Confirmed: Blu-Ray Not for Moms

When I was visiting my mother earlier in the month, I helped her upgrade her ‘home theater’ — I hesitate to call it that because her needs are not nearly so grand as replicating a theater viewing experience inside of her home. She just likes to watch the occasional movie and maybe tap into her granddaughter’s Flickr stream and that’s about it.

She had an old 30-in. CRT television that weighed about a ton, but I managed to kick it to the curb and bought her a new, inexpensive Vizio LCD television. Setup was a breeze, but of course her old DVD player was not capable of upconverting to the new TV’s greater resolution, so playing movies looked terrible on it. I went to the store with the idea of buying her a new, simple, US$50 upconverting DVD player.

Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me

Somewhere along the way though, I was distracted by a good price on a Sony Blu-Ray player, this in spite of my previously documented poor experiences with Blu-Ray. I know, I should̵ve known better, but I decided to give the format another chance, reasoning that it would let my mother take full advantage of her new TV. Like most Blu-Ray players, this one could access Netflix and other online video and music services, so I figured at US$160, it was a decent deal. I bought it, brought it home and set it up for her. Blu-Ray discs looked wonderful on it.

Then I realized that the device was actually only Internet-capable, that in order to access anything on the network at all, to say nothing of Netflix, the additional purchase of a Wi-Fi dongle was necessary. Unfortunately, the only dongle that works with that player costs US$80 dollars — that’s half the cost of the unit just to attach a USB Wi-Fi card to the back of the unit — bringing the total price of the unit up to US$240.

The next day I returned the Blu-Ray player and bought a simple DVD player instead, plus an Apple TV for US$99. Everything worked great out of the box, no additional gadgets necessary, plus now she has the full breadth of content that an Apple TV provides in addition to Netflix, all with a mom-friendly user interface. Of course, she can’t watch Blu-Ray discs but, having now fully learned my lesson regarding how customer-hostile the format is, I figure she’s better off without it.

  1. The only issue is your mom has to know how to switch between HDMI inputs to go from the AppleTV to the DVD to TV. My mom can’t.

    I wish Apple had included a two-port HDMI switcher with some smarts, so you could control a DVD/BluRay player and a cable set-top box from a single interface, and one not designed by the UI gods of the consumer electronics industry at that.

  2. That is a great point. No home theater solution is really complete without a very good universal remote control, I think. Unfortunately I’ve never come across a remote control that was any better than just “good enough.” Anyway, it’s on my list to get her one of those.

  3. Hey Khoi,

    I completely agree with you about Blu-Ray being good for the movie industry but bad for consumers. With that said, your article doesn’t really match the title. There wasn’t anything about the Blu-Ray player that your mom didn’t understand. It just turned out to be a lot more expensive than you were willing to pay for something your mom most likely wouldn’t use to its full potential.

    But it does make one wonder why the movie industry isn’t subsidizing the Blu-Ray players so that there is a larger market for Blu-Ray discs. Especially when most of the expense of those players, as I understand it, comes from the overhead necessary for the DRM system and the constant updates that protect movie content from being watched by consumers… I mean, “stolen by pirates”.

    Without subsidizing those players I think the Blu-Ray technology will be passed over for streaming HD, which has a much lower barrier of entry with devices like the Apple TV and Roku boxes going for $100 or less.

    Now if we could just get Apple to make it possible to plug a DVD optical drive into the Apple TV it would help cut down on the remote control problem.

  4. Logitech’s Harmony remotes are excellent for techies and non-techies alike. It’s activity based, which is to say you’ll have a button called “watch DVD”, behind which will switch the input on the TV, turn on the DVD, etc.

    Ideally, you’d set it up for her, but even that’s easy, you connect it to your computer via USB, go to their web site, and list all the equipment she owns. It will pretty much define all those activities for you.

  5. Funny, I just did the same thing for my parents, only I bought the Sony Blu-Ray player with built-in Wi-Fi.

    Here was the next hurdle you avoided: Every single service you can access through the player requires you to go online and register your device with a code. So you need to go register Netflix on the perplexing SonyStyle website, then Pandora, etc.

    I had already sold my folks on the magic of streaming services, so I had no choice but to put in the hours.

  6. Khoi:

    Then I realized that the device was actually only Internet-capable, that in order to access anything on the network at all, to say nothing of Netflix, the additional purchase of a Wi-Fi dongle was necessary.


    Please read product reviews before going price hunting for a device. The Sony players are horrible for Wi-Fi @ this point; it’s common knowledge. You bought a bad Wi-Fi device and somehow turn this into a blu-ray rant – huh?

    Long live Apple TV! Sieg Heil!

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