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When only the very best will do, look to Oppo Blu-ray players first

If you want the very best Blu-ray player money can buy, and you have the budget to back that up, stop reading right now and go buy the Oppo BDP-103. Yes, it is very expensive compared to other Blu-ray players, but its video quality is simply unsurpassed. Its Marvell Kyoto-G2H Qdeo video processor sails through benchmarking, passing even esoteric tests that make lesser players cry Uncle. The result is an image that presents every bit -- good or bad -- exactly as it was recorded on a Blu-ray. "Every color, detail, and even imperfection of a Blu-ray Disc is presented on screen for you exactly as it is on disc," says Chris Heinonen at Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity. "Nothing added or removed, but as pure an image as anyone can offer." DVD performance is just as top shelf: "Upscaled DVDs looked as good as they could given their limited data on the disc," says Home Theater magazine's David Vaughn.

The BDP-103 has other tricks up its sleeve. This is a near-universal player that can handle just about any disc or file format you'd care to throw at it. Connectivity is equally comprehensive, ranging from 7.1-channel analog audio outputs and even a composite diagnostic video output to two HDMI outputs and two HDMI inputs -- there, among other reasons, so that other components can take advantage of this player's video-processing chops.

There's 3D support, of course, and conversion from 2D to 3D. The built-in Internet streaming is missing a few important partners -- Hulu Plus, for example -- but if that's a difference maker, the player can accept a Roku Streaming Stick (Est. $50) to bring that and a whole heck of a lot more on board. For those considering one of the new UHD TVs, the player can upscale discs all the way to 4K -- though no reviewer has tested how well it will do that. The menus and remotes are generally well liked and, oh yes, the player is incredibly fast -- one of the fastest Blu-ray spinners currently available -- and incredibly well built.

On the audio side, performance is nearly as impressive, and some reviewers say somewhat improved from last year's BDP-93. For obsessive audiophiles, Oppo also has a step-up player, the Oppo BDP-105 (Est. $1200) . The key difference is the audio section, which boasts an ESS Sabre32 Reference Audio DAC (digital to analog converter), which is to audio what the Marvel processor is to video, except on steroids.

Whether the BDP-103 (let alone the BDP-105) is worth its premium price is in the eye of the beholder. Reviewers more or less admit that the types of test-bench issues other players are more prone to, but that the Oppo BDP-103 avoids, rarely show up in program content -- especially in Blu-ray movies, which is what most people watch on most Blu-ray players. For videophiles, however, even rare issues could be enough to spoil the viewing experience.

If you can tolerate image processing that isn't technically as perfect, but need or want some of the extras found in the Oppo BDP-103, mid-range Blu-ray players split the difference cost-wise between the BDP-103 and more mainstream players like the Sony BPD-S5100. Among mid-range Blu-ray players, we saw some reasonably good feedback for the Samsung BD-F7500 (Est. $250) . The BD-F7500 can't stand up to the Oppo BDP-103 in bench testing, but even its harshest critics say that once you stop looking at test patterns and start looking at the image on the screen, what's there looks excellent with Blu-ray movies and DVDs -- every bit as good as the best Blu-ray players, except on very rare occasions.

Of course, that's true of even lower-cost players, such as Samsung's BD-F5900 and the Sony BDP-S5100. What sets the BD-F7500 apart are its extra features -- most notably more versatile connectivity, including 7.1 analog video outputs and dual HDMI ports. If you need those features, the Samsung BD-F7500 is an excellent get -- but, as PCMag.com notes, most users don't.

The PS3 as a Blu-ray player

Though it's often overlooked by those who aren't specifically interested in gaming, The Sony PlayStation 3 Slim (Est. $270) remains a top choice for Blu-ray watching and also sports lots of extra functionality for the living room. Reviewers say the PS3 Slim delivers excellent HD image quality, speedy performance and a complete set of features -- including a bevy of streaming apps and the ability to play back 3D Blu-ray Discs.

The PlayStation 3 Slim still draws raves for its picture quality with Blu-ray Discs, but it doesn't upconvert DVDs as well as many dedicated Blu-ray players. Also, while the PS3 was previously the speed champ when it came to loading discs and navigating menus, it is now beaten -- sometimes soundly -- by many stand-alone disc players. Audio support is comprehensive, though the PS3 lacks multichannel (7.1) analog audio outputs found in higher-end dedicated Blu-ray players.

The PlayStation 3 Slim has Wi-Fi networking support as well as an Ethernet jack, so you can connect to the Internet. In addition, the PS3 is also DLNA-compliant, so you can stream media from a networked PC. One other issue worth noting is that the PlayStation 3 Slim uses Bluetooth to communicate with its controllers and remotes. That means it is generally not possible to control the player with a universal infrared remote -- you'll need to use the PS3 controller or a Bluetooth standard-layout accessory remote (Est. $20). Most critics recommend springing for the optional remote, because operating the PlayStation 3 Blu-ray functions via the game controller can be an "interesting" experience.

The PlayStation 3 received a moderate makeover in 2012. Among the changes, the Blu-ray slot loading mechanism was replaced with a sliding door that critics say seems flimsy in comparison. More information on the Sony PlayStation 3 Slim, including its performance as a Blu-ray player, can be found in our report on video game consoles.

A next-generation Sony PlayStation 4 is expected before the holidays, and it, too, will contain a Blu-ray drive. In addition, Microsoft's upcoming Xbox One will also offer Blu-ray support.

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Sony Playstation 3
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Samsung BD-F7500 4K Upscaling 3D Wi-Fi Blu-ray Disc Player
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OPPO BDP-105 Universal Audiophile 3D Blu-ray Player (Black)
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