Blu-ray may have started out as a mess, with confusing "profiles" and painfully slow load times, but beginning this year standalone players have finally gotten their acts together. Sony's entry-level BDP-S360 is typical of the new breed of Blu-ray players. It has the basics covered, with Profile 2.0 support and onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio Essential. Beyond the basics, however, the BDP-S360 doesn't offer much. Unlike its competitors, the BDP-S360 can't deliver any streaming Internet content, such as Netflix, Amazon Video On Demand, YouTube, or Pandora. And while we do like the polish that went into the BDP-S360's XMB-inspired menu system, we were disappointed to see some simple design missteps like the recessed USB port and the lack of an eject button on the remote. The Sony BDP-S360 does have a stylish exterior design and it offers reliable Blu-ray playback, but we have a hard time finding a reason to recommend it over the other options.
The BDP-S360's design strikes a nice balance between the glitzy (some would say tacky) gloss of Samsung's players and the more conservative approach of Panasonic's players. The front panel is dark and translucent, giving it a glasslike look. When opening the disc tray, the entire front panel actually flips down, similar to the Samsung BD-P1600's design, but we found Sony's implementation less clunky. We also appreciated the BDP-S360's small footprint, a slim 16.9 inches wide by 2.2 inches high and 8.1 inches deep.
We usually don't have much to say about the design of a Blu-ray player's back panel, but the BDP-S360's unusual USB port is worth pointing out. The port is recessed into the unit, surrounded by black plastic, and the small opening won't accommodate some of the fatter USB thumbdrives you might have lying around.
The included remote has a great layout and simple design, but there's one fatal flaw: it lacks an open/close button for the disc tray. We're not quite sure how this oversight managed to get past Sony, but if you're used to popping open the disc tray before you get off the couch to change discs, you'll find it as frustrating as we did. Of course, you can always opt for a quality universal remote to get around this issue, as the BDP-S360 is capable of receiving an open/close IR command.
The BDP-S360 uses an adaptation of Sony's XMB user interface, which is now featured on nearly all Sony products with a video output. Not everybody is a fan of the layout, but we tend to like it and had no problems zipping around the BDP-S360's menus. If you're not used to Sony's XMB interface, it's not quite as intuitive as, say, the large icons on the LG BD370's menu system, but the learning curve isn't steep. Aside from the graphics, the BDP-S360 has a polished feel that surpasses other Blu-ray players we've tested. We enjoyed little touches like the screen fading to black when you stop a movie, and how quickly the player navigates Blu-ray Disc menus.
Like virtually every 2009 Blu-ray player, the BDP-S360 is Profile 2.0-compliant, which means it's capable of playing back BD-Live features available on some Blu-ray movies. BD-Live features have to be downloaded off the Internet, so you'll need to make an Ethernet connection and also plug in a USB memory drive to store it. The BD-Live content we've used so far isn't that compelling, but the technology is still relatively new.
Soundtrack support is solid, with the BDP-S360 featuring onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio Essential. That means it can decode those soundtrack formats so they can be played back on almost every HDMI-capable AV receiver. Bit stream output is also supported, if you'd rather the decoding be done in your AV receiver. (DTS-HD Master Audio Essential differs from standard DTS-HD Master Audio in that it lacks decoding for a few legacy DTS DVD soundtracks formats such as DTS 96/24, ES, ES Matrix, and Neo:6. It still decodes all the high-resolution Blu-ray DTS soundtracks.)