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Technology Untangled: Blu-ray players also stream Internet video

Stephen Bour
September 14, 2011
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technology-bourThis summer, I was able to do a bit of research for the more leisurely side of life. I’ve had a large LCD HDTV for a while, and I enjoy watching high-definition programming on cable networks. I thought it was time to look into a HD Blu-ray disc player to expand my viewing options. Blu-ray discs provide a top-quality 1080p signal (1080 lines of resolution, progressive scan) while most cable feeds are transmitted at a slightly lower 1080i interlaced signal or even at 720p resolution. All but the least expensive Blu-ray players now also come with features providing for additional programming options via an Internet connection. Internet streaming allows for even more choices for HD programming through services like Netflix and many others.

Blu-ray discs, of course, cost more to purchase and rent, and it seems like there is a lot of competition from the other HD program source alternatives like cable and Internet. Because of these factors, I don’t think that sales of Blu-ray DVDs are anywhere near what the developers had once envisioned. So in an “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” move, most players now include the Internet streaming features. As a typical consumer, it gave me another reason to decide to buy the Sony BDP-BX38 HD player, and now I have the option of switching over to Blu-ray DVDs.

So how does the picture quality of a Blu-ray DVD compare to a standard DVD? It is better, but in my opinion, it isn’t really that much better. That’s because most standard-definition DVD players will now upconvert the signal from your regular DVDs to near HD quality. This is true for any player that connects to your HDTV via the HD multimedia interface cable. Without a direct A-B comparison, it is hard to notice a dramatic difference.

Internet streaming is the more intriguing feature of the new player. There are multiple new sources for on-demand programming for movies (Netflix, Vudu), TV series (Hulu), music (Pandora, Slacker), and other video sources (YouTube, etc.). Many of them are from the same sources that you can access through the Web with your computer. But on the player, they are packaged in an easier to navigate collection that you can operate via remote control. The bigger advantage is that they are displayed on your large HDTV instead of a small computer screen.

But you do need a computer to access all of that Internet video. Most of the streaming services require you to log on via computer to register and, of course, provide credit card information. Since the streaming player connects to the Internet via your home network, each streaming service recognizes and links your specific device to an account, which then authorizes you to purchase content with just a few clicks.

Programming cost is a concern to me. Many of the newest movies rent at $5.99 for the best quality HDX (1080p) feed, $4.99 for the HD (720p) feed, and slightly less for the SD (standard definition) feed. There is also an option to “buy” HD movies for $19.99, essentially an unlimited rental period. Watching just a few movies a week can add up fast. Subscription services like Netflix are a flat $7.99 a month, but they don’t have that deep of a selection of HD streaming movies, and the HD is not at the best quality.

Your Internet service cost may go up, too, since you also need a stable, high-speed broadband connection to take full advantage of HD programming. The cheapest connection speed may not suffice. You may also have issues with the speed and stability of your Wi-Fi connection, so a direct-wired connection may be preferable.

Plenty of free content is available on my Sony streaming player, but most of that is streamed at standard quality or worse, and much of it is time-wasting junk programming – amateurish productions of all manner of Web video. However, you will find some amusing and interesting gems throughout the clutter, and it is easier to navigate than wading through the individual websites with your computer. The streaming music services like Pandora are nice, especially when piped through a home theater surround-sound system instead of computer speakers.

One other cool feature with my Sony player is the Media Remote application. It turns your Android or iPhone into an enhanced-function remote control that works through your home network to control all functions of the player.

Overall, the best value for HD movies is still the occasional Redbox rental at $1.50 per day. Streaming HD video is the growing trend, so buying a device that can both play discs and stream video makes a lot of sense. I recommend that you try one to go with your HDTV. There are many Internet-ready Blu-ray players available for less than $150.•
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Stephen Bour (bourtech@iquest.net) is an engineer and legal technology consultant in Indianapolis. His company, the Alliance for Litigation Support Inc., includes Bour Technical Services and Alliance Court Reporting. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s.
 

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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