Connectivity is fairly standard on the Sony BDP-S350. The main connection is the HDMI output, which can handle HD video up to 1080p as well as multichannel high-resolution audio. There's also a component video output, which can output Blu-ray movies at 1080i and DVD at 480p. There are also two legacy standard-definition video outputs, S-Video and composite video, but you should stick with the high-definition connections to take advantage of Blu-ray.
For audio, the HDMI output is the best option for those with HDMI receivers. There are also both optical and coaxial digital audio outputs, although these can't handle the full resolution of Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. For analog audio, there is a stereo RCA-style output. The big omission is the lack of analog 5.1 outputs, which means that those with older receivers won't be able to take advantage of Dolby TrueHD decoded by the BDP-S350.
Rounding out the rest of the connectivity is a USB port and an Ethernet port. While you might think the USB port is used for looking at some JPEGs or listening to MP3s, actually its only purpose is to serve as external memory for advanced Blu-ray features--which is why the port is labeled "EXT." You'll need to connect a USB drive for storage to use the BD-Live features. Likewise, the Ethernet port can't be used to stream files from your computer; it's dedicated to accessing firmware updates and pulling Blu-ray-specific content off the Internet.
Blu-ray playback performance from all Blu-ray players is generally excellent, providing a far superior image to DVD when viewed on a large HDTV in darkroom environment. We have, however, seen some flaws on less-expensive Blu-ray players--particularly when the players are set to output 1080p signals at 60 frames per second--so we were interested to see how the BDP-S350 measured up.
We began our high-definition tests with Silicon Optix's HQV test suite on Blu-ray. During the Film Resolution Loss Test, the BDP-S350 looked good on both the test pattern and the slow pan across Raymond James Stadium, showing none of the moire or jaggies that we often see on cheaper players. Next were some video-based tests, which are considerably less important, as the number of video-based Blu-ray Discs is pretty small. We looked at the Video Resolution Loss Test, and the BDP-S350 was not able to correctly display this test pattern, as the most detailed resolution box had a strobelike effect. Next up were a pair of jaggies tests, and the BDP-S350 handled them with ease, clearly rendering both three pivoting lines and a rotating white line without excessive jaggies.
Switching from test patterns to program material, we popped in Ghost Rider on Blu-ray, and the BDP-S350 had no issues rendering the end of Chapter 6, as the grille of the RV remained perfectly detailed as the camera pulled away. We also looked at the beginning of Chapter 8 of Mission Impossible: III, and we saw no moire in the stairs in the background, which confirms what we saw in the test patterns--the BDP-S350 handles film material well. Next up we tried Tony Bennett: American Classic, and at the beginning of Chapter 7--which includes some video-based footage--we did see some minor jaggies on the clapperboard, but not quite as many as we saw on the BD-P1500.
It's important to stress that the differences between these players is slight, and that only the most perceptive videophiles will notice the difference. Overall we found the DMP-BD50 to have slightly less jaggies on video-based titles, but you'll notice them very rarely. Also note that if you plan on using these players in 1080p/24 mode, the differences essentially disappear, as we noticed virtually no differences between the players in 1080p at 24 frames per second mode.
We also tested how quickly the BDP-S350 powers on and loads discs, and it's a step above other players released this year--but with a major caveat. The caveat is that to take advantage of the speedier load times you need to set the player to Quick Start mode, which means the BDP-S350 uses power even when you turn it "off." In our tests, the BDP-S350 used 16 watts while playing a Blu-ray movie, 9.3 watts when off in Quick Start mode and 0.5 watt when off in normal mode. That being said, the BDP-S350 powers on in a very speedy six seconds in Quick Start mode. Once on, the BDP-S350 also loads discs about as quickly as other new Blu-ray players, with Mission Impossible: III loading in about 27 seconds, and the BD-Java heavy Pirates of the Caribbean II: Dead Man's Chest in 2 minutes and 6 seconds.
Standard DVD performance
The number of movies available on DVD still dwarfs the number of available Blu-ray movies, so DVD performance remains an important factor. We started off looking at test patterns from Silicon Optix's HQV test suite on DVD. The BDP-S350 handled the initial resolution test well, depicting all the detail that DVD is capable of--although we did notice some very slight image instability. The next two video-based jaggies tests were a mixed bag--it performed admirably on a test with a rotating white line, but it was just mediocre on a test with three shifting lines. On the other hand, we were impressed that it passed the difficult 2:3 pull-down test, as it kicked into film mode in less than a second, resulting in no moire in the grandstands as a racecar drove by. It also handled scrolling CNN ticker-style text competently, as well as a credits sequence.
The BDP-S350's performance on test patterns was pretty solid, so we expected similar results with actual program material and were not disappointed. We popped in Star Trek: Insurrection and the BDP-S350 did a solid job on the introduction, as the curved railings of the bridge and hulls of the boats were rendered smoothly. We switched over to Seabiscuit and took a long look at the opening sequence. While we did notice a few subtle jaggies, we were overall very impressed. The BDP-S350 handled the black-and-white photos better than most players we tested. In all, the BDP-S350 should satisfy all but those that need the absolute best DVD playback--and if you're one of those, you should check out the Oppo DV-983H.
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