Sony BDP-S300 Blu-ray Player Page 2
A future firmware upgrade to the BDP-S300 for Dolby TrueHD playback is always possible—Sony recently provided such an upgrade for its BDP-S1 player. But until you hear an official announcement to that effect for the BDP-S300, don't assume that such an upgrade will be offered.
Set up of the player is conventional and will be familiar to anyone familiar with any modern disc player. There's an Easy Setup menu available the first time you turn the BDP-S300 on, but you can go into the System Menu at any time to check or change your settings. That menu can be a little slow to come up on screen when you request it. Be patient.
The player offers picture adjustments, including fixed settings for a Brighter or Theater Room, three memories for personal settings (the controls are White Adjust, Black Adjust, Hue, and Color Level), and a Standard (default) position. As I noted in my review of the Panasonic Blu-ray player, I find such controls largely redundant when the player is used with a good video display with a flexible set of its own adjustments. On the BDP-S300, I used Standard for all of my viewing.
In addition to its primary function as a Blu-ray player, and its ability to play back CDs, the Sony also plays DVDs, and can upconvert them as well. Using the HDMI output, it can upconvert a 480i DVD to as high as 1080p/60 (it will not upconvert film-based, standard definition DVDs to 1080p/24).
From the component output, however, with a copy-guarded DVD (which means, essentially, all the DVDs you're likely to watch) it woulds only output basic 480i in component when I selected an output resolution of 720p, 1080i, or 1080p. The manual says it will upconvert to 480p if you select 720p or 1080i on such copy-protected discs, but I could get 480p from component only if I selected a resolution of 480p.
In order to play back letterboxed, non-anamorphic, DVDs (which are now fairly rare, but still exist) so that I could zoom them to fill up the entire width of the screen using my JVC DLA-RS1projector, I had to set the 4:3 playback mode in Video Setup menu to Full. If I set it to Normal (the default setting), a letterbox would be restricted to a smaller image in the center of the screen with black bars on all sides. That is, the letterbox would appear within a 4:3 area at the center of the screen. With 16:9 enhanced DVDs, Blu-ray Discs, or 4:3 material, the setup of the 4:3 playback mode made no difference.
If you use the 5.1-channel analog audio outputs, your Speaker setup options are limited. You can set the center channel and L/R surrounds to either Yes or No, and the front speakers to Large or Small. There are no adjustments for bass management, no selection for a subwoofer or its crossover frequency. I found that the subwoofer, if connected, was in the circuit whether I selected Large or Small for the left and right speakers. There are no calibration test tones, and no level controls or delay adjustments for the individual channels. This omission is significant because not all receivers or pre-pros offer both of these adjustments for their multichannel analog inputs. If yours does not, the usefulness of the BDP-S300's analog outputs will be compromised—unless you are lucky enough to have one of those rare systems in which the five main channels are inherently balanced (at least in most systems you can adjust the subwoofer's output by using its own level control).
It's All (Not) in the Game
Earlier Blu-ray players, apart from the PlayStation3, were crippled in their ability to play some of the extra features on Blu-ray Discs. Unfortunately, this remains an issue with the BDP-S300. I tried to call up one of several games and features on each of three discs: Chicken Little, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.
On Chicken Little the "Alien Invasion" game failed to load after a wait of over two minutes. I could have continued waiting, but do you think the child for whom this game is intended will have the patience to wait much longer? Worse, when I tried to back out of the loading process and return to the main menu, the player jammed completely. I had to unplug it and plug it in again to get the disc to load once more—from the beginning.
On the Black Pearl BD, I selected "Scoundrels of the Sea," an extra feature that involves overlays popping up as the movie runs, providing additional interesting information. Engaging this feature not only added further significant delays to the sluggish loading of this disc (at over two and a half minutes, more than twice as slow as the average Blu-ray title I played on the BDP-S300), but when I tried to return to the main menu for a straightforward playback of the movie I had to eject the disc and start over—with another long wait for the loading process to be repeated.
On Dead Man's Chest, I selected the game "Liar's Dice." I got a usable picture, but the game did not run properly. After I made my first move, all it showed thereafter was a loop of the various characters' reaction shots. It neither requested nor accepted further inputs from me. In other words, the interaction required to make this a playable "game" was missing. Entering and leaving the game also continued to be exasperatingly slow.
At first I thought that the BDP-S300 loaded Blu-ray Discs a little faster than the earlier Blu-ray players I've checked. But this appeared to vary with the disc, and on average it wasn't all that much different. It's certainly not speed-competitive with the only Olympic sprinter in the group, the PlayStation3.
But once loaded and running, the BDP-S300 performed like a gold medalist. All of my serious viewing was done with an HDMI connection to the projector. I used the HDMI switching in the Denon receiver for the most part; a comparison with a direct connection to the display showed the switching to be transparent.
On my 78-inch (wide) screen, the best Blu-ray Discs looked sensational at either 1080p/60 or 1080p/24. And for those of you using 720p displays, or displays that will not accept 1080p inputs, the player also performed beautifully when set for either a 720p or 1080i output.
The new Disney release of the first two Pirates of the Caribbean films are currently the gold standard for Blu-ray picture quality. The Curse of the Black Pearl, in particular, looked nearly as good on the Sony player as I recall from seeing it projected digitally a few years ago at perhaps the premier commercial DLP installation in the country (the Entertainment Technology Center, then located in Hollywood, CA—which does research on digital projection and is not open to the public). The home presentation on Blu-ray through the BDP-S300 isn't as immersive as it was on that big screen, and might fall short in one or two other areas. But it was remarkably close, and looked far better than the second two films in the series as seen in other, less state-of-the-art digital projection theaters.
The black levels were pristine on The Curse of the Black Pearl, the colors were rich and true, and the detail was often startling. Of course, a lot of credit must go to the high-definition video transfer and the projector. But neither of those would matter if the player couldn't hold up its end, and the BDP-S300 certainly did, and more. In fact, I couldn't help but notice that the detail was good enough to show that some of the costumes were, obviously, costumes, and not genuine period clothing. The stitching on the British uniforms, for example, looked too perfect for the handwork of the era—it clearly had been produced on modern sewing machines. You'd never notice this on a standard definition DVD and certainly not on most theatrical film presentations. But never once during the entire movie did the detail appear overdone, etched, edge enhanced, or artificial.
Other top drawer Blu-ray Discs I watched on the Sony player (if not quite in the league of Pirates) were Behind Enemy Lines, The Haunted Mansion, Kingdom of Heaven, Space Cowboys, Seven Years in Tibet, and Invincible. I liked the look of Seven Years in Tibet much better than Joel Brinkley did in his review, but the systems we used were completely different. Perhaps this transfer only comes into its own on a bigger screen. The colorful details in the Tibetan costumes and art popped off the screen. This was always a good looking DVD—one of the best of the early DVD releases, in fact—but it moved into another league on Blu-ray, played on the Sony BDP-S300.
Space Cowboys is an interesting case. The first half of this film looks like a relatively average HD transfer—not bad but nothing to e-mail home about. But the scenes in space, beginning with the shuttle launch scene, moved it into the reference class on the Sony player.
Not all BDs looked this great, of course. It's still a fact of life that there are great discs like Pirates, good but unexceptional discs like Music and Lyrics (though I recommend this disc to music fans; a scene in which a music mix is laid down track over track on a Mac computer is fun), and poor transfers like some of the earliest BD releases. But the BDP-S300 definitely proved that it has what it takes for a great high-definition presentation.