Blu-ray players are becoming cheaper, quicker and more feature-packed than ever before. Not only do they offer much better picture quality than DVD players, but manufacturers are also going to considerable effort to make sure there are extra-value features, sweetening the deal for people making the move from DVD to Blu-ray. Even though the Sony BDP-S370 is cheap, at around £100, it's no exception.
Tiny and stylish
The BDP-S370 is extremely compact. If it weren't for the Blu-ray logo, you could be forgiven for thinking it was just another DVD player. Only a couple of years ago, Blu-ray players were huge -- for reasons we still don't understand -- and our reference machine, the Sony BDP-S500, is gigantic when compared to this little unit.
The remote control is petite too, which we quite like. It's not so small as to render itself unusable, though -- it's a good size for a hand of average dimensions.
The BDP-S370 responds much more quickly to commands than older players, due to the increased processing speed of its hardware. We're really pleased to see Blu-ray players picking up speed, although they're still lagging behind DVD players in terms of responsiveness. Much of this is down to the mountains of computer code they have to chew through to play an interactive Blu-ray disc, and also the copy-protection desert they must traverse.
Blu-ray is still annoying
Don't get us wrong -- we're fans of the Blu-ray disc format, and we could no longer live without lovely 1080p movies in our lives. But we've damn near had it with the idiotic restrictions and nonsense attached to Blu-ray discs.
Why must we be warned about pirating discs when the movie studios have gone out of their way to make sure we can't copy movies from Blu-ray, even if we're doing so for legitimate reasons? And why do we need to be told that a company isn't responsible for what's said in an audio commentary? It's pretty obvious that Sony Pictures doesn't condone murder, and Paramount doesn't really want you to go out and blow up a spaceship, yet we must still read a warning that states the bleeding obvious. It's patronising, and a waste of time.
We're also sick of not being able to skip things at the start of Blu-ray discs, be they trailers or warnings. We've paid for a player and paid for a movie, so why should we be held hostage in our own lounges?
These problems aren't unique to Sony, but the company has more of a vested interest in Blu-ray than most, so we hope it's paying attention.
Picture and sound quality
The BDP-S370's picture quality is super. We certainly had no concerns when watching our usual collection of movies. Our favourite discs, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and District 9, both received a thorough eyeballing, and we were ultra-satisfied with the results. Navigating discs is also pleasant thanks to the highly graphical menu systems, which suffer from minimal lag.
The player's audio quality can be pretty stunning, depending on the disc you're watching. The player supports output of the latest lossless audio codecs, like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA. To make the most of these, you'll need to connect it to an AV receiver to decode them and give you proper surround sound. The BDP-S370 doesn't include RCA jacks for analogue 7.1 out, so, if you're keen to extract the best-quality sound, you'll need a receiver capable of understanding high-definition lossless audio -- most recent models do.
As with all modern players, you get 1080/24p output from the machine, but the BDP-S370 offers no 3D support, which is surprising. Adding 3D playback capability to a Blu-ray player isn't a hard or especially expensive undertaking, so we'd like to see the company offer this functionality via a firmware upgrade in the future, as it has with the PlayStation 3. The BDP-S370 is a low-cost player, though, so we're not totally surprised that the company hasn't added support for 3D.
Networking via cable or Wi-Fi
The BDP-S370 can connect to the Internet via either a wired connection or Wi-Fi. The latter option requires use of an optional dongle, though, which we weren't especially pleased to see. While we understand that the BDP-S370 is a relatively cheap machine, we'd rather pay slightly more for the convenience of wire-free networking.
Once you get the BDP-S370 online, though, there's nothing disappointing about its Internet features. A new firmware upgrade gives you access to BBC iPlayer via the Bravia Internet Video service. Demand Five, LoveFilm and YouTube have also been available on the service since the machine was launched. We tested them and found the system to be pleasant and easy to use. This feature is certainly a real bonus on a budget Blu-ray player.
Network your heart out
You may be pleased to know that Sony is going to release a firmware update that will allow the BDP-S370 to interact with other devices on your network. That means you'll be able to watch media shared from PCs on your TV via this player.
Sony has also decided to finally include support for MKV files, and a plethora of other file types commonly found on the Internet. We love this feature, and got good results in our tests. Although one of our MKV clips didn't play as smoothly as on other players, it was still perfectly watchable.
iPod touch and iPhone tie-in
If you own one of Apple's touchscreen devices, the BDP-S370 has a treat in store for you. Via a free download from the iTunes App Store, you can turn your mobile device into a basic virtual remote control for this player. You might find this more convenient than adding yet another physical remote control to your stash. Perhaps one day all AV equipment will be controlled via a touchscreen phone, and we'll be able to chuck our messy remote controls away.
For the price, we honestly can't fault the Sony BDP-S370. It's quick to load discs, does a great job with interactive content, and offers on-demand video from BBC iPlayer, Demand Five and YouTube, among other services. We heartily recommend this little machine.
Edited by Charles Kloet