The Good Excellent image quality on Blu-ray Discs; Profile 2.0 compliant; onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, plus bit-stream output; 7.1 analog-audio outputs; 1GB USB drive included in box.
The Bad PlayStation 3 may still offer a better value for some buyers; competing players offer more features or lower prices.
The Bottom Line The Sony BDP-S550 offers excellent image quality and a solid feature set, but only consider it if you need the multichannel analog outputs.
Editors' note (March 30, 2009): The rating of this player has been changed since its initial publication to reflect changes in the marketplace.
Sony has made standalone Blu-ray players since the format's inception, but they've always been overshadowed by the company's game console, the PlayStation 3. In many ways, the Sony BDP-S550 is the company's first standalone that might be a smarter buy than the PS3 for nongamers. The BDP-S550 is Profile 2.0 compliant, has onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, and it has 7.1 analog outputs for those with older receivers. Not only that, but its image quality compares with other top-tier players and the list price is a reasonable $400. Unlike in the past, you're not sacrificing much in terms of movie watching by going with Sony's standalone instead of its game console.
That being said, we think most buyers will be more interested in the alternatives to the BDP-S550. For example, the Panasonic DMP-BD35 offers most of the same functionality minus the analog outputs for less money, and the Samsung BD-P2550 offers 7.1 outputs, HQV video processing, plus Netflix and Pandora streaming for the same price. If you don't need analog outputs or DTS-HD Master Audio decoding, the entry-level Sony BDP-S350 is a solid choice, too. Finally, anyone interested in high-def gaming would be wise to consider the PS3, which in many ways is still the best Blu-ray player on the market and sells for $400. The BDP-S550 is a very good Blu-ray player with no major flaws--just make sure it offers the right mix of features, performance, and value for your home theater.
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