Sony BDP-S350 Blu-ray Player

The Sony BDP-S350 is the latest Blu-ray player from the company that invented the format. This is an upgrade from its previous entry-level model, the BDP-S300, offering more features and options. The blue brushed-aluminum faceplate, similar to the design of the top-end ES series, is attractive and elegant and sure to add some class to all your black components.

The BDP-S350 not only plays Blu-ray discs, it also plays standard DVDs, upconverting them to 720p, 1080i, or 1080p. If your display supports it, the BDP-S350 can output 1080p/24 via HDMI for a more film-like image. Generally, fast-motion movie sequences perform better with the 24fps option—as long as the display can flash the frames at a multiple of 24Hz instead of 60Hz.

Like all current-generation players, the BDP-S350 features an HDMI 1.3 output that supports advanced video features such as Deep Color and x.v.Color. There is no commercial content that uses these extended standards as yet, but some high-def camcorders, such as some from Sony, record their data with Deep Color and x.v.Color, so discs burned from such camcorders can take advantage of these features in the S350.

As shipped, the player conforms to Profile 1.1 (aka BonusView), which provides picture-in-picture functionality with select Blu-ray titles. There aren't many BonusView titles to choose from yet, and unfortunately, I do not have any in my library at this time, so I was unable to try out this feature.

The BDP-S350 is also capable of BD-Live functionality, but it doesn't ship with the firmware needed to implement BD-Live. You'll have to update the firmware when it becomes available—according to Sony, it will drop on September 28, 2008—and attach a 1GB flash memory to the USB port to support BD-Live. Interestingly, the player will continue to ship with Profile 1.1 even after the new firmware is available, and buyers will have to update to BD-Live if they wish.

Fortunately, this is relatively easy thanks to an Ethernet port that lets you connect the BD-S350 to your home network. This means you can download firmware upgrades and—once the BD-Live firmware is installed—access online resources made available by some discs.

The rear panel includes a USB port, but Sony does not provide a memory module. Since the player is a good two inches shallower than most Blu-ray players, and the USB port is recessed into the chassis, it shouldn't be a problem having a thumb drive sticking out the back. Sony recommends using its USM1GH mini flash drive, which is very tiny. It sells for about $13 on Amazon, so it's not expensive—all the more reason that Sony should have just tossed one in the S350's box.

Just to be clear, the addition of an external flash drive is a permanent installation—once installed for BD-Live, it shouldn't be removed. It may even be necessary to increase the storage capacity from time to time depending on what kind of future upgrades become available.

The BDP-S350 can pass both lossless audio formats, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, as native bitstreams to an A/V receiver or pre/pro. It is also capable of decoding Dolby TrueHD into multichannel PCM for an older AVR that doesn't decode the new lossless audio formats.

It can't do the same for DTS-HD MA, but it can decode DTS-HD HR (High Resolution). I don't know of any discs that include a DTS-HD HR soundtrack, but a Sony representative said the company wanted to provide as much value as possible by including this codec in the S350. The only way to hear a DTS-HD MA soundtrack in its full glory is to pass the bitstream to an AVR capable of decoding it.

The BDP-S350 supports HDMI CEC (Consumer Electronics Control), which permits two-way communication between multiple devices connected via HDMI. Sony uses the name Bravia Sync for this feature, limiting guaranteed compatibility to other Sony products such as TVs and AVRs. The idea is that one remote can control multiple devices by sending commands via HDMI.

The player supports a number of disc and data formats, including discs with JPEG images and AVCHD/H.264 video, commonly used with HD camcorders such as those from Sony.