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Time to switch to Blu-ray?

Virtually all review sources have ended their coverage of standard DVD players in favor of high-definition Blu-ray players. Blu-ray players have dropped in price, and the technology has matured to the point where experts say that they are now the logical choice among disc players. "Regular DVD players are still available, though there's little reason to go this route anymore," says ConsumerReports.org. Shoppers are taking note -- a recent report from The Digital Entertainment Group notes that more than 33 million American households have a Blu-ray player (an increase of 52 percent from this time last year). In addition, sales of Blu-ray Discs are up 58 percent over last year, while standard DVD sales have fallen 15 percent.

While experts say Blu-ray players are a better bet for most people, basic DVD players can be a good choice for those without an HDTV. They're also attractive for anyone on a tight budget, since you can find a good DVD player for $50 or less.

Most DVD players feature upconverting technology. Though they lack the level of detail that comes with Blu-ray, upconverting DVD players scale the relatively low resolution of regular DVD movies (about 720 pixels by 480 pixels) to match the higher resolution of an HDTV (1,280 by 720 pixels or 1,920 by 1,080 pixels). Good upconverting DVD players have previously been considered expensive, but prices have fallen so far that most are not much more expensive than players without this feature.

Also, don't forget that all HDTVs are themselves capable of upscaling standard-definition DVDs to match their native resolution. Like upscaling DVD players, how well they do that job can vary by brand and model. However, if your TV has excellent signal processing circuitry, you might get better picture quality by letting it do the upscaling instead of your DVD or even Blu-ray Disc player.

Still, if you own an HDTV, or think you might someday buy one, a Blu-ray player is almost a no-brainer. Blu-ray players come with a number of benefits, most notably a level of detail and clarity that you can't get with a standard DVD player. Blu-ray is also backward-compatible with standard DVDs, so your older discs won't become obsolete if you decide to upgrade. Many Blu-ray players do an excellent job of playing back standard DVDs -- as good or better than most regular DVD players.

The cheapest Blu-ray players now cost less than $100 -- and some strong performing, well-featured players regularly sell for under $150. Examples include the Panasonic DMP-BDT110. Picture quality is first rate -- especially for the price -- with both Blu-ray Discs and upconverted DVDs. You also gain access to a host of extras. If you have a network connection nearby -- or are willing to add in around $80 for a Wi-Fi radio -- you can stream content from a host of Internet providers, such as Netflix. The DMP-BDT110 also has full 3D compatibility, including the ability to convert 2D content to 3D, though not everyone says that that last feature is effective. See our Blu-ray report for more information.

Finding professional reviews of DVD players has become a challenge. For example, ConsumerReports.org hasn't updated its report in quite some time, so all of its recommended DVD players have been discontinued, though some can still be found for sale. About.com is one source with current coverage of DVD players, although its recommendations are based largely on features and specifications rather than hands-on testing. As a result, we found the best information on DVD players at online retailers like Amazon.com, BestBuy.com and Walmart.com. Some models attract hundreds of individual ratings, and owners are quick to point out where each player falls short.

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