Sony BDP-S360 Blu-ray Player

Price: $300 At A Glance: Lacks compelling next-generation features • Xross Media Bar offers intuitive setup • Improved video processing • Full interactivity and audio decoding

Sony continues to do its best to deliver great entry-level products for the masses. Most of the market is now approaching this same price point and including more features, such as on-demand video streaming from online sources like Netflix. This makes the competition stiff for the rather bare-bones Sony. However, that doesn’t mean that Sony doesn’t deliver a capable Blu-ray player for the dollar.

The BDP-S360 ($300) is Sony’s newest entry-level offering, and it supports Blu-ray’s full interactive capabilities. This includes BD-Live via its Ethernet connection and Bonus View picture-in-picture. This year, Sony will also release the BDP-S560 ($350), which builds on this platform by adding wireless Internet connectivity and a front-panel USB port.

The BDP-S360 is a very stylish player with a regal-looking drop-down front panel that is reminiscent of Sony’s early high-end players. The tray hides behind the drop-down panel, and it includes a minimum number of buttons, with only Eject, Play, and Stop on the player itself.

The back panel features only a stereo analog audio output. As with the Panasonic, you need HDMI in your surround processor or AVR to take advantage of the player’s output capabilities. This seems to be the norm with a lot of players on the market, and I wouldn’t be surprised if multichannel analog outputs completely disappear in the future.

The HDMI output is version 1.3a, and the setup menu lets you select the output color space. This can be a big plus in terms of tweakability. It also lets you set the bit depth for upsampled Deep Color. The BDP-S360 supports up to 12 bits per channel for a total of 36 bits. It includes standard analog video connections, along with TosLink and digital coaxial options.

Sony includes a USB port on the back panel to meet the memory requirements for BD-Live. Unfortunately, Sony doesn’t include the memory, so you’ll need to purchase a 1-GB USB stick if you want to try out BD-Live. Again, we would prefer that manufacturers either meet the 1-GB spec with internal storage or at least include the external storage to minimize confusion.

Sony includes its popular Xross Media Bar interface for setup and navigation. This is the same system that the PlayStation 3 uses, but it is a bit limited in comparison. The PS3 has a customizable user interface that provides cover artwork when you load a movie and customized backdrops for your menus. It would be nice to see Sony add this level of detail to its standalone players.

The setup menus are very streamlined, and Sony has eliminated some of the gray areas from its previous player setup menus. You even get a quick setup when you initially start up the player. All of the major settings are broken up into segments, which allows for individual video, audio, and player tweaking. Firmware updates are also cut and dried. Assuming the player is connected to the Internet, Sony’s auto update feature notifies you when a firmware update is available. This takes out the guesswork, and it’s a very nice touch that I hope we see from other manufacturers.

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