Blu-ray for all...
The high definition format war is over for now (until the next super mega HD format comes along). This time, Sony won the format war, with Blu-ray triumphant. It's maturing as a format, and people are starting to get behind it now that they know which one to go for. The availability of so many cheap DVDs and DVD players is still keeping the Blu-ray market smaller than it could be, but it's not going to go away. Particularly if you see it up close and personal.
And thankfully it's not like the old days of DVD, where it could cost you a fortune to get your first DVD player. You can get entry level players such as this (and its successor the 360) for under £200, and even close to the £100 mark. I'm not saying that's an insignificant amount of money, just that it's damn good value compared to some of the home entertainment technology of the past. It's a quarter of the price of my initial (and still going strong) DVD player.
And it's a dinky little number too. You're probably aware that DVD players have been shrinking over the years, and it's nice to see that Blu-ray players can start out with a smaller form factor. This one is just 43cm wide, 22cm deep and just 6cm high. So if you're worried about big, bulky devices taking up space, no need to worry with this one. And it weighs just 2.9kg. The quoted power consumption figures are 0.3W in standby and 26W in operation.
As with most home entertainment equipment, it's easy to set up and use. Decide how you are going to connect it up (HDMI preferably for the best audio/visual experience, but you have other options available). Connect it up, and plug it in. It starts up and walks you through the various simple set up options. A couple of minutes of remote control key pressing and you're ready to go.
You can connect the player's Ethernet port up to your home network (if you have one) and download firmware updates if necessary. You'll also need this and a 1Gb USB stick for BD-Live functionality.
It's great. If you've not seen Blu-ray in action before and are wondering what all the fuss is about, then you'll soon find out.
The video outputs your Blu-ray content at 1080p, and can also upscale your old fashioned DVDs to this resolution. This software trickery tries its best to make the lower definition images look as good as possible on a high definition screen. It will never beat having the content natively at 1080p though. Try a few Blu-ray discs in it, and you will be impressed. Images look crisp, sharp, detailed, clear, realistic. It's not quite such a drastic jump like from VHS to DVD, but it's a significant leap forward in terms of image quality.
And it makes some nice noises too. Hook it up to a suitably equipped 7.1 channel receiver for the full HD audio experience, and prepare for a treat for your ears. Run a big action film and you'll get hefty booms, bangs and directional sounds. Run a more reflective drama piece and enjoy clear and crisp dialogue, or Oscar winning scores. And it plays CDs too. And it does a good job, much better than entry level DVD players used to do. There was much sniffing and tutting at the CD performance of early DVD equipment, but there's none of that required here. It sounds as good as any normal person's CD player would. It may not compete against some mega-audiophile CD player, but you would be keeping that anyway if you've spent silly money on it!
Staying with noise, the player itself uses a fan to keep itself cool, but this is a quiet little thing, and you're unlikely to ever notice it.
The time for waiting is over. The time for jumping on the Blu-ray bandwagon is upon us. To enjoy the full experience you'll need an HD TV and a 7.1 channel receiver, but it's time to start thinking about those things. With normal TV moving towards HD sound and pictures (both Sky and Virgin have HD offerings), you're investing for the future.
If you just watch films at home and are not too bothered by things like multi channel audio and the highest definition picture, you probably won't be tempted yet. But if you got into DVD to enjoy the improved picture and sound, then now's the time to take it to the next level. Picture and sound have improved again, and it's time to get yourself on the upgrade trail once more. You won't regret it.
Even if you just want to dip a toe in the water, this competitively priced entry level machine should do the job for you nicely. You can pick the remaining stock up for around £150, or get the newer BDP S360 for around £200 (essentially the same under the hood but with additional audio outputs if you have a non-7.1 channel decoder).
Get on the Blu-ray bus - at this price you can't go wrong!