Sony BDP-S350 Blu-ray Player

Price: $400 At A Glance: Affordable BD-Live performance • Great DVD playback performance • Lacks multichannel analog audio support

More Blu for Your Budget

The BDP-S350 is Sony’s follow-up to the popular BDP-S300. One of the most inexpensive standalone players on the market, the BDP-S350 includes some great new features that the BDP-S300 design didn’t have. Sony overhauled its form factor, with a case that’s nearly half the size of the company’s earlier players. The player also employs a sleek new interface that uses Sony’s popular Xross Media Bar. While player prices have not headed farther south yet, the bang-for-the-buck factor is going up, as players at the lower end of the market add more essential features. Sony’s $400 player is BD-Live ready (firmware update pending), Bonus View PiP capable, and includes bitstream support for the next-gen lossless audio formats from Dolby and DTS.

The BDP-S350 retains Sony’s knack for streamlined looks that are neither Spartan nor overly elegant. I’m sure this player would fit nicely with most A/V enthusiasts’ décor. The front panel has a minimalist approach, with a Power button on the left and an Eject button on the right, along with three small buttons for Play, Pause, and Stop. The disc tray is located in the center of the player and hides behind a small drop-down door.

A small display on the right side gives you the basic track and title information during playback. There’s also an indicator light for 24p playback. Right above the disc tray is a white light, which I found a bit intrusive in my bat-cave theater. Thankfully, Sony includes full dimmer control and lets you completely turn off the front panel lighting during playback. Quite a few designs lack this feature, and I’m glad to see Sony include it.

The back panel is pretty sparse. It lacks the wealth of connections you typically find on modest to high-end players. The player supports the standard video fare, including HDMI and component connections. But remember, high-definition signals are limited to the HDMI and component outputs. In addition to the HDMI output for high-resolution audio, the BDP-S350 includes TosLink and coaxial digital outputs. Sony limited the analog side to two-channel only. The back panel supports a LAN connection, which lets the player receive firmware updates via a home network.

Sony plans to implement a future update that will upgrade this player to BD-Live compatibility. The BDP-S350 does not have the necessary 1 gigabyte of onboard memory to meet the BD-Live spec. The player includes a USB flash media slot, and you’ll need to purchase flash storage separately to use this function down the line. (You can find flash drives for less than $10.)

The included remote is slightly reminiscent of the PlayStation 3 Bluetooth BD player remote in layout, and I liked the ergonomics overall. The remote will also control a TV, with simple controls such as Input, Station, and Volume. The buttons are on the small side, but once I got familiar with the layout, I didn’t find it difficult to navigate—even in the dark.

Setup and Features
The BDP-S350 is the first Sony standalone Blu-ray player that uses the Xross Media Bar for its onscreen menu system. Sony’s PlayStation Portable and PlayStation 3 game consoles use a similar design for their onscreen systems. I’ve enjoyed using the XMB with my PS3, so I was glad to see Sony bring it to its standalone player lineup. You’ll find simple icons for different media types, along with a Setup icon. However, unlike the PS3, the BDP-S350 does not support downloadable themes or fonts for the Xross Media Bar at this time. Hopefully this will change down the line, since it adds a nice custom touch to the home screen with the PS3.

While the Xross Media Bar itself is intuitive and simple to use, I didn’t like some of the lingo the Setup menus use. I wish manufacturers would settle on a common terminology for audio/video setup options. Even I, a seasoned tech geek, had to scratch my head a few times wondering what some of the settings meant. I expected them to be nearly identical to the PS3’s settings since the two players use the same setup listings, but I apparently expected too much.

Sony Electronics
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