With Sony's PS3 still sitting pretty as the UK's cheapest Blu-ray option -- especially with the recent launch of a £300 PS3 -- we find ourselves intrigued by Sony's first standalone Blu-ray player, the Sony BDP-S1E for £650.
Will the player really be able to justify its much higher cost and persuade us to buy it even though it doesn't also play games?
It doesn't take long in the company of quality Blu-ray discs like Casino Royale and Pirates of the Caribbean to realise that the S1E's performance totally outguns the PS3.
This is thanks in particular to greater fine detailing and much crisper, more fluid presentation of motion. This is especially the case if you make use of the deck's 1080/24fps option for outputting films in exactly the format via which they were encoded to disc.
These extra talents come on top of the ultra-rich colours and complete dearth of video noise familiar from Sony's PS3 Blu-ray efforts.
Also proving very impressive are the S1E's upscaled pictures from standard DVDs. There's definite evidence of extra sharpness and detail as the deck's processing converts standard definition into HD -- right up to 1080p if you wish. What's more, these picture improvements are introduced with seemingly no nasty side effects, such as smearing or twitching.
The S1E is a truly lovely CD player too, producing hi-fi levels of clarity, range and warmth from every CD we tried it with. And as a final strength, it's got 5.1-channel outputs allowing it to output DTS-HD and Dolby True HD audio formats to any future receiver able to handle them.