The advice from a sales guy about premium Blu-ray players was most compelling, but I think these days it's been overtaken by technology. His opinion was that these players are all so good that it's difficult, even for a purist, to pick performance differences between them.

All display great pictures and sound terrific, so take sound and vision quality as a given. Therefore, he said, I should buy the one with the features I want.

It would be an attractive way to approach this business, but with televisions going to ultra-high definition and when so many buyers who spend this sort of money have separate sound systems that capture every nuance, it doesn't take an expert to see and hear even subtle differences.

The best offerings from quality brands, such as Yamaha and Pioneer, max out at about $600 to $700, which is where the truly esoteric brands start.

Most of them have proven reputations and offer first-class quality and specifications, but can, say, a Cambridge Audio 752BD really be worth twice as much as Yamaha's best performer?

It all depends on you. You're spending twice as much to get what can be a very subtle improvement. If you're a purist, it's worth it. If you can't notice the difference, you would be nuts to spend the extra.

But there is one great attraction with the Cambridge Audio ($1299) and both Oppo models ($699 and $1499) – they can be altered to play Blu-rays from all regions, rather than just Australia. If you buy discs from the United States, this is a very desirable feature.

But the alteration involves more than just entering a code with the remote – it's a hardware change, and it costs. We were quoted $150 for the Oppos and $200 for the Cambridge Audio.

These were the only premium players we encountered that could be modified like this, making it a two-horse race for anyone wanting multi-region capability. There are one or two other players that do this, but they are way down the other end of the market, about $100 to $150. By the way, don't assume premium players will play out-of-region DVDs, either.

Blu-ray is mainly about sound quality, and all three players here concentrate on great sound.

They are also compatible with music recorded in FLAC format, usually the first choice of musical purists who want to store their music on a hard drive.

 

Oppo BDP103AU

Oppo BDP103AU

$699; internationaldynamics.com.au

The new bargain-basement offering from a brand with an unparalleled reputation in disc players isexcellent value. There's ultra-high definition upscaling, fast start-up andexcellent sound, and it's SACD and DVD-Audio compatible. Movie buffs will appreciate a 24-frame-per-second video and 3D compatibility. HDMI and USBs front and rear, and it hooks intoWi-Fi. The big attractions are Pandora, Quickflix and Picasa.

Yamaha BDA1020

Yamaha BDA1020

$649; yamahamusic.com.au

It's all about sound quality, with SACD and DVD-Audio compatibility and a pure direct mode for music, bypassing video circuitry. It hooks into your Wi-Fi with Picasa photo handling and BD Live, and it plays 3D discs. It can be controlled with an iPhone or iPad with a free app, and there are front and rear USBs and a single HDMI output. It's DLNA compatible. The picture and sound are superbly detailed. Music is up with the best CD players.

Pioneer BDPLX55

Pioneer BDPLX55 

$599; pioneer.com.au

More of an all-rounder in balancing vision and sound, and the sound quality has less depth than the Yamaha. Picture quality is great with Blu-rays, but down a fraction on the Yamaha with DVDs. It handles SACD and DVD-Audio and allows control by an iPad or iPhone with an app. It plays 3D discs. The Wi-Fi connection (for YouTube, Picasa and BD Live) is optional and the converter costs $149 extra. Two HDMIs and front and rear USBs.

Verdict

The Pioneer is a significant step up from the majority of Blu-ray players, but is outperformed by the other two. The Yamaha is the best value, doing a great job with both audio and video with flexible connectivity. But the Oppo is the clear winner in picture and sound and, especially if you're into Pandora and Quickflix, easily justifies the extra $120.

* This article originally stated the price of the Oppo BDP103AU was $769. That price has since been reduced to $699.