With the advent of video-on-demand and streaming video services from the likes of Netflix and LoveFilm, DVD and Blu-ray discs have fallen out of favour with some film fans.
But there's still much to commend disc-based movies, not least high-definition pictures and, just as importantly, high-definition sound in the form of Dolby Digital TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. You might be able to stream HD video from the cloud, but no-one's yet streaming better than standard Dolby Digital 5.1 audio.
And so it is that we retained a Best Blu-ray players category in our 2014 Awards. If you've invested in a pukka home cinema amp and a decent set of surround speakers, Blu-ray still has much to commend it.
Best Blu-ray player up to £150
Tested at £95
This Sony is all about providing serious bang for just a few bucks. The BDP-S5200 looks small and unassuming – it’s pretty much half the width of your average home cinema or hi-fi separate.
But there's nothing wrong with the picture. Blu-rays are equally impressive in 2D or 3D, and the Sony does the transfer justice with a brilliant picture. The level of depth and sense of realism is wonderfully immersive.
The Sony’s picture doesn’t feel fake or forced, even when all the debris comes flying from the screen towards your face. There’s an excellent level of contrast as the black expanse of space is punctuated by stars, satellites and astronauts.
Whites are punchy, but dark areas remain inky-black and the Sony still has enough in the tank to extract plenty of detail from the shadows.
As for sound quality, it delivers tunes with a real sense of fluidity and rhythm, but still hits hard enough to give more explosive, wilder soundtracks the sofa-shaking impact they deserve. All in all, this is a bargain.
MORE: Sony BDP-S5200 review
Best Blu-ray player £150-£300
Tested at £230
Scarily consistent. That’s how we’d describe Sony’s recent track record when it comes to Blu-ray players.
Its budget decks have been showered with Awards and five-star ratings over the past few years, and the BDP-S7200 is the latest of a long line to pick up a Product of the Year trophy.
The BDP-S7200 sits at the top of Sony’s range of Blu-ray players (there’s a choice of five machines, from £60). The other four have the Sense Of Quartz design, but the ’S7200 gets a more traditional boxy look.
The Sony’s star shines brightest when it comes to sound quality: it’s entertaining, exciting and musical, impressing us when it comes to Blu-ray discs, DVDs and CDs.
It even has the added benefit of high-res audio compatibility, including 24-bit/192kHz WAV files, FLAC and DSD, although not all formats are supported over a home network
Pictures are equally impressive. The Sony also excels visually with a great sense of depth and realism to the image too.
There’s no shortage of Blu-ray players out there, but the BDP-S7200 stands out. It will be a tough one to beat.
MORE: Sony BDP-S7200 review
Best Blu-ray player £300+
Tested at £500
Why pay £500 for a Blu-ray player when you can pick up a decent one for less than £100? As this flagship Panasonic DMP-BDT700 shows, it’s all about performance.
The Panasonic has 4K Ultra HD upscaling alongside its 3D Blu-ray qualities, smart features and extensive file compatibility inside its sleek casing – but its picture quality is what justifies that premium price.
Images from Blu-ray or DVD look fantastic. Play the Pacific Rim Blu-ray and we’re immediately captivated by the rich, punchy hues, the intense black levels, the bright whites and incredible level of detail.
The DMP-BDT700 is a confident player, juggling high contrast scenes and skin tones easily. Colours are beautifully balanced and the DMP-BDT700’s excellent contrast makes for a bold and riveting picture.
The 7.1 channel sound is clear and detailed, too. Power, scale and dynamics are all present and correct.
If you want a premium Blu-ray player for a premium home cinema system, this is the one to buy.