Sony has had a problem for a while now. Because it's a large company, each division operates in quite a separate environment. For Blu-ray, this has been something of a disaster. On the one hand, you have Sony's computer-entertainment division, which has been pushing the PlayStation 3, with its built-in Blu-ray player. On the other, you've got the consumer-electronics people, who have their own range of stand-alone Blu-ray players.
Sony Computer Entertainment has been able to subsidise the PS3 heavily, because it recoups money from the sale of PS3 games. Sadly for the consumer-electronics division, it has been forced to charge full price for the standalone players. This unique situation meant that it was far cheaper to buy a PS3 than a normal Blu-ray player, and most people did, indeed, buy a PS3.
Happily, this situation has abated slightly as Blu-ray technology has dropped in price, and the Sony BDP-S350 is a great example of how that trend has affected the price of players. At around just £180, it's less than half the price of its predecessor, the, and it does significantly more things to boot.
The first thing that we noticed about the S350 was its small size. It's a significant percentage more tiny than the S300. It takes up less vertical space, as well as having a shallower case. All of that means it's lighter, which will please people who want to carry it from Scotland to South Africa.
Not only is it compact, but it also looks very attractive indeed. The blue and black finish make it look unlike any DVD players you might have, and the Blu-ray logo sits in bold on the front of the machine. The remote control also feels good in your hand. The navigation controls fit well with the on-screen menu system, making for a complete and enjoyable user experience.
There is no analogue 7.1 audio out on the Sony. That's fine for people who have HDMI sockets on their AV receivers, but, if you don't, you're going to be stuck with down-mixed audio from the coaxial or optical digital outputs. That would be a shame, because one of the glorious things about Blu-ray is its high-end, lossless audio.
If you need 7.1 audio outputs, theis the machine for you. It also has the advantage of being able to decode DTS-HD MA internally too, which is good news.
The S350 has one good feature that distinguishes it from other Blu-ray players: Sony's new XrossMediaBar (XMB). Although XMB sounds like it was named by a committee of concrete specialists, it's actually a very sensible way of handling menus. If you've seen the PS3, you'll understand how it works.
Menu options are laid out, in a horizontal line; when you select something from the menu, sub-menus and options are laid out vertically. It's very logical and easy to understand, although the XrossMediaBar name is still thoroughly awful.