If Blu-ray is to justify the effort of a format war, it has to get better at persuading customers to part with their cash. The best way to do that is to show them how much they're missing when they watch movies on DVD, and interactivity is a key part of that. Enter the Sony BDP-S350 and BDP-S550, players with profile 2.0 support, and the interactivity of BD Live.
Until this year, if you wanted a profile 2.0 player, with Internet access and BD Live capability, your choice was limited to the PlayStation 3. Now, Panasonic is bringing the to the UK and the Sony DBP-S350 and S550 are going to be hitting shops in the US soon, so it's at least looking like online content and interactivity are on the way.
Both Sony players will support Bonus View, which is the Blu-ray way of saying picture-in-picture, and both have Ethernet sockets, meaning your player can access extras and download content over the Internet.
Of course, both will output 1080p and can handle 24p playback, which is rapidly becoming standard on both hi-def players and new TVs, and you'll get HDMI 1.3 output, with support for x.v.Colour, which will be of interest to, er, colour lovers everywhere.
The BDP-S350 has fractionally less comprehensive audio codec support than its big brother the S550, but there isn't much in it. Both support Dolby TrueHD and DTS and the S550 adds DTS-HD HR 96/24 and MA. The S550 also adds analogue audio outputs, which we're thrilled by, because it means older AV receivers can take advantage of higher quality sound.
As good as these players could be, they're still going to have a really hard time competing with the PS3, which is same price as the BDP-S350's rumoured cost. The casual Blu-ray viewer almost certainly won't be interested in the slightly improved audio support on the stand-alone players, and will instead opt for the PS3, which also offers HD gaming and media streaming.
If Sony wants to sell stand-alone players, it's going to have to come up with a good reason for people to choose them. Lowering the price and adding DivX support would probably be a good start. There are no dates for the arrival of these players in the UK, but as soon as we can get some pricing and availability info we will be sure to let you know. –Ian Morris