Now that the high-definition war has been fought and won — and there's no chance of investing in the wrong format — many consumers are beginning to make the leap to HD. If you already own a high-definition television, the next step is naturally a Blu-ray player. We've compiled a shortlist of the most impressive models currently on the market.
Panasonic DMR-BW500 — Best in Show
Panasonic's DMR-BW500 is Australia's first standalone Blu-ray recorder. Featuring a drive that both reads and writes Blu-ray discs, as well as a 500GB hard disk and two high-definition digital tuners, it will form the perfect centrepiece of any high-end home theatre.
The DMR-BW500 offers several recording modes which range from standard-definition to broadcast-quality HD. The inbuilt 500GB hard drive can record up to 887 hours of data at the lowest setting. Naturally, any data stored on your hard drive can be burnt directly to disc, be it Blu-ray or DVD.
Thanks to the inclusion of two high-definition digital tuners, you can record two programs simultaneously. If you have a Viera TV, you can also use the DMR-BW500 to pause, rewind and fast-forward live television.
Although it carries a hefty price tag, it fulfils several roles at once and is a great option for users looking to make the jump to Blu-ray.
What's hot: 500GB hard drive, dual high definition tuners, Blu-ray writer, Viera link
For full specifications and an in-depth review of the Panasonic DMR-BW500, click here.
Sony BDP-S500 — Best for Audio Buffs
Sony's BDP-S500 is an extremely solid performer that is geared towards the serious enthusiast. With its capacity for uncompressed Linear PCM 7.1 surround sound, as well as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD, the model offers some of the best audio on the market.
Blu-ray playback is equally excellent, with support for 24 frames per second cinematic mode. The player is also capable of up-scaling standard DVDs to a maximum resolution of 1080p, which should ensure your DVD collection remains in steady rotation. The BDP-S500 is best suited to owners of extensive home theatre setups who will be able to take advantage of its high-end audio capabilities.
What's hot: Excellent audio performance, great Blu-ray and DVD up-scaling playback, streamlined interface, attractive design.
For full specifications and an in-depth review of the Sony BDP-S500, click here.
Pioneer BDP-LX70A — Best for Elitists
Ignoring price, the BDP-LX70A is probably the best standalone Blu-ray player that money can buy. It is distinguished by its high-end audio features and performance, while maintaining the exceptionally high standard of video playback offered by Blu-ray. 1080p/24Hz support — along with customisable white and black levels and colour hues — allows users to experience Blu-ray to its fullest extent.
Like the Sony BDP-S500, it offers full support for DTS-HD, Dolby TrueHD bit-stream output and 7.1 surround sound. In addition to its high quality Blu-ray and DVD playback, the LX70A also serves as a fully functional media streamer (via an Ethernet cable connected to your PC). If you're willing to pay a premium, the BDP-LX70A is an excellent product.
What's hot: Great quality Blu-ray and DVD playback, advanced user settings, media streaming
For full specifications and an in-depth review of the Pioneer BDP-LX70A, click here.
Sharp BDHP20X — Best for Budget Shoppers.
Sharp probably isn't the first brand people think of when they set out to buy an HD player. If you have an eye for value though, the BDHP20X will not disappoint. While it lacks support for a few of the higher-end audio codecs, this player nevertheless delivers exceptional value for money.
Users will be particularly impressed by its video performance (including full 1080/24p support), as well as its quick start option, which eliminates the annoying waiting times that plague other units. Its design is also a winner: it has slim dimensions that will let it fit snugly into any home theatre setup.
The BDHP20X is well worth considering as an entry-level Blu-ray player, delivering a good selection of features for the asking price.
What's hot: 1080/24p Blu-ray playback, quick start functionality
For full specifications and an in-depth review of the Sharp BDHP20X, click here.
Sony PlayStation 3 — Best for Gamers
When Sony announced that the PlayStation 3 would be equipped with a compulsory Blu-ray drive, many people saw it as a deliberate attempt to force the format onto unwilling consumers. Whether you agree with these criticisms or not, the PS3 remains one of the most affordable Blu-ray players on the market. What's more, it can play the latest games, offers access to online browsing and can even act as a fully fledged media centre.
Naturally, the PS3 is a games console first and a Blu-ray player second, but this doesn't mean that its video performance is left wanting. When compared to some other Blu-ray players we've looked at, the game console delivers noticeably sharper and crisper image quality, with more depth and detail during movie playback.
The only drawback is that you need to purchase a remote control device separately; otherwise, you're forced to use the game's controller for navigation.
What's hot: Affordable price-point, solid video playback, does much, much more than a standalone Blu-ray player
For full specifications and an in-depth review of the PlayStation 3, click here.