After a long wait, we're finally starting to get in a new wave of first-generation Blu-ray players. CNET will be posting full reviews for both the Panasonic DMP-BD10 and the Philips BDP9000 shortly, but I've already taken some long looks at each in terms of picture quality, and they've got a lot to be worried about. Not because they look worse than HD DVD; in fact, the picture-quality gap is almost gone between the two formats. And not because they're bad players; both of them put out a pristine Blu-ray image that blows DVD out of the water. The problem is that, excluding some very minor differences, all the Blu-ray players I've seen offer essentially the same picture quality. That's a problem because the 20GB PlayStation 3 retails for $500, which is $800 less than the Panasonic DMP-BD10 and around $400 less than the Philips BDP9000. Even with eBay inflation, we're seeing the 20GB PS3 go for $600.
What are the arguments against buying the PS3 for home theater use? Not many, but there are some to consider. One thing that comes to mind is that some people would like a standard remote for navigation rather than using a controller. Well, Sony will soon be offering a standard-style remote for the PS3. Problem solved. However, there is an ugly little detail for those who love their universal remote: the PS3 does not have an infrared receptor, so you won't be able to program a fancy Harmony macro that says "Watch Blu-ray." This is a legitimate issue, but don't be surprised if universal remote manufacturers come out with combination IR plus Bluetooth remotes (or a USB IR plug-in for the front of the PS3) that will make this a nonissue.
Two new Blu-ray players that we haven't seen yet, the Sony BDSP1 and the Pioneer Elite BDP-HD1, have a slight edge in that they claim to output 1080p/24. This could be a slight knock against the PS3 since it can't currently do that, although we've seen reports that it might be able to in the future. Probably the biggest disadvantage of the PS3 is that it currently does not upscale regular DVDs. Sony has promised an update in the future, but there's no guarantee it will do as good of a job as the DMP-BD10 and the BDP9000--both are more than competent upscaling DVD players. That being said, with the power of the Cell processor and its current excellent Blu-ray picture quality, we're betting the PS3 will be up to the task.
Even if you look past the price difference, the arguments for buying a PS3 instead of current Blu-ray players are overwhelming. First, the PS3 is currently the only HDMI 1.3 Blu-ray player on the market. What that means in real terms is that it is the only current Blu-ray player that will be compatible with future HDMI 1.3 receivers that will be able to decode the highest-resolution soundtrack formats: DTS HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD. (That pretty much obviates the PS3's dearth of 5.1 analog audio inputs as well.) Another factor is that the PS3 is flat-out the fastest player of the bunch. It skips chapters nearly instantly and loads discs fast, while the others move along at a relatively slow pace. Its advantages as a Blu-ray player aside, don't forget that Blu-ray playback is just a piece of the PS3's functionality. None of the other current Blu-ray players offer high-definition gaming or the extensive media player capabilities of the PS3--both of which will undoubtedly get better with more software and additional firmware upgrades in the months and years ahead.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating that everyone should run out and buy a PS3. In fact, that only new gaming system I own is the Nintendo Wii, and I'm not planning on buying a high-def disc player until the current format war shakes out a little more. Also, don't forget we're just weeks away from the Consumer Electronics Show, where we'll see a full line-up of second-generation Blu-ray players that may very well give the PS3 a run for its money. But if you just absolutely need to own a Blu-ray player now, the PS3 looks to be the best of the bunch.