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With the controls on the machines themselves pared down to the barest minimum, and virtually every operational setting done through software, and more interactive content being developed, the remote control is an even more crucial tool. Sony’s remote has a logical, well-designed layout. Along with many of the common features from DVD-Video remote controls of Audio, Subtitle, Angle and Display, the S350’s remote adds special buttons for the Pop Up Menu, Options and Scene Search. It also includes a group of Red, Green, Blue and Yellow buttons just above the navigation wheel in the center, which can be programmed for special functions by title authors. They are also used like Shift and Control keys on a computer keyboard when using the remote to enter text and number information.
Green has become the default for setting Book Marks, but this, Scene Search and many other features are authoring choices, not necessarily standard on all titles. The Dark Knight has Book Marks, but no Scene Search. 300 has Scene Search, but no Book Marks. WALL-E has neither, but does have an enhanced scan function which displays a graphic timeline and thumbnail image of the scene you’re in. Again, these are authoring, programming decisions for the respective titles. The Options buttons calls up a graphic overlay where you can select Play from Beginning, Top (sometimes locked out) or Pop Up Menus, Stop, Title and Chapter Search. Audio and Video settings for sync, room lighting conditions and video noise reduction can also be changed.
The remote can control many of the functions of your TV. Additional features through the Sony Bravia Sync HDMI connection allow powering up both devices and setting optimum viewing. I wish Sony were more consistent in their remote designs among different product types. Although the center navigation wheel and volume control and channel changer are in the same relative positions, the number pads and machine control buttons are the opposite positions for Sony TV and BD players. Not a big deal, but it makes for some confusion if you switch back and forth.
The remote is not backlit nor does it glow. I’d rather operate the remote by touch anyway to avoid having to look away from the screen. A more distinct tactile differentiation among the Play, Pause and especially the Stop button would be great. Resume does not work on BD-J titles (yet), so mistakenly pressing Stop results in having to start over from the beginning with all the loading. A particularly annoying drawback to say the least.
Unless it’s something where I could easily get electrocuted, saw off my hand or poke my eye out, I tend to skim over user manuals or operating instructions. Since losing life or limb isn’t likely in firing up the BDP-S350 to watch WALL-E, it was a simple matter to connect power and an HDMI cable, do the Easy Setup and start enjoying Blu-ray movies. The printed Quick Start Guide is simple and effective. It uses clear graphics for an overview of the A/V connections, getting the S350 running, doing the Easy Setup, plus some useful info on a few of the remote’s functions. If using HDMI and selecting AUTO for the Easy Setup choices, the connections to your high definition equipment and to the network will be optimized.
Setting "Quick Start" in the Setup cuts initial power-up time in half.
Easy Setup is a good thing for the majority of users, because peaking under the S350’s hood reveals an almost dizzying array of setup options and features through the on-screen display interface. Navigating Sony’s Xross Media Bar user interface, familiar to Playstation owners and now standard on Sony’s mid and higher end displays along with Vaio laptops, works well enough, but a better job could also be done in grouping categories and the specific settings under them. There are nine main categories, each with multiple settings - nine each for Video and Audio, eight for System and so on, totaling forty-odd parameters. On-screen explanation of their functions is sometimes lacking, so you’ll need to refer to the Operating Instructions for the finer points if you want to manually set the HDMI output to a specific resolution such as 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 480p or 480i. Determining which of the YCbCr/RGB HDMI color space conversion settings - YCbCr (4:2:2), YCbCr (4:4:4), RGB (16-235) and RGB (0-255) - is best for you can be confusing. So, unless you need to and know how to force particular settings, just leave things on the Easy Setup defaults. It’s simple to go back in later to toggle individual setting to your liking.
With so many options it would be nice to have a single control panel screen that summarizes the status of all the settings and even flag possible conflicts.
As mentioned, Sony doesn’t supply the minimum 1GB USB Flash drive required for BD-Live. They recommend their 1GB Micro Vault Tiny (USM1GH) or larger capacity USB Flash memory. At the same length and just a little wider than a standard paperclip, and the thickness of a nickel, these are indeed “Tiny.” They’re well suited for use in Sony’s Blu-ray players because there’s no reason to remove them as would typically be done with USB Flash memory transporting data from computer to computer. Another reason is because the EXT slot on Sony Blu-ray players is itself narrow, and the cases on some USB Flash drives might be too large to fit properly in the slot.
I installed a 4GB USM4GH and after uploading the current firmware from Sony, the BDP-S350 was fully Profile 2.0 compliant for BD-Live operation. Firmware updates can also be downloaded from Sony support and installed through USB Flash memory or by CD-ROM.