Sony BDP-S300 Blu-ray Player Page 3
I had no issue with the player's sound on Blu-ray Discs, either. I used an HDMI connection exclusively for my tests, which delivered the full benefits of uncompressed multichannel PCM soundtracks on those discs that have them (including many of the above titles). I know that some critics have reservations about audio carried over HDMI, but on soundtracks, at least, HDMI worked just fine. And while a good Dolby Digital soundtrack can still sound impressive, these uncompressed tracks do deliver an extra helping of the qualities that audiophiles crave. The same might be true of the new lossless compression formats like Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio—we'll know more when we finally get more of them on Blu-ray and are able to play them back on more players.
There's more to a Blu-ray player than its ability to play back Blu-ray Discs—though that is presumably the main reason you'll buy one. How well does the Sony play back standard definition DVDs? And is it as good upconverting player?
Very good, I'd say. Of course it can't give you true high-def from a standard DVD (though there are still people who believe that you can upconvert DVD to high-definition). But when I tried out some of my favorite standard DVDs using a 1080p/60 resolution from the Sony's HDMI output I saw no obvious shortcomings.
But just to be sure, I dug deeper. First up in my more detailed test was checking the ability of the player to cleanly de-interlace and scale the 480i on the disc to 1080p, 1080i, or 720p. For reasons noted earlier, these tests were done exclusively over HDMI.
I started out with 1080p upconversion, in which all of the deinterlacing and scaling is done in the player. Following that, I tested the player at both 720p and 1080i out (forcing the projector to perform some of the conversion to its native 1080p resolution). In all cases the results were the same.
The player did not lock onto the unflagged 3:2 film pulldown test on the HQV Benchmark test DVD, and scored good on the jaggies tests and fair on 2:2 (video material) pulldown. But it performed nearly flawlessly on a real-program torture test: the Coliseum "flyover" scene in chapter 12 of Gladiator. The overall result was respectable, but not as good as the scaling and deinterlacing in Sony's own VPL-AW15 projector.
I also closely compared the upconverted image on the Sony with the one from my current reference DVD-only machine, the Pioneer Elite DV-79AVi universal player. Here I used 1080i from both machines (the Pioneer's maximum capability). It took only a few minutes to determine that the Sony looked and sounded every bit as good as the Pioneer. In fact, it actually looked a bit punchier, but the differences were within the range of fine-tuning the video adjustments on the projector. The Pioneer is not only twice as expensive as the Sony, but will not, of course, play Blu-ray Discs.
I listened to the Sony both through its coaxial digital output and the analog output. I also compared it to the CD performance of the Pioneer Elite DV-79AVi.
The Sony performed very well as a CD player. While I doubt if anyone will buy it primarily for its CD performance, it came close to the performance of the Pioneer when I compared them both using a digital connection to the Denon receiver. I marginally preferred the Pioneer. It was a little sweeter sounding and more full-bodied. But the difference was not huge, and in the Sony's favor it played, without skipping, a damaged track on a favorite CD-R that gave the Pioneer trouble.
Auditioned from its analog output, the Sony still performed well, but not quite up to the level of its digital output into the Denon. For this analog test I used a two-channel connection from the player's multichannel analog output to the left and right front channels of the receiver's multichannel analog input. This avoided any additional digital processing in the receiver.
Whether the digital output of the Sony will sound better than the analog out will depend largely on the AV receiver or pre-pro you are using. But theBDP-S300's sound on CDs is solid, if unspectacular.
But there is one consideration that might make the Sony less than an ideal CD player for some of you. It is very slow to load a CD. Not as slow as with a Blu-ray Disc, but in some cases nearly so. As with other types of discs, the time varied with the specific disc, from a high of 38 seconds on a favorite CD-R to 30 seconds on an ordinary CD. (As a comparison, the Pioneer Elite took 12 and 15 seconds, respectively, to load the same discs.)
And a Glitch or Two
The Sony—or at least the review sample—froze up on a few occasions when given a command (though never randomly while a movie was playing). Clearing the freeze usually involved ejecting the disc and reloading it. While my notes are sketchy—it didn't happen often or predictably enough to analyze in detail—it happened on a few manual chapter skips and at least once while I was rapidly cycling back and forth between selections on a main menu.
In a trait it shares with my sample of the Pioneer Elite BDP-HD1, the Sony also sometimes performs erratically if you push the chapter skip button a few times in succession, as you might when you want to change chapters without having to call up the scene selection menu. Sometimes the player landed on the chapter I was aiming for; sometimes I had to make a correction or two. The faster your chapter-skip finger, the more likely you are to see this.
Judged purely as a DVD/CD/Blu-ray player, the Sony is a sure winner. It is also a good upconverting player (if you use its HDMI output) and a respectable, if slow-to-load, CD player.
While the occasional freeze-ups were only a minor nuisance, I'm still a bit concerned about them. The glitches may simply be due to a sample fault; we will check on getting another sample for a possible follow-up.
Despite this, however, the BDP-S300 has a lot to recommend it. If you want a relatively affordable standalone Blu-ray player, it's currently the only game in town. And fortunately, it's an outstanding one.
Superb playback of Blu-ray Discs
Good upconversion of standard definition DVDs from the HDMI output
Sluggish disc loading, though competitive with most current Blu-ray players
Will not decode Dolby TrueHD
Will not properly play the advanced extra features and games on some discs