BDP-S300 Build Quality and Set-up
As a reviewer, I'm not immune to the excitement and anticipation that goes hand in hand with the release of new technology. Heck, since HD DVD and Blu-ray came out, I've been licking my lips just waiting to get my hands on a player for review. Now, I don't have any illusions that these new formats will be anything other than niche products in the end but that doesn’t mean I wouldn't mind being a part of that niche.
First Impressions and Build Quality
The Sony BDP-S300 is Sony's latest entry-level Blu-ray player. Priced at $499, it is just about as low a priced Blu-ray player as you're going to see, unless you're interested in purchasing the exceptionally loud PS3 (which, at time of writing, is the same price and comes bundled with movies). The unit appears to be completely black with the bottom 2/3rds of the face dedicated to the display. The glass on the display actually has a slightly bluish hue (apropos don't you think?) but it is unnoticeable in anything other than direct front light (an unlikely scenario in a home theater).
The S300 seems to be put together very well with a nice heft that you won't be used to if you've picked up a DVD player recently. The front of the unit has the normal compliment of controls including Play, Pause, Stop, and Skip Forward and Back. On the top left corner of the unit is the power button with the eject button on the top right corner. I can't tell you how much I like this placement. The top mounting of the buttons makes finding them in a dark room child's play and extremely convenient.
The back of the unit is like half a Noah's Arc with a single example of each of every output. HDMI is present (of course) as is Component, s-video, and composite for video. I'm not going to rant on how having a composite output just encourages people to use it and completely negate any possible benefits the high definition format offers - just know that a scowl came across my face when I saw the little yellow connector on the back. Audio is represented again by HDMI but also coaxial and optical digital outputs and a set of 5.1 analogue outputs for those that want to take advantage of the benefits of high definition audio but don't have an HDMI capable receiver. In addition, there are a set of stereo analogue outputs for those that still live in the dark ages of Dolby ProLogic or perhaps are clinging to their stereo receiver.
Player Set-Up & General Use
Setting up this player, for me, was a breeze. As much as we all love to hate HDMI, when it works, it's great. I plugged in the unit and switched the HDMI cable from my Denon DVD-3910 to the Sony and I was done. Probably the easiest setup I've ever had to do. When you first start up, the player will take you through a number of questions including your display type (4:3 or 16:9) and the number of speakers you have in your system. I'm going to assume that you can answer all those questions without my guidance. But for some the other settings this may not be so easy. You need to know what connections you have available and what are the capabilities of your receiver before you can know how to set it up. Let's run through it. First for audio (in order of "best" to "least best" method):
You have an HDMI capable receiver OR you are using the 5.1 analogue outputs.
HDMI is the way to go for high resolution audio but if you don't have it, you can use the 5.1 analogue outputs to get all the same audio you would from the HDMI connection - it just takes more cables. If you are using an HDMI connection you can set Audio (HDMI) to Auto to let your receiver decode the standard DTS and Dolby Digital tracks or PCM for the player to do it. With an analogue connection, go with PCM. With this connection you will be able to utilize the internal Dolby Digital Plus decoders in the Sony BDP-S300. The S300 does NOT have the ability to decode Dolby TrueHD or any of the high resolution DTS formats (there are a few) nor can it pass them to your receiver for decoding. This is more than unfortunate; it actually makes this player targeted towards people who don't have any intention of running a high-qaulty audio system. Our guess is that Sony simply hopes no one notices as they plunk down $500 for this player.
When using the digital audio outputs.
If you have a receiver with no analogue inputs, you can connect via coax or TOSLink. This will not only give you the normal DTS and Dolby Digital tracks, buy often the Blu-ray versions of movies will have increased fidelity on their encoded audio tracks. While it won't be as good as Dolby Digital Plus, it'll be better than what you've experienced before.
When using the stereo outputs.
If you have a Dolby ProLogic equipped receiver, make sure you set the DTS Downmix to Lt/Rt. This will allow your receiver to properly decode the signal for surround sound. For those using a stereo receiver, just set it to stereo.
For Video, you have a few less options. You basically want to connect your display to the unit with the connection that will give you the highest resolution. So if you have an HDMI connection, go with that. If not, use a component (red, green, blue cables) connection. If not, take the unit back and save up for a better display because you're wasting your money with an s-video or composite. If you decide that you want to change the resolution after your initial setup, hit the Video Format button until you get to the setting you'd like. The BDP-S300 will output 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p over HDMI. With component it will display 480i, 480p, 720p for Blu-ray discs but only up to 480p for standard DVDs. Don't worry, if you choose a non-supported format and your screen goes blank, you just need to hit the button until you get to a supported format.
Updating the Firmware
One of the first things I did when I got the Sony BDP-S300 was to update the firmware. Because this was a review unit, it has made the rounds to a number of people before it showed up on my doorstep. So, as you might expect, it was missing a number of the supplied cables and, more importantly, the instruction manual. When I visited the website, the first thing I noticed was that there was a new firmware release so I decided to check to see if it had the most recent. It didn't.
The update procedure isn't hard, but it isn't easy either. Basically it requires that you burn a DVD (or request one from Sony) with a file on it. Once you've created or acquired your disc, you only need to insert it into the player and begin the sweating process. Oh they warn you that a number of different messages will pop up on the display and not to worry about it but you know you will. I did and I don't even own the unit. I've heard too many stories about players being "bricked" during a firmware update not to worry. They said not to touch it and I didn't but I still had a panic moment when the DVD ejected with a message displayed other than the one the directions indicated. Eventually, the message changed to the correct one but it freaked me out for a while.
Worth buying? No, I would get the Sammy BD-P1200 despite its reputation for bugginess. At least it internally decodes Dolby TrueHD and provides bitstream audio support. Yes, you will see an increase in PQ even on a 42" 720p set unless you sit far away. (It will still have a better picture!)
What a piece of garbage for $500.00. I hope Sony loses their shirts on the blu-ray format. Maybe, just maybe this will teach them a lesson to play nice and come up with one unified format that everyone can afford and enjoy. I don't hate Sony, I just despise their defiance and ignorant ways of thinking things through, because its the buying public that gets burned, not Sony.
It doesn't matter if Sony loses their shirts on Blu-ray, there are more powerful companies like Panasonic and Samsung involved - Blu-ray will not lose to HD DVD.
There are also 17 companies with patents in Blu-ray Disc technology - it is not "Sony's format" as many ignorant people may have you believe.
CyberLink Corporation; Dell Inc.; Hewlett-Packard Company; Hitachi Ltd.; Koninklijke Philips Electronics N.V.; LG Electronics Inc.; Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. (Panasonic); Mitsubishi Electric Corporation; Pioneer Corporation; Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.; Sanyo Electric Co., Ltd.; Sharp Corporation; Sonic Solutions; Sony Corporation; TDK Corporation; Victor Company of Japan, Ltd.; and Warner Home Video Inc.
Sounds to me like you're describing the HD DVD format as most people were behind Blu-ray as the next optical media disc before Microsoft stepped in and gave Toshiba the extra boost they needed to go ahead with their format. Toshiba are the largest patent holders in DVD technolgy and it is their greed that forced them to go ahead with HD DVD, which keeps the income pouring in for them....or at least it would if the format sold discs!