The now dead HD DVD format had its faults, but we always loved the fact that there was a single hardware requirement for every player since day one. With Blu-ray, there are three different profiles, and each profile has a different set of required features, which affects what kind of special features you can play back on certain discs. And even though manufacturers aren't allowed to make the older Profile 1.0 players anymore, there's still a chance there are a couple of legacy units sitting on the shelf at your local retailer. So, is a Profile 1.0 player worth buying? Should you pay extra for Profile 2.0? Let's check out the differences.
Profile 1.0 is the original hardware requirement for Blu-ray players and essentially meets the bare minimum for playing back Blu-ray Discs. You'll have no problem playing back a movie, listening to standard audio commentary, tracks or using interactive "pop-up" menus, but you won't be able to access advanced features like picture-in-picture video commentary or download any extra content online.
If you're the kind of person that never watches special features, you might be fine with a Profile 1.0 player, but be aware that you may not be able to take full advantage of more advanced Blu-ray features. Manufacturers aren't allowed to produce any more Profile 1.0 players, but it's not rare to see the older units still being sold--for example, the Sharp BD-HP20U is still widely available. With the price of Profile 1.1 players falling as quickly as they are, it's probably worth skipping Profile 1.0 players.
There are several different hardware requirements (see the chart below), but it basically boils down to the addition of picture-in-picture functionality, also known as BonusView. Typically, Blu-ray movies use this feature to enable a small window of video commentary, where a director or actor talks about a scene while it happens in the background. Profile 1.1 players need to have the secondary video and audio decoders necessary to play a smaller video in the corner, while also playing the main high-definition movie in the background. Movie studios were somewhat reluctant to include BonusView functionality at first, but now many Blu-ray Discs include the feature.
Despite Profile 1.1 also being known as Final Standard Profile, there's actually still another Blu-ray specification, Profile 2.0, also known as BD-Live. The reason it's called BD-Live is that the major difference between profiles 1.1 and 2.0 is that Profile 2.0 requires that the player have an Internet connection, usually via an Ethernet port. Although some Profile 1.1 Blu-ray players have an Ethernet port, these are strictly for firmware updates and can't be used to access downloadable content.
In addition to Ethernet connectivity, the other major requirement is 1GB of local storage capability. All that means is that the player has to have some way of adding storage to the player, which is where the downloadable content is stored. We've seen players with USB ports or SD card slots to fulfill this requirement, while other players have some built-in storage--you'll have to check the specifications to see how the player implements this feature. While the BD-Live features we've seen on discs so far have been underwhelming, they're sure to improve as disc makers get a handle on the technology.
|Features||Profile 1.0||Profile 1.1||Profile 2.0|
|Required local storage||None||256 MB||1 G|
|Secondary video decoder||Optional||Mandatory||Mandatory|
|Secondary audio decoder||Optional||Mandatory||Mandatory|
Isn't there a Profile 3.0?
If you've heard of a Blu-ray Profile 3.0, you're not hallucinating. However, don't get all-nervous that your brand-new Profile 2.0 player is going to be obsolete. Profile 3.0 is an audio-only profile, intended to be used with audio-only Blu-ray Discs. It opens the door for manufacturers to make low-cost Blu-ray players that lack all the requirements in the chart, for those that are only interested in audio playback. We haven't seen any Profile 3.0 Blu-ray players released or announced, and we've only seen a handful of audio-only Blu-ray Discs, so it's not something current buyers have to worry about.
Which profile should I buy?
The easiest way to avoid all these headaches is to buy a Profile 2.0 player, which is currently the most future-proof option there is. In particular, we recommend the PS3--not only is it the best Blu-ray player according to our reviews, but it also has traditionally been updated with new features before other Blu-ray players. Additionally, because the PS3 has such a fast processor inside, we've found that special features just work better, with faster load times and smoother playback.
If you're the kind of person that never fiddles with special features and you've found a great deal on a Profile 1.1 player, there's no reason not to buy it as long as you know what you're giving up. Profile 1.1 players should have no problems playing back future Blu-ray movies, you're just won't be able to get additional content online. Profile 1.0 players are increasingly rare these days, so unless you find a fantastic deal, you can probably find a Profile 1.1 player for a similar price.
Got any additional Blu-ray profile questions? Let us know in the comments.