The Blu-ray disc was supposed to make DVDs obsolete with its high definition and all sorts of extra digital content. It hasn't. DVDs are still outselling Blu-ray discs by more than three to one, mostly because you can now buy a stack of DVDs (and maybe even a player to watch them on) for less than it costs to take a family of four to go see the latest 3-D theatrical release.
But it turns out that Blu-ray discs themselves are becoming just a check-box feature for Blu-ray players. As the price of basic Blu-ray players begins to approach the under-$100 mark, some players are coming loaded with other capabilities that make them a lot more interesting than the Blu-ray discs are. Sure, some are "3-D ready"—for whenever you decide, if ever, to buy that 3D television. But some there are other capabilities that you can use now without an expensive new TV—and in some cases, even without a Blu-ray disc.
Pioneer, for example, has just released three 3-D ready Blu-ray players , including the $300 BDP-430. These new players can be controlled over a home network with an iPhone, iPad or iPod via a free "app" from the Apple iTunes App Store. (To make this work, new Pioneer owners will have to perform a firmware update over the Internet). The players also provide access to Netflix, Pandora and YouTube without needing to connect to a computer, so you can stream in movies or music from the Internet and skip the trip to buy the Blu-ray discs. And access to new services is promised through "over-the-air" updates to the players' programming.
If you do buy a Blu-ray disc, the Pioneer players now have a "continuous" mode, that lets you pick up watching a movie right where you left off. There's an add-on wireless networking adapter so you don't have to hard-wire your player to your broadband router (though you'd think that option would be standard by now).
The Netflix-streaming feature is becoming increasingly common in Blu-ray players—much to the dismay of cable companies, Blockbuster, and the U.S. Postal Service. But if you want the most out of your $300 now, ironically, the best Blu-ray player out there may still be Sony's PlayStation 3—yes, a game console.
For the same price as the BDP-430, the PlayStation comes in a configuration with built-in WiFi networking and a 120 gigabyte hard drive that can store more than 70 full-length downloaded standard definition movies (as well as a mix of other media). It also works with Netflix. And if you're ever in the mood, you can challege your teenager to a video game smackdown. But even if you never put a game disc into the PS3, it has more entertainment potential than most Blu-ray players.