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Connection to the Internet offers two important features: the ability to keep your BD player updated with the latest firmware and to use BD-Live. Just connect an RJ-45 Ethernet cable to your home network, insert the (minimum) 1GB USB memory in the EXT slot, then run Easy Setup. It will automatically set the cryptic the IP Address Acquisition to Use DHCP, the DNS Server Auto Acquisition to Auto (both under the Network Settings/Internet Settings menu), make sure Software Update Notification is ON (System Settings) and set BD Internet Connection to Allow (BD/DVD Viewing Settings).
The Xross Media Bar interface in the BDP-S350 could have these settings within the categories arranged in a more intuitive way. If you needed to access those network parameters mentioned above, it’s not readily apparent through the interface where those four settings are scattered among three different categories. As another example, Network Update is at the top of the overall category list, followed by Video, Audio, etc. System Settings is sixth and Network Settings seventh. Assuming you’re connected to the Internet, press Network Update and the S350 checks to see if new software is available. If your machine is current, you see the simple message, “Already updated.” OK, what version is installed? To find that, you must scroll down the categories to System Settings, not Network Settings, and select System Information to see the version. Certainly reading the Operating Instructions would be useful here, but the on screen interface could be arranged a little more clearly.
Note: The “BD Internet Connection” setting under the “BD/DVD Viewing Settings” main category is not referred to in the printed Operating Instructions that came with my player. Seems like that should be under Network Settings anyway.
Coincidentally, while exploring the interface, a graphic popped up advising that a new, updated software version was ready for download. The S350 had been running 07.4.010, but version 015 was now available. Following the prompts (and the numerous warnings NOT to turn the power off) the nine-part download via cable modem through the 10/100 Ethernet took about four minutes, then another six or seven for the BDP-S350 to install the software. I could easily follow progress for each step both on screen and the front panel LED display. When complete, “FINISH” appeared and the player turned itself off. Powering back on and checking System Settings/System Information shows the new Software Version 07.4.015 is running.
BTW: When the player first advised a software update was ready, I had been doing Stop/Resume testing with the movie 300. The disc remained in the S350 during the entire upgrade process, and when powered back up, I was able to simply press Play, then resume watching the movie at the exact point I left off when selecting Home on the remote to access the Xross user interface. Impressive.
How well a Blu-ray player operates is not totally dependent on the machine’s specifications. Delivering terrific high definition video and sound, which the BDP-S350 does, is of course the most important job, and frankly is expected from even low priced gear. But, with the increased emphasis on providing engaging interactive features, the user experience takes on additional significance as what were once simple linear playback devices inch towards game machines. Differences in processing power, decoders and the virtual machines running BD-Java code all combine with the choices made in authoring the titles themselves to determine performance. Certainly not all BD players are equal, but what you put in them also matters.
There are two authoring techniques used to create Blu-ray titles. The simplest method, the High Definition Movie (HDMV) format, is similar to DVD-Video in its underlying architecture. HDMV operates quickly, but is more limited in its interactive and graphic capabilities than the more advanced authoring environment, Blu-ray Java (BD-J). BD-J titles can have superior graphics, Picture-In-Picture (Bonus View) and the ability to access content on the Internet (BD-Live), opening the door to a seemingly endless range of possibilities.
One of the conveniences we’ve come to expect watching DVDs is resume playing at the point where leaving off after pressing Stop. Because of programming issues, BD-J titles don’t yet allow the Blu-ray player to retain the memory of that ‘state’ so the disc restarts from the very beginning, forcing you to run the gauntlet of loading Java code (those small logo-type animations), FBI warnings, studio splash videos and finally reaching a menu where you can begin navigating back to where you were. This is a known deficit, and may be worked out in future titles, with possible upgrades to player firmware. Happily, the BDP-S350 does perform Stop/Resume for HDMV Blu-ray titles and DVDs.
Unfortunately, the S350 does not have still frame forward or reverse for either BD or DVD titles. Too bad, because that’s a favorite of mine - stepping backward or forward, looking at some detail in a cut or some tiny continuity thing. Not exactly a replacement, but there are buttons for Replay (jumps :10 intervals backwards with each button press up to 2 minutes) and Advance (:15 jumps forward to who knows where - I stopped tapping the button at 525 seconds). This works fine for jumping back or forward a few seconds, but if you try moving longer time spans, the player begins going in that direction, displaying a still frame at the time step increment. Slow and choppy. You’re better off traversing longer time frames with the scan buttons or Scene Search if available.