Jonathan has been a filmmaking hobbyist as well as for hire since 2002. He keeps abreast of the latest technology and specialises in 3D.
Introduction and Caveat
Many today will say that discs are dead, long live streaming. However, while streaming is a definite game-changer and a huge resource, most of those with this opinion may not be aware that not only are discs still the number one source of home media sales, but also provide significant quality upgrades over often highly compressed streaming. Since there will always be those who appreciate quality over quantity, I thought I'd round up some of the best disc players you can buy that I can recommend for various budgets and needs.
Keep in mind I will not be recommending any standalone DVD players, or any players based solely on their ability to stream. My reason for the former is that DVD is an archaic technology from the 90s that tops out at 480i resolution. (It seems to be a common misconception that DVD plays at 720p, but this is not even close.) It is not an HD format, and streaming services almost always show a better picture than a DVD can. It's Blu-ray discs that beat streaming services in quality, not DVD. My reason for not getting too much into streaming capabilities is that disc players with built in apps or even their own app stores are less supported and will likely not have all the latest streaming channels and apps available. Due to copy protection mechanisms, some may not have the ability to stream in 4K or even in HD, so to know you always have the latest and best I recommend using a Roku or Amazon Fire Stick, which receive regular updates. So now let's get into the recommendations.
I'll start with the Phillips BDP1502. I bought this for my mother as it was the most affordable. If you're like she is and just want a basic DVD and Blu-ray playback device, you don't watch a lot of movies and use mostly streaming anyway, than this may be the machine for you. There are a couple of downsides though, one of which is the remote control which is pretty small as remotes go, doesn't have easy to feel button placement and can easily press wrong buttons if pressing it blind, besides not being the most comfortable in the hand. The other issue I had was the built in voice assistance, where for instance it will speak to you and tell you what button you just pressed, like "pause", "play" etc. I scoured every last setting and could find no way to turn it off, so you might have to live with it if you want this affordable Blu-ray player.
Next up is the Sony BDP-S6700, which has a little bit better remote and also includes 3D capability, 4K upscaling and smart apps. Again there is no guarantee these apps will stream in full quality, have the most recent channels like Disney Plus and Paramount Plus or even be updated, so unless you're a casual streamer you may not want to rely on it's streaming capabilities. Another very important note, and one that has caused much confusion in the market is the fact that it upscales to 4K, in other words it takes your video source from a Blu-ray or DVD and outputs it as a 4K (2160p) video signal by multiplying the pixels four times and up. This does not mean, however, that it is capable of playing back dedicated, native 4K Blu-ray discs, as these run a completely different codec and will show up blank. If this is what you want, it has to say Ultra-HD Blu-ray, not just have 4K somewhere in the title like this and many other upscaling players do. It does however play full HD and does it well.
If you want today's premium experience for your home theater than Panasonic's DP-UB150-K fits the bill for the next step up. It has 3D and true Ultra-HD Blu-ray support, but also the common HDR standards of HDR10, HDR10+ and HLG.
While the aforementioned models will suffice for most people, some movie collectors also find it important to have region free capability. Some DVD and Blu-ray releases are locked from playing back on players from other regions identified by numbers for DVD and letters for Blu-ray, and there are a number of films that can only be viewed on disc this way.
Of course some can be purchased via streaming, but some can't, and 3D titles definitely can't, so in this case a multi-region 4K 3D Blu-ray player like this one from LG would be a practical solution, and it's the model I currently use. While some players will only output 3D at 1080p, this player also recognizes 4K 3D SBS video files (sometimes doing so automatically) and can play them back in full resolution on certain TVs.
There are other options besides the above suggestions based on different priorities. For instance you may want all the latest disc standards, all the HDR codecs and some streaming capability, maybe a comfortable remote, and end up spending many hundreds of dollars. Or in an effort to save money you could go the route of buying used or a cheap Chinese brand. The suggestions above however aim for the most reliable, well reviewed products covering the range of most common formats and reasonable prices. Happy watching!