Do I need a new Blu-ray player?
December 3, 2013 9:01 AM   Subscribe

I have a Panasonic Blu-ray player. It is probably 5-6 years old. Lately I notice the picture quality on some older standard DVDs (Six feet under season 1 for example) don't look good. They either look grainy/pixelated/not crisp. The other problem that I have is that Blu-rays take foreeeeeeever to load. The new season of Mad Men must take 5 minutes at least. It does look great once it gets started. I am not an overly tech savvy person. I don't know if I need to update firmware (or how to do it for that matter). I would rather have something that either doesn't require it or does it automatically. I do have a brand new Samsung smart hd tv. I am using HDMI cables. Is there a way/is it worth updating or trying to "fix" It seems that players are so inexpensive that perhaps I should just purchase a new one. Would this solve the problem? Do todays units update themselves like I believe that my tv does? I see that some come with wi-fi included. Some are smart. I don't know what the advantage to those features are. I don't care about 3D. Is HDMI still the standard? Would it be advantageous to stick with Samsung? Thank you in advance
posted by kbbbo to Technology (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'd like to hear more, too. I've had 2 or 3 BluRay players and they all have uniformly stunk, especially when playing DVDs. I'm to the point of relying on an Xbox to watch DVDs and have stopped buying BluRays.

My last two were Samsung and we updated the firmware (connected to network or copied to a USB stick) and it helped somewhat, but it was a couple of years ago.

Can you do a search on the model on the internet and see if there are updates? Should have some "how to" instructions as well. In the interim it's a cheap fix attempt ...
posted by tilde at 9:07 AM on December 3, 2013

Are you saying that the quality of the DVD video has gone down suddenly, or that you just recently noticed that it's not great? Some Blu Ray players are better at upscaling DVDs than others are, so if it's just that it's never been good, buying a player that is specifically known for good upscaling will probably help a bit. But there's only so much data in a DVD, so it's never going to look as good as a Blu Ray. If it suddenly got worse, there may be some kind of hardware problem, in which case replacing the player would probably fix it (unless the problem is in your TV or something in between, but if Blu Rays look good, that's probably not it).

Some players are also faster than others, so that could be remedied with a new player as well.

I'd be surprised if either problem would be dramatically improved with a firmware upgrade, unless there's some kind of bug. Even if the video quality suddenly got worse, its more likely to be a hardware problem than a firmware problem. Firmware bugs don't tend to sit idle for 5 years and then suddenly manifest.

I don't have specific recommendations on players (I use Oppo Blu Ray players and I love them, but my guess is that they're more than you want to spend). I'd read reviews on Amazon, or if you want to get really deep into it you can go to AVS Forum and poke around. But that site can be pretty overwhelming if you're not really into this stuff.
posted by primethyme at 9:21 AM on December 3, 2013

Response by poster: I don't know if the quality has suddenly gone down. Some of the Dvds I haven't watched in some time. The HBO series DVDs historically seemed to be crisp.

I know that the regular dvds aren't going to look as good as the blu-rays but what are some good upscaling players?

I have NEVER in 5-6 years updated firmware so it is probably very out of date, but again, I would prefer not to or to have it automatically done.

posted by kbbbo at 9:33 AM on December 3, 2013

We use a Sony PS3 as our blu ray player. It works great. And of course you can play games, too. Yes, we use HDMI cable to connect to the TV.
posted by bearwife at 9:52 AM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

It wouldn't be a huge surprise if older Blu-ray players take a long time to start playing the newest Blu-ray discs.

All of the original forms of copy protection for Blu-ray have long-since been cracked. But the Blu-ray spec includes a way for new discs to add new forms of copy protection. There's an interpreter in the player, and the disc can include a program written for that interpreter which does additional decoding of the material on the disc.

All the original versions of those programs have been cracked, too, and the newest ones are larger and more elaborate. The CPU in an older player won't be anything like as fast, and decode programs written with new machines in mind won't play very well on older machines.

Unfortunately, this isn't likely to be anything that can be corrected with a firmware update. The problem is lack of CPU horsepower. (The real problem is the industry's hopeless infatuation with DRM, but we can't do anything about that.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:57 AM on December 3, 2013

Honestly, the PS3 is still a really solid Blu-Ray player, and because of it's... other features, it's constantly updated by Sony. If you shop around before christmas, you should be able to find one new around $200 or used for $150 or so.

The Xbox 360 is a godawful dvd player, by comparison.
posted by Oktober at 9:59 AM on December 3, 2013

Another issue might be that DVDs varied in picture quality even before Blu-Ray came along. The crummiest looking DVDs were just transfers from VHS. The choice of film used by directors can affect picture too, if the director decided they wanted a grainy look. Either of those things combined with upscaling could result in a low quality image.
posted by Fleebnork at 11:06 AM on December 3, 2013

Also, I believe HDCP is designed to downgrade the picture quality (I know, I know) if it doesn't think it has a properly secure signal path. I wouldn't know how to fix it if that's the case.
posted by Sebmojo at 11:15 AM on December 3, 2013

For what it's worth, like some other HBO shows from that time, Six Feet Under was shot on film and not videotape, so the graininess is probably intentional.
posted by stopgap at 11:20 AM on December 3, 2013

Is your BluRay player connected to the internet? Does it need to be? Because a lot of disks load previews and such or download content when connected, which can add ages to the load time. Our player has an option in settings to block access when loading - if a disk asks for internet access the player pretends there is no network connection (with a little warning box popping up on screen telling us it is denying net access per our settings). But the player itself can still go online to pull system updates or stream content via the built-in apps.

This won't fix crap like unskippable previews built into the disk but it eliminates a lot of the wait time on loading.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:38 AM on December 3, 2013

Response by poster: It may be connected to the internet, but I don't think so and it was slow on my old non hdtv which definitely was not connected to the internet. It was slow then and now. It doesn't ask for access it just says loading.......
posted by kbbbo at 11:52 AM on December 3, 2013

I bought the Sony BDP-S5100 at The Wirecutter's recommendation, and it's been perfectly good. There's a slightly cheaper version without 3D. It's got wifi and all the smart features, so you can watch Netflix directly through it.
posted by schoolgirl report at 1:25 PM on December 3, 2013

Response by poster: Would the smart Blu-ray players with wifi update firmware automatically or at least prompt to do it?

Thank you
posted by kbbbo at 1:35 PM on December 3, 2013

I too had awful AWFUL experiences with blu-ray players. Most of the major brand ones are just awful quality. Based on a recommendation here, I got an Oppo, and it's amazing. It costs a bit more, but it beats the heck out of a series of $200 ones that die every 9 months.

It also has an excellent UI for playing Netflix etc if you want everything all in one box (though they annoyingly don't support Amazon Prime video yet.)

If you don't want to spring for a new player, the HDMI cable can make a difference. I grew up thinking all cables were equal, but there genuinely have been upgrades to the standards of HDMI cables, to the point where sometimes older ones won't work at all with new devices.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:00 PM on December 3, 2013

Six Feet Under was shot on film and not videotape, so the graininess is probably intentional.

No! Not at all. That's not what shooting on film means, unless it's like 8mm or done to be intentionally "arty." Almost every film prior to 2000 was shot on 35mm (and ones that care about picture more than saving money still are), and 99% of them don't look "grainy."
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:02 PM on December 3, 2013

Not to start a detail, but TV shows shot on film can certainly have a distinctive grainy look when compared with taped shows. Northern Exposure and the first seasons of Sex and the City spring to mind as noticeably grainy shows.
posted by stopgap at 2:18 PM on December 4, 2013

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