These days, it's all about streaming. But there are plenty of us who still have giant collections of DVDs and Blu-rays. Thankfully, that's no longer an either-or proposition: you can get a good disc player that also doubles as a good streamer. But before we look at our three top choices, let's establish some ground rules.
- All Blu-ray players also play DVDs (and CDs, too).
- Look for a decent selection of connections: at least a digital coaxial/optical if you need to connect to a sound bar, and an Ethernet port for the most reliable connection.
- All recent Blu-ray players (and those game consoles) also offer the basic streaming services, such as Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and Amazon.
- That said, dedicated streaming devices -- such as the Roku Streaming Stick and Amazon Fire TV Stick -- can offer a faster streaming experience than most of the disc players discussed here for as little as $40. They also offer more apps.
- If you have a 4K TV -- or are planning on getting one in the near future -- a 4K Blu-ray player will enable you to play and stream HDR-capable movies. Be aware that a 1080p signal will still look good on a 4K TV player, and 4K players are much more expensive: prices start at $300.
- The current PS4 and Xbox game consoles double as Blu-ray players. In fact, the Xbox One S plays 4K Blu-rays, too. Prices range from $300 to $400, and usually includes at least one game.
Despite there being "winners" and losers" in this field be aware that they can all do their original intended task -- play Blu-rays and DVDs -- very well. There is very little to distinguish picture quality between the major brands at this level anymore. Where they do differ is in operating speed -- how long it takes to load a disc or to boot up Netflix -- as well as the in the number of features.
It's telling that our favorite player of 2016 is actually a holdover from 2015. While Sony is one of the only companies that has bothered producing HD players this year, its year-old competition is actually superior. The Samsung BD-J5900 does almost everything right and offers that all-important speed boost the other two here lack. However, if you just want to watch discs and don't care about streaming, then you might as well just get the cheapest one -- the LG BP350. It will work just fine.
Samsung BD-J5900 ($90 street price)
With a lively, fun-to-use interface and excellent speed, the Samsung is one of the best Blu-ray players available at any price. The Samsung offers not only excellent image quality from discs but also a useful selection of streaming apps. If you want to get a cheap player this year, you should start here. While it may lack the Sony's only distinguishing feature -- streamed PlayStation games -- the Samsung isn't at a disadvantage because this service is poorly implemented on the price-competitive Sony BDP-3700.
Sony BDP-3700 ($79)
This roundup is a distinct "Three Bears" scenario -- and while the porridge in the Samsung above is just right, the Sony's is a little too "hot." It does most things right -- image quality is just as good as its rival, the amount of apps on offer is spectacular, and the speed is good -- but it just needs a little more tweaking. The main problem is the multimedia component -- namely, whenever you need to input passwords or search text, it lags significantly. It's frustrating at times. Also, while it has the PlayStation Now streaming game service, it's actually unusable: Games take minutes to load, and there is significant lag and image breakup during gameplay. If you just want to play Blu-ray and DVD movies, though, it's pretty good.
LG BP350 ($79)
That leaves us with the LG BP350: The stone-cold porridge in this scenario. It plays discs well and has a decent selection of apps, but it does miss a lot of things the others offer for just a few dollars more -- namely Ethernet ports and digital coaxial connections. Its slow loading speed in relation to the other two is also an issue, but if you aren't interested in streaming, it might be a decent workhorse.
Samsung for the win
If you don't need 4K Blu-ray and don't want a game machine, but you do want the flexibility to play discs along with streaming video, buy the Samsung BD-J5900. For just a few dollars more than Sony or the LG, you're getting a better overall player.