PS3 aside, the Blu-ray players Sony sold up until now are worthy of only your garbage can. Now that HD DVD is dead like a doornail, the 800-lb. gorilla is getting serious. The $400 BDP-S350 will feature an Ethernet port, USB port for connecting external storage and "BonusView" picture-in-picture capability (from the leapfrogged profile 1.1). Even better, it will be "BD-Live ready," meaning an over-the-network software update will make the player compatible with net-friendly titles when they hit the market. Later on, the $500 BDP-S550 will arrive with nearly identical features. The differences:
While both support 1080/60p and 24p video and can decode Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus, the S550 can decode DTS-HD High Resolution Audio and Master Audio, and has 7.1-channel analog outputs (rather than, we presume, 5.1 on the S350). The S550 will also come with a 1GB "storage device"—what we're guessing is a flash-based Micro Vault—and will be BD-Live capable right out of the box.
The most important difference, besides that $100 and a little bit of girth, is that the S350 is slated for a summer release, while the S550 won't be here until fall. Screw that, we're not waiting.
We do, however, have some concerns. An inevitable software upgrade to the PS3 could make many of these features available for free, and even the analog-output issue may be able to be solved by an accessory, not that Sony Computer Entertainment would build it. Perhaps more frustrating, from the high-end home theater perspective, is that there is no replacement for the super deluxe but utterly impotent BDP-S2000es. Already ghettoized by Panasonic's far less expensive DMP-BD30, it will now be thrashed by its own supporting players.
Here's the press release:
SONY ADDS NEW BLU-RAY DISC PLAYERS WITH ADVANCED INTERACTIVITY
New Models Feature Ethernet Port for Interactive Functionality and Easy Firmware Updates
LAS VEGAS, Feb. 26, 2008 - Sony updated its Blu-ray Disc player line today with two new models that will be capable of accessing advanced interactive features such as BonusView and BD-Live.
The BDP-S350 and BDP-S550 models both support BonusView (Picture-in-Picture) featured on some of the new Blu-ray Disc theatrical releases. The BDP-S350 model is BD-Live ready featuring an Ethernet port for an easy firmware update and access to Internet-based interactive content features. The BSP-S550 is BonusView and BD-Live capable when it ships.
Both models also feature an external port for local storage, so users can add optional storage device. The BDP-S550 ships with a 1GB storage device.
"Building on the exceptional picture and sound quality of previous players, Sony's next-generation Blu-ray Disc models bring exciting interactive features to life and offer consumers a ground-breaking experience," said Chris Fawcett, vice president of marketing for Sony Electronics' Home Product Division. "These new devices bring home movie experience beyond the cinema and into a whole new realm of entertainment."
The players feature 1080/60p and 24p True Cinema output. They are compatible with most standard DVDs and feature 1080p upscaling through an HDMI connection to capable HDTV sets, improving the picture performance of existing DVD libraries.
The models offer 7.1 channel Dolby® TrueHD and Dolby® Digital Plus decoding and bit-stream output, as well as dts®-HD High Resolution Audio and Master Audio bit-stream output. The BDP-S550 adds dts-HD High Resolution Audio and dts-HD Master Audio decoding as well as 7.1 channel analog audio output.
The players support AVCHD discs encoded with x.v.Color™ (xvYCC) technology, an international standard for wide color space reproduction. The standard expands the current data range of video by about 1.8 times, allowing the players to output more natural and vivid colors similar to what the human eye can actually see. The players also feature compatibility with an array of video formats, including BD-R/RE (BDMV and BDAV modes), DVD+R/+RW, DVD-R/-RW, CD, CD-R/RW (CD-DA format), and JPEG on DVD//CD recordable media.
The new models feature a slim design with reduced depth and height compared to previous models matching Sony's new home-theater-in-a-box systems, the HT-SS2300 and HT-CT100 T-SS2300, also announced today. Optimized for Blu-ray Disc™, the new component systems feature three 1080p compatible HDMI™ inputs making them the perfect match for a Full high-definition home theater when connected to a new Sony BRAVIA® 1080p HDTV.
The new BDP-S350 ships this summer for about $400 and BDP-S550 will be available this fall for about $500. They will be offered at Sony Style stores, online at sonystyle.com, at military base exchanges, and at authorized retailers nationwide.