Sony has been selling Blu-ray players for years in Japan, but here in Europe it’s been curiously ambivalent. We’ve seen the BDP-S1E – a very slow and painful to use player – and, of course, the PS3.
The new BDP-S300 marks a few steps in the right direction – but only a few. It’s cheaper than the BDP-S1E, and, despite not being as lavishly constructed as its forebear, it’s still nice to look at.
Old problems resurface
But the old problems haven’t disappeared. It’s still slow to use, and, more crucially from our perspective, no better in terms of specification.
So, while this modestly priced deck beats some pricier rivals by virtue of its support for 1080p at 24fps, it still won’t send high-definition audio via its HDMI output socket. To do that, you’ll need the pricier, and soon to be tested, BDP-S500. That seems mean to us.
Picture almost perfect
In action, there’s little to find much fault with here, at least not in picture terms. The Sony’s Blu-ray images are smooth and detailed, its facility with colour (and the varying hues therein) being particularly impressive: it really makes the most of a colourful movie like Fantastic Four or Spiderman 3.
Definition is first-rate, too, and here you’ll notice concrete improvements over the PS3 – the dedicated Blu-ray deck is a slightly crisper performer, and it’s able to create a fuller, deeper image with more realistic depth of field. Since the Sony also provides a 24fps signal with suitable discs, there’s little to trouble you with motion, either.
Sound should be better
So far so good, but the sonic side of things is less well-resolved. Given that Toshiba deems it acceptable to offer a £350 HD DVD deck that supports all forms of high-definition audio via its HDMI, the fact that a brand new Sony Blu-ray deck costing roughly the same won’t play ball seems a bit, well, rubbish.
Oh sure, you can decode Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby TrueHD audio onboard this deck, just as you can with older, more expensive players, and it’s true that this will give you access to a good proportion of the full hi-def audio experience – but it all seems so low-tech for a latest-generation player.
The sonic results should you opt to go down this route are actually fairly reasonable, the Sony combining a fair degree of force with respectable spaciousness, but we know it could be better – and we suspect so does Sony.
Given how much cheaper the BDP-S300 is than most Blu-ray rivals, are we being harsh? We don’t think so: as we said, Toshiba can now sell you a more complete hi-def disc rival for less cash, while Sony’s PS3 – which, as you may have heard, does a little bit more than just play discs – is £100 cheaper.