Sony BDP-S370 £180
27th Jun 2010 | 10:00
Stylish Blu-ray player with superb picture and top class inherent capability
The Sony BDP-S370 sports such delights as wired and wireless networking capability, a raft of internet video services including iPlayer in HD and what Sony calls a Monolithic design.
The latter scarcely applies to the L-shaped fascia and everyday rectangular box shape, but we do acknowledge that it's an appealing and distinctive look, and one that matches the latest range of stunning looking Bravia TVs.
Having access to the BBC's on-demand service is highly significant, given that it doesn't feature on any of Sony's network TVs (they aren't MHEG-ready). The majority of other iPlayer devices, such as Freeview and Freesat boxes, only deliver low-res, standard-definition material rather than Sony's cleaver-sharp HD version.
There's no iPod dock or connector, a now common feature, and the current trend among Blu-ray player manufacturers to exclude local storage applies here; you need a 1GB minimum USB flash memory stick for accessing BD-Live content via the web.
By purchasing an optional extra USB Wi-Fi dongle you can also connect to your home network. Alternatively, this can be done via a hard-wired Ethernet connection after a firmware update in mid-June.
Making its debut here is the Gracenote entertainment database browser that accesses and downloads track data and album artwork for CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays. It's not vital with the latter two, but is a real boon when tracks from a CD.
Sony has developed a rather nifty Bravia remote control for operating these that can be downloaded for free from iTunes.
All the regular Blu-ray bases such as 1080p/24fps output, DVD upscaling and Dolby True HD/DTS HD Master Audio decoding have been covered.
Ease of use
Hats off to Sony for making a player that's such a pleasure to use. The unique XcrossMediaBar makes menu navigation a breeze as you scroll along and then up or down the main menu options for video, music, photos and settings.
Loading a disc will naturally switch the screen to the disc's menu. It takes 20secs to turn the player on, but a fast option expedites booting up to within three seconds, albeit at the cost of greater power consumption (6W) in standby.
The tray ejects swiftly and disc loading is reasonable, depending on the Java content of the disc.
The Bravia Internet Video service is more extensive than similar offerings from rival brands, but are there enough quality channels? There are 19 portals that are hardly must-haves and can be slow to load.
The ubiquitous YouTube works well, but Eurosport's offering is light on genuine sport action. Anyone with a Lovefilm account can stream movies direct to the player, albeit in standard definition.
Sony says the UK's sub-standard broadband speeds aren't good enough for watching HD movies yet. Demand Five's on-demand service serves up plenty of the channel's recent broadcasts, while the BBC's iPlayer is the only service that has options for selecting high or low bandwidth to match your broadband capability as well as dedicated HD broadcasts.
Without a hard disk to store downloads, it can take a while to watch an HD broadcast which will stutter on a BT 2MB connection. Accessing photos and music on a USB flash drive is straightforward as the deck seems less picky than some about the minefield of folder structure and file compatibility.
In its principle role as a Blu-ray deck the BDP-S370 does a sterling job and is more than a good match for a decent full HD flatscreen.
Technologies such as HDMI Deep Colour, Precision Drive HD and 24p True Cinema combine to serve up some nicely detailed and totally engaging images. Fantastic Four's broad palette of colours and variable contrast levels are excellent with the bright red fire truck on the Brooklyn Bridge, for example, being rendered with as much accuracy as Dr Doom's pasty skin tones.
Standard-definition DVDs such as Arrested Development are impressively upscaled to similar levels of accuracy, albeit with less detail, some MPEG noise and jerky camera pans in 1080p/50Hz mode.
The star of the internet video service is clearly the BBC's iPlayer, with high-definition shows ranging from Eggheads to Ashes to Ashes looking every bit as good as their over-the-airwaves originals. Even low bandwidth standard-definition shows are pretty decent, providing a superior alternative to other rival iPlayer services.
The absence of 7.1-channel phono analogue outputs requires the use of a separate HDMI-equipped amp to enjoy DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD soundtracks, both of which can be decoded onboard or output as LPCM.
The built-in decoders do an impressive job in finely articulating Fantastic Four's dialogue from amongst the cacophony of explosions and crashes on the bridge scene.
The BDP-S370 laughs in the face of its predecessor, the £200 BDP-S360, with superior styling, more features and marginally better performance.
What with the best internet video service by far and a wallet-friendly price of £180, it would be wrong to accuse Sony of simply cashing in on the brand's reputation for superiority rather than actually delivering the goods.
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