|Sony BDP-S1 Blu-ray Player|
|Home Theater Video Players Blu-ray Players|
|Written by Ken Taraszka, MD|
|Thursday, 01 February 2007|
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This early in the development of the Blu-ray format, amidst a format war with rival HD DVD, Sony’s first player hits the market as one of the few real-world options for people looking to play back 1080p video on their HDTVs. Priced at $999, the Sony BDP-S1 competes with offerings from Samsung and Panasonic, as well as the hard-to-get Sony Playstation 3 game console. Included with the player is a copy of The Fifth Element (Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment) on Blu-ray. A free Blu-ray movie, Talledega Nights, also accompanies Sony’s Playstation 3 game console.
The Sony BDP-S1 came to my house the same day as Sony’s new 70-inch SXRD rear-projection TV, the KDS-R70XBR2, so all at once I was fully up for 1080p. I quickly unpacked the Sony player from its box and Styrofoam packing, unwrapped it, placed it in my rack and swapped its digital connection with that of another of my DVD players. Inside the box were the player, remote, manual, a rebate card for several Sony Blu-ray discs and, surprisingly, a pair of stereo analog interconnects and a composite video cable. This is laughable, as the player doesn’t output 1080p without an HDMI output, so you would be crazy not to consider that connection as your first choice. Component video can pass 1080i, but I didn’t get into Blu-ray and buck up for a new rear-projection 1080 HDTV for anything less than 1080p video. When you buy a BDP-S1, be sure to bring home a nice HDMI cable as well, or you will be seriously handicapping the player’s performance.
This first Sony Blu-ray player has a solid feel to it, which is in direct contrast to the very light, somewhat flimsy and more expensive Panasonic Blu-ray player. Measuring 16.9 inches wide by four-and-one-tenth inches tall by 13.9 inches deep and weighing 16.5 pounds, the player has a sleek look to it that is distinctively Sony. The unit sports a brushed aluminum top plate that transitions to a metallic flecked flat black side that goes about halfway down the height of the player, which changes to a ridged effect for the lower half of the side. The power and eject buttons are on the far right and left of the top panel edge, and they offer virtually no tactile feedback to you when they have been pressed. Frequently, I hit the eject button twice, not sure I had gotten it the first time. The disc would eject and then quickly reload. The front of the player is strangely laid out. The drive tray lies in the center of the upper third of the faceplate; to the right are the transport buttons. They flow, in left to right order, as play, pause, stop, and chapter section buttons. These buttons are small and non-illuminated, so if you need to use them while watching a movie, you might need a flashlight. The main front panel display is housed in the left lower two-thirds of the front panel, which has an iridescent blue metallic hue to it; on the right are the HDMI and HD indicators. The back panel of the BDP-S1 has an interesting assortment of connections. On the left side are the fan and the IEC two-prong power cord receptacle. In the center of the back panel are the IR controls, HDMI output and the composite and S-Video outputs. Progressing further to the right, you’ll find the component video outs, optical and coaxial digital outs, then the 5.1 analog and a pair of stereo analog outputs. The very first time you power up the Sony player, it takes about a minute and a half, but after that, it powers up and will eject the disc tray in about 40 seconds, which is much faster that the Toshiba HD-XA1 HD DVD player, even after their latest firmware update. Successive disc swaps take 28 seconds to the first screen image, a little slower than I’d like, but something I can live with.
The remote is similar to many other current Sony remotes, with a joystick in the middle, transport keys below that and the volume, channel and mute buttons at the bottom. On the top of the remote, the power and eject buttons are above the dimmer, display and TV/Video controls. A numeric keypad and audio, subtitle, and angle buttons follow. Lastly is a row of “color” buttons for use with some Blu-ray discs’ interactive menus. The non-backlit remote is pretty long, with a single groove in the rear to give the user something to grip. The buttons that do have markers are so subtly marked they are difficult to feel at times. On the radius around the joystick are the menus and return buttons. I didn’t like the remote when I got the player, and I still feel the same way. Fortunately for me, I use a universal remote for my home theater and only needed this remote for the initial set-up, so I can now put the unit’s remote into the closet for storage.
In the end, I connected the BDP-S1 a coaxial digital cable to my Meridian 861v4 AV preamp, using an HDMI cable to a Meridian HDMax 421 HDMI switcher, which in turn fed the new Sony XBR2 HDTV. I performed a quick modification of my Harmony remote programming and was up and running in literally 30 minutes. HDMI has really helped improve the ease of connection for home theaters, despite some pretty ugly bumps in the road in the early days. When HDMI 1.3 comes around, connections should be even easier, but HDMI 1.3 isn’t a reason to hold off on buying a player now. My connection worked flawlessly without any handshake issues and HDMI 1.2 can pass 1080p video with ease.