Internet TVs, Blu-ray players broaden entertainment choices
Televisions that connect to the Internet are the easiest way to broaden your entertainment choices.
Consumer Reports’ testers combed through the ratings of 125 LCD and plasma TVs to find sets offering Internet connectivity and Wi-Fi capability, along with fine performance. They recommended 10 models.
Like most Internet-connected TVs, those highlighted in Consumer Reports’ ratings let you access streaming movies and TV episodes from two or more paid services. Most also offer free content from YouTube, Internet radio stations such as Pandora and Slacker, and photo-sharing sites Flickr and Picasa. (If you don’t need a new TV, you can use Internet-enabled Blu-ray players, which cost as little as $100.)
The LG 47LV5500, $1,250, is one of the few TVs with a full-fledged browser providing unlimited Web access. It comes with a wand-shaped remote that lets you navigate onscreen menus with hand gestures. Other TVs, like the Vizio TrueLED XVT553SV, $1,600, have slide-out keyboards in remote controls so you can easily enter the title of a movie you want to watch. Even without such features, it’s easy to launch an Internet service by pressing a dedicated button on the TV remote or using the remote to select an on-screen icon.
All the recommended TVs offer fine HD picture quality and decent sound. That includes 3-D sets, several of which were among the highest scorers. Among the LCD TVs, the Samsung UN55C6500, $1,950, and Sony Bravia KDL46Nx810, $1,800, a Best Buy, have edge LED backlights. The Vizio and Sony Bravia XBR-52HX909, $3,600, have full-array LED backlighting with local dimming, which can improve contrast and black levels.
All the models tested can connect wirelessly to a home network. Wi-Fi is built in on the LG, Vizio, and Sony. Both the Panasonic Viera TC-P42S30, $1,350, and Viera TC-PS2ST30, $900, a Best Buy, come with external adapters that plug into the TV’s USB port. With the other models in the ratings, you must pay about $70 for an adapter.
Bargain Blu-ray players
High-def Blu-ray players aren’t just about playing discs. Many new models can stream online movies and music, essentially turning any TV into an Internet TV. All the players in Consumer Reports’ Select Ratings have this feature. The least expensive, the Panasonic DMP-BD75, costs just $100.
The 3-D-enabled Blu-ray players in the ratings can play both 3-D Blu-ray discs (when used with a 3-D-capable TV and 3-D glasses) and standard Blu-ray movies. Prices for 3-D models have fallen sharply, and the lowest-priced 3-D player in the ratings, the Panasonic DMP-BDT110, is $135.
The recommended Blu-ray players offer excellent picture quality. All are easy to use, but there are differences. For example, the Panasonic DMP-BDT210, $180, has built-in Wi-Fi; The Sony BDP-S480, $180, and Panasonic DMP-BDT110 require an optional Wi-Fi adapter. Wireless capability is useful if you don’t have a direct Internet connection in your TV room.
Among 3-D-capable models, the Sony BDP-S480 has the most extensive online offerings, including five streaming movie services and Pandora and Slacker Internet radio. It can also play high-resolution Super Audio CDs and be controlled with an iPhone, iPod Touch, or Android phone (with an app).
The Panasonic DMP-BDT110 and DMP-BDT210 can make Skype video calls with an optional Web cam. They’re the only players with an SD card slot for viewing photos. The Panasonic DMP-BD75 lacks the SD card slot and Skype calling ability of its siblings.
The time it takes for a disc to load and play varies among players. The LG BD630, $130, and Sony models took a bit longer than others to load Blu-ray discs.
Consumer Reports writes columns, reviews, and ratings on cars, appliances, electronics, and other consumer goods. Previous stories can be found at consumerreports.org.