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.)
The BDP-S360 includes the standard collection of outputs. There's an HDMI output, capable of outputting Blu-ray movies at 1080p, as well as upscaling standard DVDs to 1080p. If you've got an older HDTV, there's also a component video output, which will handle Blu-ray at 1080i and DVDs at 480p. There's also a legacy composite video output, which is limited to 480i standard-definition resolution.
For audio, you can use the aforementioned HDMI output for high resolution, multichannel audio. There are also two digital audio outputs--both optical and coaxial--which is a nice bonus, as many Blu-ray players are only including optical. There's no multichannel analog output, but there's a stereo analog audio output if you have an older AV receiver.
Unlike the other entry-level players from Panasonic, Samsung, and LG, the BDP-S360 doesn't offer any streaming Internet content, such as Netflix, Amazon Video On Demand, YouTube, CinemaNow, or Pandora. That's unfortunate because those services add a lot of value to standalone Blu-ray players, especially for people who don't feel the image quality leap from DVD to Blu-ray is that significant. With Sony's Bravia Internet Video Link already offering similar functionality, we're surprised it's not built into these new Blu-ray players.
Blu-ray players tend to offer very similar picture quality--and they all look much better than DVDs--but there's definitely some variance among entry-level players. We connected the BDP-S360 to the Sony KDL-52XBR7 via HDMI, set in 1080p mode with 24 frames per second output disabled.
We popped in Silicon Optix's "HQV" test suite on Blu-ray and browsed the test patterns. The initial Video Resolution Test looked good, with full resolution and no excess jaggies on the rotating white line. The BDP-S360 also aced the next two jaggies tests, showing none of the jagged edges we sometimes see on budget players. Last up was the Film Resolution Test and again the BDP-S360 had no problems, as we could see very little moire in the grandstands of Raymond James Stadium.
Program material was up next, and the BDP-S360 performed well again. We checked some of our favorite "problem" scenes on "Mission: Impossible III," and we didn't see any moire in the stairs at the beginning of chapter 8, or on the trimming of the limo in chapter 16. "Ghost Rider" also looked good, as we didn't see any moire in the grille of the RV at the end of chapter 6. The BDP-S360 did stumble a bit on the video-based "Tony Bennett: American Classic," as we saw plenty of jaggies on the clapperboard on the beginning of the Diana Krall segment. For the strictest videophiles this may be a concern, but the reality is there are relatively few video-based Blu-ray Discs.
We also tested the operational speed of the BDP-S360. We've already commented on how the BDP-S360 is fast at navigating menus, so we had high hopes for its disc-loading performance. Unfortunately, the BDP-S360 turned out to be the slowest of the new 2009 players we've tested, loading "Mission: Impossible III" in 23 seconds with the player already on. The Samsung BD-P1600, LG BD370, and Samsung BD-P3600 all loaded the same movie in less than 16 seconds, and the Panasonic DMP-BD60 took 21 seconds. Discs with more elaborate menus systems, like "Spider-Man 3" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" loaded in a minute and 28 seconds and a minute and 56 seconds, respectively, which is about the same as the DMP-BD60. However, the players from Samsung and LG loaded these titles around 30 seconds faster.
Standard DVD performance
Most home theater fanatics have amassed a significant library of DVDs, so we put the BDP-S360 through our standard DVD test suite. It passed the initial resolution test, clearly depicting all of the resolution in the test pattern, but we did notice some image instability. The next video-based tests didn't quite pass muster, as we noticed plenty of jaggies on a rotating white line, as well as on three pivoting white lines. On the upside, the BDP-S360 did pass the 2:3 pulldown test, with no moire visible in the grandstands as the racecar drove by.
Next we looked at actual program material. We started off with "Seabiscuit" and the BDP-S360 held its own on the difficult opening sequence. It didn't look quite as good as the Panasonic DMP-BD60--we could still see some minor jaggies on the very first black-and-white photo--but it looked substantially better than the LG BD370. We switched over to "Star Trek: Insurrection," and the Sony did a good job with the introduction, depicting the curved edges of the boat hulls and bridge railings without any jaggies. Unless you're really picky about DVD playback, the Sony BDP-S360 will do the job.