After tantalising journalists at trade shows for close on a year, Sony has finally unveiled its own standalone Blu-ray player -- the Sony BDP-S1E. Sony is positioning this as an enthusiast device, but this doesn't automatically make it the most expensive player in the market. In fact, it's relatively competitive at AU$1,399; Panasonic's own enthusiast player, the DMP-BD10, is twice this price, but the specifications appear to be the same.
All of the features you'd expect from a videophile product are here: toughened build quality and spanking good looks, audiophile-grade components, DVD up-conversion, and compatibility with the BRAVIA range. One of the most intriguing features is the new BRAVIA Theatre Sync, which will turn on your Sony TV and Sony receiver when you press the play button (see Downside).
Another of the Sony's features, which until now was was only present on the Panasonic, is true 7.1 surround sound -- which should make owners of large home cinemas very happy. If you want HD with the full complement of surround speakers supported -- this player appears to be the one to get over the PlayStation 3 (which only supports 5.1).
If you thought HD had already brought too many buzzwords to the table, then you should be prepared for yet another one: 24p. This is a new playback speed that Blu-ray supports, and could also be written as 24Hz. But hang on, surely this is a step back? Aren't TVs already twice as fast as this with their refresh rates of 60Hz?
The term "24p" -- also known as 24fps -- refers to the speed at which film is shot. The theory is that replaying disks at this speed removes the convoluted processing needed to playback the movie at a little more than 2x. This will remove the "juddering" effect you may notice on panned shots, where the motion isn't smooth across the screen but sort of "rattles". So good news, the new player will support it, but the bad news is ...
For owners of brand new BRAVIAs (as of June 2007), this is the time to block your ears and go "lalalalalala". The two newest features: 24p and BRAVIA Theatre Sync will not work on your TV. Sony has yet to announce the BRAVIA sets to accompany these features -- and we're predicting an August timeframe.
Also, it will be a hard slog for Sony to convince PlayStation 3 owners (and potential ones) of the benefits of spending another AU$400 dollars on top of the console's price, and we look forward to putting the two machines head-to-head in our labs.
The Sony BDP-S1E is an intriguing device, which we believe is sitting at the right price for the users it's trying to target. It has the build, the looks and the features, but does it have the performance? Watch this space. And also be on the lookout for Sony's budget player, the BDP-S300, which "should be out by Christmas", and will possibly be even cheaper than the PS3.