So you’ve got your new HDTV, your perfect surround set-up, and all the cables to match, now what? Let’s assume you want to use these to bring enough media into your home to make your head explode. There are several types of media interfaces.
(For an explanation of output resolutions (480p, 1080i, etc.), please see the appropriate section of the TV Buyer’s Guide)
One of the current standards for video media, Digital Video Discs (DVDs) have – by far – the largest selection of video available. Everything is released on DVDs. Movies, television shows, workout videos, adult entertainment, how-to videos, etc. All of it can be found on DVD. However, one day the DVD will be replaced by the Blu-ray disc as the standard type of physical video medium. I say “physical” because of the increasing popularity of pure digital entertainment (no disc, cassette, etc.). Until then, DVD players are your gateway to the largest selection of media. DVD players are fairly standard, as they have been around for a while. DVDs do not support High Definition (HD) or 3D video. A typical DVD outputs a video signal at 480i, and even really nice ones are capped at 480p. There is simply not enough room to store HD video on a DVD. DVD Players can often play music CDs, MP3s (music), and display JPEGs (pictures). The output options for a DVD player are limited, as they are not HD compatible. DVD players usually output with either a Component or RCA format. With a sound system more advanced than the player, there are DVD players that will down-scale the digital optical audio signal into the Component/RCA format.
A Blu-ray is an advanced, High Definition, digital video disc. Blu-ray discs can store much more than a DVD, and as such, they are HD compatible. Almost all Blu-ray discs will output 1080p HD video. Almost all Blu-ray players have internet accessibility and can therefore use digital media services (Netflix, Hulu, etc.). Some players will have the option for Wi-Fi connectivity, and some that do not will have the option of a Wi-Fi addition through a USB port. For those of you with a DVD collection who are worried about it going the way of the Betamax (if you are unfamiliar with Betamax, it’s what dinosaurs watched movies on); fear not. Blu-ray players will also play DVDs. They are backwards compatible with any DVD (also with CDs). Blu-ray players will output in most formats, though HDMI and digital optical audio are the best options. For best performance, use these formats. Many Blu-ray players will also have USB ports for viewing pictures. Additionally, Blu-ray players are the only ones that will play 3-D content. Some concerns to be aware of regarding the difference in price of various players are as follows:
Are there moving parts which may break due to increased wear (disc trays, hidden button tabs, etc.)?
What is the loading time of the player, and does this really matter to you?
Do you need to have Wi-Fi support?
The Blu-ray player is the most diverse form of digital video playback, and it will be the standard for contemporary home media systems for some time.
Digital Media has exploded in the past decade. Easily more than half of the people you know are using purely digital media every day. Digital cable, Netflix, Hulu, VUDU; the list goes on. Some services are more popular than others (it has been suggested that Netflix uses up to 40% of the bandwidth of the entire internet). These services are often cost-effective, and are easy to access through a variety of devices, including computers, Blu-ray players, handheld devices, and video game systems. There are pros and cons to these services. On the up-side, you have a plethora of content available as long as you have an internet or cable connection. Whatever you are in the mood for, you can find something using one of these services. TV shows are often very easy to watch with these services, as you get the experience with no commercials, but you don’t have to buy the entire collection of all seven or eight seasons. However, the content is often limited. Are you hankering for that one movie with that one guy? It may be there, but if it isn’t, you are out of luck (you might even have to drive somewhere to get it). Also, content can and does change with many services. Certain videos are only available for a limited amount of time, though chances are they will re-circulate eventually. In short, if specific titles aren’t as important to you, these digital media services can be a very economic way to get your video media.
The Xbox 360 is Microsoft’s gaming platform. It plays DVDs and CDs, reads USB devices, connects with your computer through Windows Media Center, now (as of 2012) connects to many of the digital media services. It outputs its games in HD, though DVDs are still limited by their inherent 480 restrictions. For many of its online features, a subscription is required to the Xbox Live service that costs around $60 per year. Xbox 360s can output through RCA, Component Video, or HDMI. Xbox Kinect is a web-cam/microphone gameplay device that translates body motion and sound into gameplay, menu navigation, and voice control. Xbox 360 exclusive game titles include Halo, Gears of War, and Forza Motorsports.
There are several editions of the Xbox 360, the main differences being the size of the included hard drive and the “S” vs. original. Original Xbox 360s are larger and are not sold new anymore. You can often find refurbished original consoles at a lower price. The Xbox 360 S is a bit smaller, quieter, and has more robust hardware. If you are buying new (recommended), then you will be buying one of these. There are 4 GB and 250 GB sizes, as well as some special, game-edition consoles with 320 GB drives. Some consoles are also bundled with an Xbox 360 Kinect.
The PlayStation 3 is Sony’s current video game console. PS3s can play Blu-ray discs (both 3D and regular), DVDs, and CDs. Both games and Blu-ray videos are output in HD. Some PS3 games support 3-D viewing. PS3s have web-cam options. PS3 also has an online network, though the aptly named PlayStation Network differs from Xbox Live in that it’s free, but it offers less content. PS3s work with many of the digital media services. The PlayStation Move uses a wand-like controller to capture motion and translate it into gameplay. PS3 exclusive titles include Uncharted, Resistance, and Gran Turismo.
There are several editions of PlayStation 3 consoles available, the main difference being hard drive size. There are options for a 160 GB or 320 GB hard drive. There are also several packages with game-specific graphics/content, and there are bundles with 3-D accessories and the PS Move.
The Nintento Wii revolutionized gaming with its motion-activated gaming. While similar services are becoming available (PS Move and Xbox Kinect), the Wii has the broadest set of current games. The Wii cannot play DVD videos unless it is tampered with. It does connect to select digital media services. In short, the Wii is more of a gaming system than a multimedia interface, and its lower price reflects that. Wii exclusive titles include Metroid, Legend of Zelda, and anything with Mario in the title.
There is only one type of Wii, though there are bundles geared toward specific games and genres.
In short, you should probably take the small additional hit to your pockets and buy Blu-ray. The price difference will make up for itself in quality and longevity.
Your choice of gaming console really depends on your style of gaming, the features you would like to have, and the specific games you enjoy.