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If there's one criticism we can level at the Blu-ray format, it's that it's just too expensive to tempt most people away from DVDs. Although Blu-ray's picture and sound quality is miles ahead, most people think the quality of their standard-definition discs is just fine. To some extent, they're right. DVD is a great format, and it's not hard to see why it's done so well. Blu-ray has more to prove, and prices just aren't falling fast enough.
The Profile 2.0 Sony BDP-S360 Blu-ray player is designed to change all that. It's a low-end, attractive, easy-to-use box that's available for around £120. If you buy a costly enough TV from some retailers, they'll even throw this Blu-ray player in for free. But price doesn't interest us as much as performance, so let's find out how this machine copes with the day-to-day tasks of Blu-ray playback.
Style and substance
Physically, the BDP-S360 is a departure from the Blu-ray players of just over a year ago. Our reference machine, the Sony BDP-S500, is a beast -- it's taller, wider and deeper than almost any other piece of AV gear we've seen since VHS popped its clogs, and it doesn't sit well in a modern home cinema. The BDP-S360 is much slimmer.
The BDP-S360 adds more than just a slender profile, though. It also brings a new user interface into the Blu-ray mix -- the XrossMediaBar, which is Sony's way of helping you set up and navigate through the system. It's very easy to use, and PlayStation 3 owners will recognise it as very similar to the UI on that games console. Menus appear along a horizontal axis, and the options for each menu line up vertically down the screen. Visually, it works a treat.
In terms of outputs, you get HDMI, Ethernet and both kinds of digital audio connection. There are also component video and composite outputs -- just in case you're a total mentalist and want to render your new Blu-ray collection in SD PAL. Stereo audio out is provided, but there's no 7.1 RCA jack option, which is sad but unsurprising at this price.
Our standard test for Blu-ray players is the following. We take our test Blu-ray disc, Vantage Point, and place it in the open disc tray. Then we press play on the remote and start our timer. The time it takes for the player to draw in the disc and start playing the Sony Pictures logo gives us an idea of how well a player stacks up against its peers in terms of speed.
The BDP-S360 managed a fairly standard 1 minute and 9 seconds. That's hardly nippy, but it's also not the worst load time we've ever seen from a Blu-ray player. Put simply -- it's probably good enough to keep most people from chucking the machine out of the window.
This machine's picture quality is, as we'd expected, very good. Although it might not be quite up to the standard of some of the more expensive players on the market, it's unlikely that anyone will notice much difference.
Movies looked crisp and clear, with plenty of detail. Sound was very good, too, thanks to the lossless audio tracks that Blu-ray offers. We're also pleased that the BDP-S360 has both HDMI and optical/coaxial digital audio outputs. The best quality will come from feeding a modern AV receiver with the HDMI output, but people with older equipment aren't prevented from getting better sound either.
The only thing that would improve this machine would be the addition of analogue 7.1 audio outputs. But, at this price range, that's not likely to happen.
Where are my extras?
It's worth mentioning that this Profile 2.0 player supports picture-in-picture playback and Internet access for additional content. Apart from that, the BDP-S360 doesn't offer much in the way of extras. It will play MP3s and JPEGs from memory sticks, though, which might be of use to some people.
At about £120, the Sony BDP-S360 is within the reach of most people itching to get on the high-definition bandwagon. It's not as cheap as a £30 DVD player, but it's a great little Blu-ray player, and currently one of the most sensibly priced on the market.
There's some competition in this price range, though. The obvious choice is the LG BD370, which we adore. It includes YouTube playback, and support for some video codecs and containers commonly found on the Internet. It's a good machine, and certainly worthy of your consideration if you want a little more than the BDP-S360 offers, for a similar price. If not, opt for the BDP-S360. It's a cracker.
Edited by Charles Kloet