Sony learned something in the 1980s when its Beta format lost the videocassette wars to rival VHS. Namely, always bring a bazooka to a knife fight. Early this year, Sony's bare-knuckled pursuit of exclusive content for its high-definition Blu-Ray DVD paid off by killing off the rival HD-DVD format. Don't be fooled by cut-rate prices on HD-DVD players -- at this point they're nothing more than technologically advanced doorstops.
The bright side is that now that Blu-ray has won the battle, you can choose a high-definition player without fear of obsolescence. At least until high-speed downloads send recordable media formats to the tech dinosaur graveyard.
It wasn't that long ago that standard-definition DVDs were a technophile niche market of wildly expensive players and limited movie selection. Then Sony released its PlayStation 2 game console with DVD playback included -- and the market hasn't been the same since. Sony decided to take the same Trojan Horse approach with the PlayStation 3, although with its higher price and more limited selection of games it hasn't had the same impact as its predecessor. But if you're looking to add Blu-ray playback to your home theater system, the PlayStation 3 ($399 for a 40 GB hard drive) is hands-down the way to go. Because Blu-ray is still a developing standard, it's important that you have a player that can be easily updated with the last firmware to ensure you can take advantage of features such as interactive menus and picture-in-picture. With a high-speed internet connection, the PS3 will stay up-to-date, plus let you download trailers and play on-line games. If you want Blu-ray now, the PS3 is the best overall option on the market. Available online at www.sony.com and at area electronics stores.
No Games Allowed
If the idea of having a video game machine in your home sounds as appealing as nails on chalkboard, you do have other options. However, prices have yet to come down on standalone Blu-ray players, and are unlikely to do so before the holiday season. But, hey, you're ready to splurge and there are some options for your spending spree. Given that Sony developed the technology, it's unsurprising that they provide some of the top-level Blu-ray hardware. The Sony BDP-S500 ($599) offers all the benefits of high-def playback, including full 1080p output, 7.1 channel surround sound and up-to-date Blu-ray firmware that provides a fully interactive experience.
Panasonic, the brand behind some of the better high-def televisions on the market, also has some strong Blu-ray offerings, including the DMP-BD30K player ($499). Complete with up-to-date firmware, 1080p output and full surround sound offerings, it's also closer to being a deal, coming in for $100 less than Sony's mid-line player.