Everyone likes to talk about the fact that Blu-ray offers high-definition video compared to DVDs, but many don't realise that Blu-ray also offers new high-resolution audio formats, like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.
Even more impressively, if you buy a new Blu-ray player with on-board decoding for these formats and it has multichannel analog outputs, you'll be able to take advantage of these new soundtracks even with older receivers that lack HDMI inputs, but have analog multichannel audio inputs. The only catch is these players will cost you a bit more than a bargain brand Kogan Blu-ray player.
It's true that Blu-ray players with 7.1 outputs cost more than those without, but counter-intuitively they can actually save you money if you have an older receiver. Let's say, for example, you're looking to choose between the Editors' Choice-winning Panasonic DMP-BD35 or the newer Panasonic DMP-BD80, which adds 7.1 outputs to the package. The difference in cost between the two players is about AU$200, but that's far less than it could cost to replace your non-HDMI receiver with something like the Onkyo TX-SR606 (AU$1300 street price).
That being said, you could always save money on both ends of the deal by buying the cheaper Blu-ray player and not replacing your receiver. If you want surround sound, you'll be stuck using either an optical or coaxial digital audio output — which can't handle the full resolution of Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master soundtracks — but chances are you may not hear the difference unless you have a dedicated home audio set-up.
Check back soon, as we'll add to this list as we review further players capable of outputting 7.1 HD audio streams.