Sony BDP-S350 Blu-ray Disc Player
At a Glance
The Sony BDP-S350 is an exceptionally good Blu-ray player that packs in the most important features and delivers pleasing images.
Any way you look at it, the $300 (as of 2/18/09) Sony BDP-S350 is an excellent Blu-ray player. It's well designed and easy to use. It supports high-end Blu-ray features such as BD-Live. And it produces good-looking images.
The judges in our PC World Test Center evaluation graded the BDP-S350 with a mixture of Good and Very Good scores, with the Very Goods seeing a slight edge.
Of all the judges, I was the most pleased with this player. When it upconverted DVDs to 1080p, I thought it provided better color than the Sony PlayStation 3 did. I wasn't quite so impressed with how it handled colors from Blu-ray discs, feeling they were duller compared with what I saw from the PS3 in The Searchers and Mission: Impossible III, and just a tad off in Cars. I thought the BDP-S350 gave better gray and black detail in Good Night and Good Luck, where there was no color at all.
But another judge disagreed, saying that Good Night lost some of the detail in the blacks, and that the reds and greens were a bit off in Cars. Even so, I have to say that the images were pleasing overall; if you don't have another player side by side with it as we had, you're unlikely to notice these things.
So far this is the cheapest player we've seen with BD-Live, which lets you access supplemental content on some discs via the Internet. Like all BD-Live players, the BDP-S350 has USB and ethernet ports. But in this case the ports are limited to their BD-Live capabilities (and firmware updating via ethernet)--no Netflix or multimedia capabilities, here. The USB port is mounted on the back, a bit of an inconvenience considering you have to bring your own USB drive to use the BD-Live functions. Another boon: The BDP-S350 can decode Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus sound tracks. That means you can enjoy the benefits of those sound tracks, even if your amplifier doesn't support the formats.
I have never liked the XrossMediaBar (XMB) menu on current Sony TVs and PlayStations; I find it pretty, but difficult to work with due to the limited amount of options it puts on the screen at one time. But I like the one here, probably because Blu-ray players have inherently simpler menus than TVs or game consoles do. The menu also includes useful explanations as to what the features are for. The remote control is well designed, and it felt comfortable in my hand, although it is neither programmable nor backlit.
Sony's original Blu-ray player, the BDP-S1, was poky at loading and navigating discs. The BDP-S350, now a third-generation player for Sony, is a far cry from that model. The deck is reasonably responsive to commands from the remote; in my tests, it loaded a Blu-ray disc in a respectable 63 seconds. I noted a slight lag when pausing, and a longer one when skipping chapters.
You can find cheaper Blu-ray players on the market, but the Sony BDP-S350 is a strong bet. This model delivers a solid all-around package, and it does so at a price that won't break your wallet.