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Budget shopping tips: Blu-ray players

CNET Senior Associate Editor Matthew Moskovciak shares some general tips on shopping for a Blu-ray player on a budget.

Budget Blu-ray players a generally older, Profile 1.1 players.
Budget Blu-ray players are generally older, Profile 1.1 players.

Blu-ray started out as a pricey, enthusiasts-only, niche format, but prices have fallen enough that even mainstream home theater fans can enjoy high-def movies at home. If you're on a tight budget, but still want to go Blu, here are some tips to keep the costs down.

Profile 1.1 players for dirt cheap
If you're only looking to spend less than $200 on a Blu-ray player, you'll probably have to settle for an Profile 1.1 unit. You'll be giving up the ability to watch Internet-enabled BD-Live content available on some Blu-ray movies, but that's not a huge loss, considering we haven't seen much impressive BD-Live content. The bigger drawback is that these players tend to be slow and aren't great with disc compatibility, but it's the only reliable way of scoring a relatively cheap standalone Blu-ray player.

Netflix your Blu-ray movies
Rebuying your DVD collection is decidedly antibudget, but a Netflix subscription can help you avoid most of the pain. Yes, Netflix charges a little extra for a Blu-ray subscription, but we still think it's worth it, especially with many Blu-ray players offering built-in Netflix streaming. If you're still set on buying movies, keep an eye out for buy-two-get-one-free deals that pop up on Amazon periodically.

Ditch the 7.1 analog outputs
If you've got an HDMI-capable receiver, stick with the cheaper players that lack 7.1 analog outputs. Manufacturers often try to make it seem like the analog outputs offer a superior audio performance, but in our experience that's just not the case. Of course, if you have an older AV receiver that doesn't support HDMI, you may actually save money by purchasing a player with 7.1 analog outputs. Spending an extra $100 bucks on a Blu-ray player is less expensive than buying a new $400 AV receiver.

Don't buy an HDMI cable in the store
Despite the marketing hype, all HDMI cables are essentially identical--you're not going to get better performance from an $80 cable than you would from a $5 cable. That's why it always makes more sense to buy cheaper HDMI cables widely available on online retailers. We've got the full scoop on our HDMI cable quick guide, along with some recommended stores.

Go for a Blu-ray HTIB
A $300 standalone Blu-ray player feels expensive, but a full 7.1 home theater system with Blu-ray for $500 feels like a steal. If you don't already have speakers and a receiver, a Blu-ray home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) system is an affordable way to get into high-def movies.

The PS3 is still a great value
The PS3 is the most expensive gaming console, but it's really a home theater bargain if you use it to its full potential. For $400, you get an excellent Blu-ray player, a fully capable media streamer, and a high-def gaming system. There's no other way to get that combination of features and performance from separate components.