SOUND ADVICE: Why connect your Blu-ray to the Internet?
Q. I see a lot of the latest Blu-ray players are touting Internet connections. Why do I need to connect my player to the Internet if I am playing movies on a disc?...
Q. I see a lot of the latest Blu-ray players are touting Internet connections. Why do I need to connect my player to the Internet if I am playing movies on a disc?
A. Connecting your player is not mandatory, but there are two good reasons to do so: additional content and support.
Any player that supports Blu-ray profile 2.0 (BD-Live) will have a Web connection. Many Blu-ray discs are BD-Live enabled. BD-Live provides additional online content such as movie trailers, online games, and group movie screenings as you text chat with the director online, for instance. So far BD-Live hasn't really caught on with consumers but it is bound to get better with more development from the content producers.
Some players with Web connections have the ability to stream content from Netflix, YouTube and Cinemanow, among others. The picture and sound quality can range from horrible (homemade videos from YouTube) to not bad (HD movies from Netflix.) The Netflix menu system is well designed and easy to navigate, though the streamed standard definition programming usually looks much more like VHS tape than DVD, let alone HD. If you already have a Netflix subscription it can be a convenient way to watch old television programs or sample movies you otherwise may not have tried. The integrated streaming feature may not provide state-of-the-art picture or sound quality, but having it available is definitely a bonus.
If you connect your player to the Web it is likely to work better and provide a more satisfactory ownership experience because you will get the best possible product support. Blu-ray players are essentially computers, and they need occasional updates and patches called firmware updates. If you do not have your player connected to the Internet, you must go to the manufacturer's Web site and download a file to a USB flash drive or burn it to a CD to update the player's firmware. If your player is connected to the Internet the player will download and install these updates as soon as they are available.
Most new players have Ethernet connections. If you don't have an Ethernet port near your player, you can furnish one by using powerline adapters. One powerline adapter plugs into a wall socket near your router, the other near your player. Just connect the cables and go. You can also use a wireless bridge with an Ethernet port to connect your player to your wireless network.
Some new Blu-ray players have built-in WiFi for ultimate connection simplicity. My favorite player from the new crop is the LG BD390, which typically sells for $399. The LG players are the fastest on the market, are reliable and well supported, and the BD390 has multichannel analog outputs and onboard high-def audio decoding. The analog outputs and onboard decoding makes it a perfect match with an older receiver lacking HDMI. The BD390 can stream content from Netflix, Pandora, YouTube, and Cinemanow.
If you have an HDMI receiver or no receiver at all, the $399 Sony PlayStation 3 has WiFi and is still one of the very best players available. This multimedia powerhouse is the best supported, most reliable Blu-ray player on the market and it can also play games, surf the Web, and stream media from your computer.
(Read past columns and product reviews by Don Lindich at www.soundadviceblog.com , and contact him using the "submit question" link on that site.)