First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.
The Sony BDP-S350 is an entry-level Blu-ray player with plenty of impressive features.
- Great performance for the asking price, attractive & compact design, comparatively fast load times, user-friendly interface
- Poorly designed USB port, analog outputs limited to 2-channel
If you’d prefer not to spend a fortune on a Blu-ray player, but still want the quality-assurance that comes from the Sony brand, then the BDP-S350 is a top-quality choice.
Price$ 479.00 (AUD)
Sony's BDP-S350 is an entry-level Blu-ray player that replaces the BDP-S300 Blu-ray player in the company’s high-def line-up. Alongside the requisite 1080p video playback, the Sony BDP-S350 comes with a solid array of features, including BD-Live functionality, 7.1-channel Dolby TrueHD support, a 24p True Cinema picture mode and DVD upscaling.
The Sony BDP-S350 Blu-ray player is smaller, faster and more handsomely equipped than its predecessor; what’s more, its price is around half the BDP-S300’s original RRP.
Considering its budget leanings, the Sony BDP-S350 Blu-ray player is a good looking piece of kit. With dimensions of 430x230x60mm, it is significantly smaller than the BDP-S300, which measured a comparatively monolithic 430x375x79mm. The metallic blue faceplate may lack the uniformity of the rest of your home entertainment setup (we’re guessing the rest of your gear is black), but this merely gives the device a suitably centrepiece-like appearance.
A blue LCD display and opaque flip-down panel add to the sense of class. Onboard buttons are kept to just the basics — play, pause and stop. While we appreciate the minimalist design, we would have liked to see a pair of directional buttons squeezed in somewhere. As it stands, if you misplace the remote or it runs out of batteries, you won’t be able to access any menus.
The Sony BDP-S350’s remote control is a definite improvement over the BDP-S300's, although it still isn’t backlit. Naturally, anyone who splurges on a high-definition home entertainment system is going to want to want to watch their movies with the lights off, so prepare for plenty of groping in the dark [Ooh er! – Ed.].
The BDP-S300 supports BD-Live, which allows you to access bonus content when you connect the player to the Internet. This is something that some entry-level Blu-ray players lack (such as the Sharp AQUOS BDHP21X and Kogan Blu-ray Player Full HD 1080P). While its usefulness remains a bit sketchy at present, it’s obviously a good function to have.
There is no onboard memory, but a rear-mounted USB port is included for firmware updates and BD-Live downloads. Other connections on the BDP-S350 include an Ethernet port, S-Video out, component out, stereo RCA out, optical audio out and coaxial audio out. One caveat is the recessed USB port design — the narrow aperture is ill-suited to bulkier thumb drives, which simply won’t fit. On top of that, its rear placement is frustratingly difficult to access, especially if it's inside a snug entertainment unit.
We tested the BDP-S350 Blu-ray player with a 55in Sony Bravia KDL55XBR45 LCD TV . Needless to say, the results were up there with the best Blu-ray players in its price range. Only Samsung’s BD-P1500 rivalled it in the imaging stakes. We noticed none of the over-sharpening issues that so often mar cheap Blu-ray players, with the climactic bombing scene in Pear Harbour striking a good balance between smooth edging and razor-sharp detail (didn’t stop the film from being crap though).
In addition to playing Blu-ray discs, the Sony BDP-S350 offers DVD upscaling. This is something that many critics tend to overlook in their Blu-ray reviews, with a single sentence devoted to the subject. However, unless you intend to replace your entire DVD collection (which is doubtlessly extensive) it may be one of the most important considerations. Thankfully, the Sony BDP-S350 Blu-ray player does a great job in this regard, with our standard-def playback tests returning very strong results. When we ran the lobby shoot-out scene from The Matrix, we were very impressed by the level of detail on display. The tiny perforated holes and stiches on Keanu Reeves’ boots were clearly visible as they stomped into shot.
As mentioned, the Sony BDP-S350 supports 7.1-channel surround sound, though analog output is limited to just 2 channels. If you haven’t upgraded to an HDMI sound system yet, the Sony BDP-S300 Blu-ray player also comes with coaxial and optical digital outputs. All of the major audio codecs are supported, including Dolby Digital TrueHD, DTS, DTS-HD and Dolby Digital Plus. By contrast, the Sony BDP-S300 lacked the ability to decode all of the afore-mentioned formats.
One of the criticisms we threw at the Sony BDP-S300 was its lethargic load times. This is something that Sony has successfully addressed with the BDP-S350. We managed to load up a Blu-ray disc in about 19 seconds, while skipping chapters took around two seconds. These are very reasonably results for a budget Blu-ray player and should go a long way towards making life easier.
All up, the Sony BDP-S350 Blu-ray player is a solid entry-level option that improves on the BDP-S300 in almost every area. If you’re in the market for an affordable Blu-ray player that doesn’t skimp on style or features, accept no substitutes.
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