Product Review

Sony BDP-S1 Blu-ray Player

Part II

May, 2007

Kris Deering


Setup and Support

On initial startup, the player goes through some quick setup menus. This covers the basics of video and audio and languages. After that you can go into the normal setup and tweak things in. I was pleased to see that Sony has laid out their menus so that things that don't apply are not seen. For example, if you select HDMI for audio you don't ever see options for the analog outputs such as delay, channel levels, and crossovers. This eliminates confusion for the end user and cleans up the menu structure.

Sony has set the bar for video options for next generation players in my opinion. Instead of the normal output options, Sony has included a "Direct" mode that will output the native resolution of the content on the disc. This includes 1080p24, which is a resolution we haven't seen from any next generation player yet. It also means that if you put a standard DVD in, you get the native 480i output. This is perfect for those of us with outboard video processors that don't want to have to switch video resolutions every time we watch a DVD and get better processing than what the player has to offer.

For video you can select 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p, and 1080p24. All of the video processing is done using the Sigma Designs decoder in the player. The nice thing is 1080p24 is native and not delivered with a second video-processing chip. The bad thing is that the Sigma chip isn't the best video processing chip for standard definition DVD de-interlacing and scaling.

On the audio side, the player has options for bitstream and PCM output and an Auto setting. The Auto setting is our preferred selection, as it allows the player to output PCM when necessary but leaves DTS and Dolby Digital bitstreams intact for decoding in our outboard surround sound processor.

Objective Testing

Sony recently updated their firmware to the 1.55 version, which includes support for BD-ROM software. This makes it possible for me to run my battery of tests using our Blu-ray test disc. I was eager to see how the Sony stacked up compared to the other players I've tested so far.

I'm happy to report, the BDP-S1 does quite well. This player passes the full resolution of HD with both luma and chroma information. I didn't see any roll-off at all with horizontal or vertical resolution. You are seeing everything that was meant to be seen with this player's HDMI output.

Pixel cropping is also a non-issue with the BDP-S1. The full 1920x1080 is retained in the image. It is nice to see Sony paying attention to these details as they are constantly overlooked with standard DVD players.

The BDP-S1 has no signs at all of CUE with Blu-ray playback. Since this player uses the same Sigma Designs chip as the Panasonic DMP-BD10, I was actually expecting it to have the bug, but thankfully that is not the case. I tested this with 3-2 and 2-2 test patterns as well as ICP. The player performed flawlessly.

The last test I performed was how well the player will de-interlace 1080i to 1080p if you have the player's output set to 1080p. While most Blu-ray discs are natively 1080p, there are still some that are only 1080i. Recent examples including the Nine Inch Nails concert disc Beside You in Time and Destiny's Child: Live in Atlanta. Unfortunately the Sony does not do well with this area at all. The player does not do inverse telecine de-interlacing for material with a 3-2 or 2-2 cadence. If you are going to watch something that is native 1080i on this player, I would recommend using the native mode of the player and piping the video through a good video processor. While this is a pretty rare issue, it is still one that will hopefully be addressed with future models. It also explains why companies like Panasonic chose to use a separate video-processing chip instead of allowing the decoder to do the I/P conversion.

In a nutshell, the BDP-S1 is superb at Blu-ray playback. There simply are no flaws when it comes to its video performance so long as the disc you are playing is encoded in 1080p. It is a reference quality player.

I was able to run the BDP-S1 through our entire DVD Benchmark to get an idea of how this player would perform with standard definition DVDs. You can find the results of that testing here.

Unfortunately, the BDP-S1 doesn't fare nearly as well as a standard DVD player. This is another advantage some of the other Blu-ray players bring to the table when using a separate video processing chip like the Genesis or National Semiconducter offerings.

In Use

From a usability standpoint, the BDP-S1 is excellent. The Sony Playstation 3 is still a bit faster, but there is hardly anything to complain about here. The support for 1080p24 was a welcome addition, and I used this extensively with my Marantz projector.

The remote is far better than many of the remotes I've seen from high definition players out on the market now, but the buttons are a bit on the small side, and seeing them in the dark can be a bit of a hassle. Navigating the player's setup is easy though, and access times for discs and general navigation of disc content were never a bother. If I had to nitpick, I would say that the initial power-up time is a bit sluggish. It's a bit slower than my Panasonic Blu-ray player and quite a bit slower than the PS3.

For some reason, Sony has chosen not to support CD playback with the BDP-S1. This is the first next generation player I know of with this problem, and I was actually quite surprised. It also does not support Sony's Super Audio CD format. Both of these formats are supported by the Playstation 3, which costs nearly half the price; a strange move by Sony in my opinion.

The BDP-S1 does not support any of the new audio codecs either. This includes DTS-HD, DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby Digital Plus, andr Dolby TrueHD. You are limited to standard Dolby Digital, DTS, and uncompressed PCM soundtracks. This is not unusual right now, but the PS3 does support Dolby TrueHD, and the Panasonic currently supports Dolby Digital Plus and has an update that will add support for DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD. With Sony already announcing titles supporting Dolby TrueHD and several other studios supporting DTS-HD and DTS-HD Master Audio, I am surprised that there isn't more of a push to get these audio formats supported, especially considering the price point of this player.

Click Here to Go to Part III.

Copyright 2007 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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