7.1 LPCM, only as 5.1. Granted that there aren’t many 7.1 mixes, but this seemed like yet another player that didn’t manage to be fully capable.
So, rather than wait for Sony’s attempt at a 2.0 standalone player in the fall, I decided to take the plunge and try a PS3.
The fan is a bit louder than I’d like but it isn’t horrible. The unit sits on a component stand and has plenty of ventilation. It’s open on four sides and has 3-5 inches of space above the unit. For ventilation, it’s probably better than what many can manage. With the air conditioning not running and quiet movie dialog, I can hear the fan. It’s not awful, but it is definitely noticeable. With normal dialog levels or the a/c running, it’s not audible. I wish it were quieter but I can live with that.
I don’t really have much time for games, but who knows, perhaps I will give it a try. Been a long time since I’ve done any real gaming. Not that I was ever more than a casual gamer. Might be nice for parties.
So, this is the tale of how I went shopping for a bluray player and came back with a ps3. Of course, that process took more than a year and I finally gave up waiting for a standalone player that met my requirements. It was either buy a ps3 now or wait another three or more months to see if the next player managed to get it right.
Ultimately, if bluray wants to get out of the enthusiast market and into the mainstream, they need to get players down in price. They also need to reduce the complexity. Do we really need three lossless formats (pcm, Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD-MA)? All players should decode all formats. That’s the only way to properly implement profile 1.1 and higher requirements. Right now all the players fail to get it right and force you to bistream if you want all the channels. Of course, this disables any secondary audio. And flipping back and forth usually requires a trip out the setup menu.
Bluray had the chance to simplify the complexity of DVD but instead has made it worse. The PS3 does a remarkably good job of hiding that complexity and doing the right thing out of the box. With built in infrared remote control and quieter fans it would be perfect. As it is now, it’s not perfect but for me, it’s as close as any product gets. I was surprised that a game system has managed to be the most capable bluray player around but, at least for now, that seems to be the case.