So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
- Excellent image quality with true high-definition 1080p Blu-ray playback, great DVD upscaling, beautiful design, quick and easy to use.
- Some features will require new displays to function, occasional bug with menus.
This is the product to watch for Blu-ray enthusiasts. It's not cheap, but the exceptional quality of its features and functionality easily justify its price.
Price$ 1,399.00 (AUD)
Sony's decision to wait before releasing a dedicated Blu-ray player in Australia may have surprised some observers. After all, they developed the technology. However, their release of the BDP-S1E should put any fears to rest; it's one of the best players we've seen so far. Supporting full 1080p high definition, 24p 'True Cinema', and DVD upscaling to 1080p, all through an HDMI 1.3 connection, the BDP-S1E is a device designed solely to bring your entire living room into high definition.
The player handles Blu-ray playback exceptionally. The entire process is as simple as watching a DVD, without the heavy lag in loading times that we've seen in other players. We shouldn't need to say it by now, but image quality is exceptional; Blu-ray and HD-DVD both deliver absolutely stunning pictures. The player also supports 24p True Cinema, the same format used in cinemas. This means that frames don't need to be added or removed from the original footage, which makes it an overall smoother viewing experience. Unfortunately, you'll need a display that supports this to enjoy it, which will probably mean having to buy a new television.
The BDP-S1E is more than just a Blu-ray player, however, as it also converts DVDs to 720p, 1080i or 1080p depending on what your display is able to handle. While it's not perfect high definition, the quality improvement is nevertheless fantastic, with the slightest fuzziness around sharp edges being the only flaw we noticed during testing. A difficult technology to master at the best of times, implementing it so well as a secondary feature on a dedicated high-definition player is an impressive accomplishment.
In addition to the great performance delivered in Blu-ray and DVD playback, the BDP-S1E manages to look fantastic. With a rigid case design, including a solid aluminium top panel and a metallic blue glass front panel, the player looks exquisite. Separate video and audio boards and identical components used in multi-channel audio processors means that there's almost no signal degradation or interference. AV enthusiasts will be delighted to find such attention to detail in a relatively early player. Connections include HDMI, optical audio and 5.1 analogue audio out, as well as the standard array of composite, component, coaxial and S-Video.
The on-screen interface is just as impressive. Even the menus themselves look fantastic, and are hands down the simplest and easiest to navigate that we've seen. The remote makes operation a breeze, and it took us all of about thirty seconds to set the player up and begin our testing. We were also surprised to see customisable white, black, and colour levels on the player itself, something we haven't seen yet. The only complaint that we had was an occasional bug that left part of the menu system on screen after we exited it. This was easily remedied by opening the menu system again and closing it, but it nevertheless may irk some users.
Audio performance is something that we usually don't mention for video-driven products, but the amount of effort that Sony has put into audio on the BDP-S1E is worth noting. The combination of its excellent design and functional menu system means that the player is actually capable of delivering highly impressive audio quality, and although generally this will be affected more by the speakers and other audio components used, at the very least the BDP-S1E will ensure that they receive high fidelity, undistorted signals. While most true enthusiasts will nevertheless wish to use their own receiver/amplifier, it's a big bonus for those who don't want to invest heavily in the extra equipment, and just get the most out of their current speakers.
Feature-wise, the BDP-S1E packs a punch. Support for all the major surround sound audio formats is provided, with the exception of DTS-HD, although we're yet to see a player that supports this format. Dolby TrueHD, used on most high definition discs, is supported by the Sony player. Both 5.1 and 7.1 speaker systems are supported as well. Also included is a feature dubbed 'BRAVIA Theatre Sync', which links your home entertainment setup through HDMI cables (assuming that the components also support the feature), allowing you to operate them with one remote.
The BDP-S1E is a player that's very hard to fault. The need to upgrade the rest of your home entertainment setup in order to enjoy some of its features is the biggest drawback, and of course, at the end of the day it's still not cheaper than the PlayStation 3 Nevertheless, for AV enthusiasts the extra money is a worthwhile investment. With its excellent combination of design and functionality, the BDP-S1E has set the bar very high for future Blu-ray players.
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