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Big Blu: Blu-ray Decks That Won't Break Your Bank

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The high-def war between Blu-ray and HD DVD is far from over, but now that CES has come and gone, it seems the odds are favoring Blu-ray. But why should you care about these high-definition discs? And what exactly are the differences between the two?

As you may know, both HD DVD and Blu-ray knock the socks off your standard definition DVDs ditching their 480p resolution for 1080p. Developed by Philips and Sony (and backed by 20th Century Fox, MGM, Walt Disney, and Sony Pictures to name a few), Blu-ray discs have a 25GB storage capacity with double-sided Blu-ray discs coming in at 50GB. That's more than enough memory for all the extra features and bonuses you could want.

HD DVDs on the other hand, can only hold 15GB, with dual-sided discs reaching 30GB. Developed by Toshiba and Microsoft (along with backing from Intel, New Line, Warner Bros., and Paramount to name a few), these discs may have lower storage capacity, but cost less and can still hold a full-length feature film in HD along with bonus material.

Technology-wise, both formats also have a number of discrepancies. HD DVDs, for instance, feature HDi technology. Essentially, this ups an HD DVD's interactivity by letting viewers download new HD trailers, share bookmarked scenes with other moviegoers, and partake in online content relating to a film.

Not to be outdone, Sony has been pushing BD-Live interactivity on their discs. This technology delivers new content to your disc via broadband connections. So you could do things like participate in online movie quizzes, send ringtones to your mobile using an audio excerpt from the movie you're watching, and so forth.

Recently, however, the tide has shifted in favor of Blu-ray. Less than a week ago Warner Bros. defected to the Blu-ray camp, announcing that as of May, they will discontinue their support for HD DVD. Sister studio New Line Cinema followed suit and shifted to Blu-ray as well. And now with newer, next-gen Blu-ray players coming out, prices are finally starting to dip south, to the point where the PlayStation 3 is no longer your most affordable Blu-ray alternative. What does this mean for you? More affordable Blu-ray players. HD DVD still has an edge on price, but BD players are finally getting the edge they need. We still recommend staying away from expensive, high-end players, but if you're looking for some 1080p content on the cheap, now's a good time. So below we've rounded up the best deals we could find on some of today's newest and oldest Blu-ray players. The fat lady has yet to sing for the HD DVD camp, but from the looks of it, we can already hear her warming up.

Philips BDP7200
Making its debut at CES this week, the Philips BDP7200 Blu-ray Player will be the lowest-priced standalone Blu-ray deck when it comes out in April with a list price of $349. That's not to say it'll skimp on features. This second-generation player will support 1080p output at 24 frames per second (via HDMI) and it will be Philips' first Blu-ray player to support BD-Java and Deep Color, the latter which basically means it'll display more vivid images with over a billion colors. (Of note, there are no current Blu-ray movies that support Deep Color). The BDP7200 will also upconvert your standard-def DVDs to 1080p. We expect to see this player hit the Web at prices below its list price making this a solid package for your money.

Sony BDP-S300
A frequent seller here at dealnews, the Sony BDP-S300 Blu-ray Player ($368 + $0 s&h at Abt Electronics) continues breaking price barriers, dipping as low as $270 over the holidays. Not bad considering it originally debuted with a $600 list price. Our one nitpick with this system, however, is that it doesn't offer built-in decoding for high resolution soundtracks, so audiophiles looking for Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master audio will want to look for other options. Otherwise, this deck can decode Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, and DTS soundtracks. It'll also rejuvenate your existing DVD library by upconverting them to 1080p. Lastly, the BDP-S300 has no Ethernet port, which means you can kiss those Web-based Blu-ray extras goodbye. Not to mention you won't be able to upgrade the player's firmware online.

Samsung BD-P1400
Got a little less cash to spare? The Samsung BD-P1400 Blu-ray Player ($309.99 + $18 s&h at B&H Photo-Video) makes for a solid addition to your living room. It one-ups Sony's BDP-S300 by featuring onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD and it even has an Ethernet port for future firmware upgrades. Where the BD-P1400 does fall short, however, is in its support for future Blu-ray discs. Because it's a Profile 1.0 player, it won't be able to play many of the features on some newer Blu-ray discs, like picture-in-picture commentary. Otherwise, this player can output 1080p/24 and kick your standard-def DVDs up to 1080p. Samsung also unleashed two new models at CES, the BP-U5000, which will be a $599 hybrid HD DVD and Blu-ray player, and the HT-BD2, a complete 5.1 home theater in a box with a Blu-ray DVD player at its core.

Panasonic DMP-BD30K
While the Panasonic DMP-BD30K Blu-ray Player ($389.99 + $11 s&h at Dataviz.com) offers many of the same features as the other BD players (1080p/24 output, DVD upconversion to 1080p), Panasonic gave this model a little extra punch with some features only it can brag about. If you have an HD camcorder, for instance, the DMP-BD30K has an SD card slot stashed up front that can play back high-def AVCHD video. This player is also a Profile 1.1 player, which means it'll play Blu-ray discs with interactive features. However it lacks high-def audio decoding and doesn't sport an Ethernet port. For those features, you'll have to wait for the DMP-BD50, which will not only include Profile 2.0 support, but also built-in decoding for high-def audio. No word yet on pricing or availability.

Louis Ramirez is a dealnews Features Editor who desperately wants this format war to be over with.
Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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