Sony BDP-S300, Samsung BD-P1200, and Panasonic DMP-BD10A Blu-ray Players
Hot on the heels of the first, and almost universally lame, generation of Blu-ray players, here's generation II. In the case of two of these players, the big news is a substantial reduction in price. Both are less than half of their predecessors. In the case of the other, the news is its fancy HQV processing, the same that's found in the excellent Toshiba HD-XA2. I have to admit, I get a certain amount of perverse amusement mentioning HD DVD in a Blu-ray review (and vice-versa).
Since last November, many have questioned the logic of Sony offering a $1,000 Blu-ray player when their own PlayStation 3 was $500 and, for most people, did everything they needed and more. Essentially, doubling the price got you 5.1 analog audio outputs. For that kind of money, you could get a new receiver with HDMI inputs.
"Old Sony Guts"
New Sony Guts
Now we have Sony's BDP-S300, essentially an identical unit that does everything the $1,000 BDP-S1 does for $500. In fact, it does one better by offering Dolby Digital Plus decoding. For those salesmen who can sell the hair off a dog, Sony is still selling the BDP-S1 at the bargain-basement price of $800.
Aesthetically, the BDP-S300 looks pretty much just like the BDP-S1's younger brother. It's not quite as beefy looking, but it's still attractive. The remote isn't backlit; nonetheless, it has a pretty blue rocker dial in the middle. The play button has a little nubbin on it, so at least you can find that button in the dark. It takes more than a minute and twenty seconds to go from off to when you see the picture, the longest of the three here. The menus are nice to look at, and they're easy to navigate. The controls are rather sluggish, although they're not as bad as the first generation of HD DVD players.
While it's not the main reason you'd want to buy a next-gen disc player, most people would love to only have one high-resolution disc player in their racks. As such, how well these new players upconvert is important. The BDP-S300 upconverts regular DVDs reasonably well. It's about the same as the Panasonic and not quite as detailed as the Samsung. On all but the biggest of displays, you're not going to see the difference. It picks up the 3:2 with Gladiator but not with the Silicon Optix test DVD. This is fairly common and not a big deal.
The Blu-ray version of the Silicon Optix HQV HD Benchmark disc reveals that the BDP-S300 doesn't deinterlace 1080i correctly, nor does it pick up 3:2 with 1080i signals. It also doesn't do a great job with video processing from DVDs. This also isn't a huge deal, as nearly all Blu-ray titles are film based and 1080p already.
Playing actual material, the BDP-S300 looks fine. The stairway shot in chapter 8 of Mission: Impossible: III, which can moiré if processed incorrectly, looked better than some, but not as good as the Samsung. There was a bit of noise in the steps but no moiré.
All in all, it's not a bad player for the money. If you don't have HDMI on your receiver, go for it. If you do, the PS3 does all this and more for the same money.
•Does everything the BDP-S1 does, for a lot less
•1080p/24, for those who want it