Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sony BDP-S363 review

As part of the television deal I got a half-price Blu-ray player the BDP-S363. First off it doesn't come with any cables so an extra purchase may be necessary.

Hook-up to my shiny new television was easy, installation was also so easy I can barely even recall it - basically what connection, can you see the test page? So onto the critiques.

No eject button on the remote was the first thing I noticed as I stared hard at it willing one to appear. It does have two power buttons though - one larger for the player and one smaller for the TV, nicely it also has an input switch so you don't have to dig about for the other remote if it doesn't auto-switch; which it did anyway.

Like the television it can also hook up to the internet and again like the television it's a wired connection. It also allows external storage via USB so as to retain anything gleaned via the 'net. As I can't be arsed to deal with cables at the moment I can't comment on how this performs.

With no disc loaded it defaults to the now familiar XMB system, pop a disc onto the tray and hit the eject button and it'll auto-load. Screen goes black and stays black - load up seems longer than for any DVD player I've had/seen. Everything kicks in nicely and oo nice and sharp warning text. Channel skips are also a little slower than for a DVD player.

I'm watching the Watchmen heh. I pause when Rorschach reads the Comedian's newspaper clipping and it's legible enough to see that someone's written two paragraphs then copy/pasted for the full story. At this point I realise I have no Zoom capability.

I continue and start fast-forwarding through the opening sequence. The fast-forward behaves oddly. For a 24fps at double speed I'd expect it to play every even frame and skip every odd one resulting in 48 frames being played in one second; instead it jumps so you get the 24th frame at half a second then the 48th frame at one second. Makes it difficult to see where you're at. It does the same for the handy time skip whereby you can just skip 15sec or replay 10sec. Press it once and it'll jump to that frame then play; press it multiple times (to skip a default introduction say) and it acts like the fast forward so you've no idea where you are. Luckily not a feature I use a lot of so I can live with it.

Out comes Watchman and in goes Hancock on DVD. fast forward etc. work the same way so it's not the disc format. I now note, however, that the glow that gently lights up the middle of the player is white rather than blue; nice little touch.

Anyway Hancock looks fine and the television info is telling me it's treating it as 1080p but not 24fps which makes sense. I try and pull up the root menu using the Root Menu button on the remote and nothing happens. Seems that only works for Blu-ray, for DVDs it's the Pop-Up Menu, confusing.

[Update - Another problem I've noted is with the extras you find on the Blu-ray discs. Pick it from the menu and watch it, but other than skipping or fast-forwarding there's no way to get back to the menu. Pop-up does nothing and Top complains, same if you try to access them via the Options menu. You can press Stop, but that takes you out into the Home page and you have to restart the disc from scratch. It ain't good.]

I hit the Home button to pull up the XMB to fiddle with settings, and find that pressing Home again doesn't take me back to where I was in the movie. I have to activate the disc which takes me back to the full load procedure. Hmm 'll check that wasn't because I changed a setting, but even so that makes it difficult to adjust things on the fly to tweak a particular movie.

Out comes Hancock and in goes The Batman Animated Series. A good test of both an LCD and player is how well it can deal with large blocks of moving colour. It handles it fine.

Out comes The Batman and in goes Xena. At this point I realise that the 4:3 episode isn't being displayed correctly. My ratio change button gives me a Smart, a Wide, and a Zoom but not a 4:3 hmm. Back into the menu and I find a system setting regarding playing discs with aspect ratios different to the TV with two options - default "Original" or "Fixed Aspect Ratio". I pick the later restart the disc and find that Wide now displays the episode as intended. I wonder how many people are either having the picture cut or thinking that actors are putting on a bit of weight?

For a cheap (as deal) blu-ray player it's fine, no problem with quality. However if you can afford more or fast-forward around a bit I'd look at the later models which may have these features tweaked.

[Updated information. I headed back to the Sony shop to see if the later model the S560 had the same issues with fast-forwarding and it does.]