"Pristine video. Crystal clear audio."4.0 starson by Dave Dugal
Pros: 7.1-channel analog audio with internal decoding of all formats.
Blu-Ray Profile 2.0.
Stunning video performance.
Crystal clear audio.
Quick startup time.
Cons: Subwoofer output is -10dB too low.
Disc handling slightly noisy. Sounds a little cheap.
Summary: Let me first start out by stating that I'm living in an analog world. I'm using component video and 7.1-channel RCA connectors for audio. This ability, combined with Profile 2.0, was the primary reason I waited for the Sony BDP-S550.-10dB LFE Update:
Out of the box, the unit is surprisingly small. It's full-width, but only half the depth of every other component I have in my rack. This all but guarantees the new Blu-ray Disc player will sit proudly at the top of my six-and-a-half foot tower of electronics. It's a pretty unit with a slight bluish black complexion so I don't mind, really. I was just surprised. My previous foray into Sony disc players was the DVP-S9000ES which was a 40-pound, brass-plated monster.
The initial setup was a breeze. I like the matrix-like setup menus. The only tweaks I had to make were to set the Audio Output Priority to multi-channel analog and [eventually] to set the BD Audio Setting to "Direct". This last item was critically important and almost made me return the unit. By allowing menu-based sound effects to be mixed into the BD audio, it introduced a ~150ms audio delay in watching Blu-ray Discs. I was horrified until, on a SWAG, I changed this setting. Phew!
After playing a few minutes from every Blu-ray Disc I bought, I threw in a few reference quality DVDs. The upconversion from 480i to both 480p and 1080i (via component video) was excellent. It was almost too good, showing the limitations of some of my lesser DVDs. Film grain in the recently remastered "Dirty Dancing" DVD [Disclaimer: this is my fiancee's disc] was more obvious on this player than I've seen on any of my other DVD players. There are extensive noise reduction settings available in the player, but the film grain was more a testament to the clarity of the player rather than distracting.
I also tested 4x3 (1.33:1) DVDs and audio CDs, just to be sure the player could be my end-all, be-all player. Initially, the player stretched the 4x3 DVD to fit my 16x9 screen, but I eventually found the Screen Format video settings, which when set to the non-intuitive value of "Fixed Aspect Ratio", displays all DVDs in their proper aspect ratio.
In conclusion, the video on my 1080i RPTV is pristine; the best I've ever seen. The player-decoded 7.1-channel audio is also crystal clear. I didn't expect to hear an improvement over optical DTS-ES or THX-EX, but the difference is amazingly obvious. The player *does*, unfortunately, suffer from the -10dB subwoofer output limitation, which is very irritating (and the cause of only 4 stars). Relative to all the other channels, the line-level subwoofer output is over 10dB too low. This causes a major disparity in perceived output between the seven main channels and the subwoofer. I'm hoping and praying Sony will release a firmware upgrade to fix this in the very near future. Until then, I've got all the other channels set to -10 to -12dB with the subwoofer set to 0dB, which is almost close to the correct value for my home theatre.
If you can live with or compensate for the very low subwoofer output, or use HDMI for audio and video, then I do not hesitate in strongly recommending this player to anyone looking for an excellent, user-friendly, fully-functional and surprisingly inexpensive Blu-ray Disc player.
Updated on Oct 18, 2008
After doing extensive research, and finding an excellent article about LFE on AVSForum.com, I found out that the standard for LFE over analog output dictates that the signal be delivered 10dB lower than the reference level of the other channels. Digging deep into the setup menus of my Denon AVR-5800, I found a way to boost the LFE channel of the receiver's 8-channel analog inputs to bring all channel levels in line.