Released in the Fall 2008, Sony’s third generation BDP-S350 Blu-ray player offers consumers Profile 2.0, BD-Live interactive features along with improved performance all around without having to pay the premium early adopters did for the first and second-generation players, or to buy a Playstation 3. Still considered the optimum target platform for Blu-ray Java and BD-Live content because of its processing power, the PS3 was a difficult notion for many to grasp since it was primarily known as a game machine. For customers looking for the most powerful Blu-ray player, most sales people in big box stores weren’t much help in sorting out Profile 1.0, Profile 1.1 or Profile 2 features and benefits. Either they didn’t know one from the other or they were pushing the higher priced, typically inferior standalone Blu-ray players over the cheaper, higher performing PS3.
The BDP-S350 changes all that. At the $300 MSRP with street, online and bundle prices sometimes cutting that in half, the S350 is a terrific value not only for entry-level Blu-ray buyers, but those looking for a machine with capabilities which compete with more expensive BD players.
Strictly speaking, right out of box the S350 is a Profile 1.1 machine, meaning it can display Bonus View (Picture-In-Picture) content contained on the disc, but is not able to run BD-Live material in titles programmed with that feature. However, because it does have a built-in 100 Ethernet port for connection to the Internet plus an EXT slot for inserting at least 1GB of USB Flash memory (not supplied), the BDP-S350 is rated as “BD-Live Ready.” When the USB memory is inserted and the player’s firmware upgraded through its Internet connection, the BDP-S350 becomes fully capable of Profile 2.0 operation including all the features of BD-Live.
The BDP-S350 is a sharp looking machine, consistent with Sony’s straightforward, yet slightly understated style. It’s a standard 17” wide, but only 2 1/2” high and 8 3/4” deep, so if you’re stacking gear directly on top of itself, the S350 will probably need to be on top. The metal housing gives it a solid feel, and although plastic, the front panel is a sleek, glossy, almost iridescent dark blue, metallic-like in appearance. Apropos to the Blu-ray technology. A door in the center of the panel folds down to open the disc tray. Buttons for power and open/close are conveniently located on the top front left and right edges respectively, with play, pause and stop positioned on the right side of the front panel. No up, down, left, right arrow controls or an Enter button. Neither the “Play” button on the front panel nor the remote closes the tray. Pressing “Open/Close” on the player or remote control is the only way to load the disc and start play.
The front panel LED display offers the standard information about the status of playback or pause, elapsed and time remaining when selected via remote. HD appears when high definition content is playing on a Blu-ray disc or a DVD is being upconverted. Pressing the Display button on the remote will show the resolution and frame rate. HDMI lights up when such a device is connected. EXT shows the USB flash memory inserted is ready for use. There’s also an indicator when the S350 is downloading software. When playing 24p material, a tiny cobalt blue light shines. There is also a thin, grayish slit of a light in the middle of the front panel indicating when a Blu-ray disc is playing. A mundane indicator. Sony could have done something more appealing. All these displays can be run in Bright, Dark or Off by selecting Dimmer under System Settings in the on screen interface. Unfortunately, switching to Off also douses the cool looking blue 24p light.
The back panel has the basic minimum, but certainly adequate, group of I/O connections required for a Profile 2.0 BD player: HDMI, component, S and composite video out, analog stereo audio, both optical & coaxial digital audio out, 100Mb Ethernet, an EXT slot to insert USB Flash memory (again, sold separately) and a plug-in AC cord. The S350 doesn’t decode the new High Definition audio formats, so there are no separate analog outputs to send those surround channels to an external receiver or amplifier. I wouldn’t expect those sophisticated decoders for a unit at this price point, and doubt buyers of this player will be disappointed. If so, for less than $100 they could step up to the BDP-S550, which has those outputs, plus is supplied with a 1GB USB Flash memory.
If you don’t have HDMI audio gear to handle the Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD High Resolution, DTS-HD Master and LPCM 5.1 & 7.1 audio, then regular 5.1 Dolby Digital, DTS and LPCM 2 channel can be sent through the optical and coaxial digital outputs to equipment with those inputs. There is an Audio Output Priority setting for HDMI, Coax/Optical and Stereo Analog, but all outputs appear to be fed simultaneously regardless of what’s selected.
A note about the gatekeeper of all technology: interface connections and cables. Seeing this device delivers the best pictures and sound through a single HDMI cable, it’s time all manufacturers did away with the archaic practice of including a composite video, analog stereo audio cable with the Blu-ray players, as one was with the S350. They are obsolete and simply contribute to clogging landfills.