CNET editors preview the Sony BDP-S1, the company's first stand-alone Blu-ray player for the U.S. market.
Upside: The Blu-ray format enjoys a few advantages over HD-DVD, but for the full rundown, we'll direct you to "CNET's quick guide: HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray." The Sony BDP-S1 and other Blu-ray players' biggest early advantage over HD-DVD players from Toshiba, the HD-XA1 and HD-XA1, is the ability to output 1080p resolution via the HDMI jack, besting the 1080i delivered by first-gen HD-DVD decks. In reality, this isn't a huge advantage because even on the few 1080p-resolution sets capable of accepting and displaying a 1080p input, you'll have a difficult time distinguishing between 1080i and 1080p sources.
Compared to other Blu-ray players announced so far, the BDP-S1 has the advantage of the Sony nameplate--it invented the format, after all. Sony will also produce the only "Blu-ray approved" HDMI receiver, the $800 STR-DG1000. We know the player will have HDMI and component-video outputs and that it will be able to convert standard DVDs into higher resolutions (including 1080p) via HDMI, an ability shared by some standard DVD players on the market as well as other Blu-ray players.
Downside: The most affordable first-gen Blu-ray players, the Sony BDP-S1 and the Samsung BD-P1000, are expected to sell for $1,000. While that's a big chunk of change for any player (no, they don't record), it's double the price of the entry-level Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD player. Sony is also missing out on the potentially lucrative Blu-ray launch window, as its October release lags behind the late-June release of the $1,000 Samsung BD-P1000. The Pioneer BDP-HD1 offers one feature the Sony does not: home networking courtesy of an Ethernet jack and some fancy software. The BDP-S1's release date is also precariously close to the PS3's November 17 launch is yet another reason to wait before you buy. The console promises to play Blu-ray discs in 1080p resolution and will come in $500 and $600 models.
Sony also has a less-than-stellar track record with format choices. It backed Betamax, an alternative to VHS that promised better picture quality but nonetheless couldn't find customers--sound familiar? The MiniDisc format, while beloved among bootleggers, never really caught on in the United States. Also, while UMDs--the PSP's proprietary movie discs--sold well at launch, poor pricing and a lack of consumer recordable discs have led to floundering sales.
Outlook: As we've stated for the premiere HD-DVD players, the best purchasing decision to make in the early days of this format war is to wait and see. Quite frankly, there's too much uncertainty of the outcome to recommend such a large investment in a player that could be obsolete in only a few years if either (or both) format goes down the tubes. Unless you're dead set on getting a player early on and money is no object, wait to see how the much cheaper PlayStation 3 stacks up before making your choice.