Now that the price has dropped on Sony’s BDP-S350 to $299, full-featured Blu-ray Disc players are coming into reach for the rest of us. Early generation Blu-ray Disc players were not only more expensive, but bulky, and took a long time to start up (time to run to the kitchen for a snack). Sony addressed these problems in the BDP-S350, a player that launched this past summer. The Quick Start feature shaves minutes off start up time, and the new design is no larger than a slim-line DVD player. But don’t let the familiar look and feel fool you: This is full high-definition picture and sound. Add features like 1080p/24 for filmed movie playback, BD-Live and Bonus View for online special features, and you have a player that will give you all you want from a Blu-ray Disc player at a more affordable price.
Features and Design
Waiting for a Blu-ray Disc player to start up and load a disc can seem interminable, which is why the S350’s biggest leg up on other players comes from its Quick Start feature. With Quick Start, the disc will load in six seconds, hardly time for you to sit down after putting in a disc. We also noticed that the menus and features were fast to come up after pressing the remote button. However, it’s important to note that the player will consume more energy with Quick Start turned on, and that the fan will run in standby mode, causing an increase in the typical vampire energy drains. We recommend turning off your surge protector or power center to save energy, since it will still come up quickly when powered on.
The S350 model fully supports Bonus View, but is only BD-Live compatible, which means that it doesn’t come with the 1GB of flash memory needed to download BD-Live content. (The BDP-S550 step up includes the required memory, so it is said to have BD-Live.) Insert a 1GB or larger USB flash memory drive—Sony offers the USM1GH memory—and voila, you have extended special features that can be shown in Bonus View picture-in-picture, if the disc has it available.
Like many Sony home theater components, the S350 is equipped with Bravia Sync, an HDMI CEC (control) feature. When you turn on the feature on your equipped TV and A/V receiver, simply pressing the “play” button on the BD remote will turn on your home theater, change to the right inputs and speakers, and start to play your movie automatically. This one button play works across brands, with most other manufacturers that have HDMI CEC.
The original S350 units looked like the pictures here, with a Blu-ray blue front plate. However, the unit we tested was all black. We appreciated the smaller, slim size that is about a third the size of a comparable Pioneer player. As a slight drawback, the input for the USB external memory is inset behind a small square opening, so only slim flash drives can fit into the connection.
Image Courtesy of Sony
After connecting the player to a TV with a high speed HDMI cable, and connecting an Ethernet cable for BD live features, all we had to do was plug the player in and power it up. The easy setup menu walks you through steps for language, screen size, resolution output (720p or 1080i or 1080p for high definition), and lets you turn on the HDMI control and allow the BD-Live content. Simple multiple choice make all but advanced setup easy to follow.
For the average viewer, this player will simply look terrific, but if you want to tweak the video for your preference, the BDP-S350 lets you adjust your video settings even while watching a movie. Choose between Standard, Brighter room and Theater Room to automatically change the video settings for optimal contrast, black level, and other settings for better viewing. The color space can also be adjusted: By using the YPbPr 4:4:4 color space, it will convert the disc’s 8-bit color to 12-bit Deep Color giving you smoother gradations of color on a Deep Color monitor. And indeed, it performed beautifully in black levels, shadow detail, and smooth color.
Sony’s Precision Cinema HD Upscaler promises sharper backgrounds and no artifacts on moving objects by evaluating the individual pixels rather than scan lines. And while the upscaled DVD cannot compete with the clarity of a Blu-ray Disc, the Moulin Rouge DVD I tested showed great detail. As promised, there were no real motion artifacts. Still, there was a softness to the picture, and graininess in darker scenes. All in all, we were pleased with the picture, though. And it remains quite a step up from watching on a standard upscaling DVD player.
Sony’s Xross media bar excels in simplicity. It only takes a few arrow pushes to understand the logic of this unique, icon-based menu that Sony has put on all of their home theater products and PlayStation 3. We found it much easier to use than the typical menu/submenu/submenu navigation of competitors.
Again, Sony has standardized its Bravia home theater remote controls. The remote is laid out cleanly, with well-spaced buttons, and is not crowded with extra specialized buttons. This makes it easy to use without looking at the remote, which is fortunate since the remote is not lit to see while watching in a darkened room.
With a price under $300, the Sony BDP-S350 player is a good choice to make the move to a high definition movie-watching experience on your big screen HDTV. Besides being easy to set up and use, and an all-around full-featured player, the S350’s clincher is its Quick Start feature, for anyone who is as impatient as we are with Blu-ray Disc players that take forever to get up and running.
• Quick Start feature loads discs faster
• Slim chassis
• Easy to use Sony Xross menu
• Good clarity, black levels and color
• No line-out audio for sending out decoded Dolby True-HD
• No DTS-HD Master Audio decoder
• Inset USB port limits what flash drives will fit
• Remote does not light up or glow in dark