EXCLUSIVE: First Review Of The Sony BDP-S1 Blu-Ray Player

December 5th, 2006 · 22 Comments · Blu-ray Players

Please Note

For those of you not familiar with high definition discs and players, there are two competing formats battling for your eyes and dollars this holiday season. They are Blu-ray and HD DVD. These formats are incompatible and have overlapping studio support as well as their own respective exclusive titles. The biggest proponent of Blu-ray is Sony Electronics. It has been promoting the format for years to the consumer electronics trade and press. This week marks Sony’s official entry into the format war with its first freestanding Blu-ray disc player. Sony is the industry leader in High Definition Television products, making its introduction of its BDP-S1 Blu-ray player critical to success of the Blu-ray format.  

Better late than never, the long delayed and highly anticipated Sony BDP-S1 Blu-ray disc player arrived at select retailers on December 1st. The HD Guru purchased a store sample of this hefty, 16.5-pound player for review. Unpacking the BDP-S1 revealed cosmetics similar to what Sony previewed at demonstrations over the past year or so.

 The lower two thirds of the BDP-S1’s front panel, finished in reflective blue Plexiglass, features a soft-blue illuminated alphanumeric display on its left side, while the black top third houses a series of small transport control buttons along with illuminated HDMI, output resolution (720p/1080i or 1080p) and “off” indicators.

 The rear panel features one each HDMI and component video, standard definition   composite and S-video outputs as well as coaxial and optical digital audio, 5.1 (RCA type) analog and stereo analog outputs. Sony supplies composite video and stereo RCA audio cables but, inexplicably, no HDMI cable with this $999 player, so please read “What Retailers Don’t Want You To Know About HDMI” before purchasing one.

The long, slender remote features sufficiently large, easy to operate buttons, though unfortunately, they are not backlit. With the supplied AA batteries installed, a few remote keystrokes engaged the BDP-S1 “set-up” mode.

Connecting a TH-50PX600 Panasonic plasma to the BDP-S1 via HDMI the “Easy Setup” procedure was followed as laid out in the owner’s manual. There are settings for Auto, 480i, 480p, 720p 1080i, 1080p and Direct  (the direct setting is supposed to be the native resolution of the disc which in case of prerecorded movies is 1080p/24) Interestingly, in the Auto mode the player picked 720p60 output configuration. (The Samsung BPD-1000 on hand chose 1080p60 automatically). In the direct mode (1080p24) there was no image on the plasma’s screen (don’t worry if this should happen, you can change rates on the remote via the “Video Format” button and the resolution will appear on the BDP-S1’s alpha-numeric display).  Switching over to manual override of rate control function enabled engagement of the player’s 1080p60 and 1080p24 modes. This time, images in either configuration were visible on the plasma. For all the visual evaluations, the player was set to the 1080p24 mode. Sony will need to be consulted to solve the mystery as to why there was no image when choosing the “direct” mode.

Browsing the owner’s manual revealed the BDP-S1 can play Blu-ray discs, DVD videodiscs and DVD-RW/R discs. What the player will not accept are  “all types of CDs (CD-ROMSs/CD-R/CD-RW, or the CD layer of hybrid discs etc.; VCDs/Super VCDs; DVD audio discs; Super Audio CDs; DVD-RAMs; HD DVDs” (duh!) “BDs with cartridge; BD-REs/BD-Rs (rats); DVD-RWs/DVD-Rs; and DVD-Rs of VR mode” It goes on  “Some DVD-RWs/DVD-Rs cannot be played on this player due to the recording quality or physical condition of the disc, or the characteristics of the recording device and authoring software”

 

With all settings made, the HD Guru measured the amount of time the BDP-S1 takes to load and play a Blu-ray disc. No doubt about it, the BDP-S1 is not the speediest disc player you will ever encounter. Pushing the power button, the BDP-S1 requires 12 seconds to display “Power On”. Another 35 seconds elapsed for the player’s alphanumeric display to read “no disc” allowing the drawer to be opened and a movie BD ROM disc inserted. After the drawer closes, wait another 36 seconds for the movie studio’s logo to appear on-screen.

With the player up and running, other functions and features were checked. Although hitting the remote required two to three seconds for the BDP-S1 to respond, the unit worked flawlessly, except for one minor item. A very faint pop occasionally was heard through the speakers changing disc chapters while connected to the Panasonic plasma via HDMI.

A quick run through the unit’s features revealed typical disc player functions such as title search, three fast-forward, reverse scans and chapter/title repeat. The HD Guru’s favorite feature is the bit-rate meter. It appears on-screen, engaged with two presses of the remote’s “display” button. With it engaged, it lets allows the viewer to track the bit transfer speed of each scene on the fly.  The fastest rate observed was at 44.84 Mbps during a scene in Enemy of the State. This high bit-rate is a huge contributing factor to overall picture quality. The Blu-ray format has the highest transfer rate available today to the consumer. For comparison, the maximum bit-rate of broadcast HDTV is 19.39 Mbps.

Performance

The four Blu-ray discs used to evaluate the BDP-S1 are Enemy Of The State; Talladega Nights, The Fifth Element and MI III. The HD Guru’s overall rating, “spectacular”.  All images appeared razor sharp and artifact free. Particularly appreciated was the absence of   edge enhancement within Enemy Of The State disc. It has been seen on some earlier BD disc releases, and appears as a faint white outline around people and objects. Colors were completely free of noise and fine detail was superb. Checking the test signals embedded within The Fifth Element, (this Easter Egg is accessed when viewing the main disc screen by hitting 7669 + enter on the remote control) revealed SMPTE color bars that do not have the noise or the errors (overlap) that were seen when the Samsung BD 1000 Blu-ray player was evaluated. The Fifth Element Blu-ray disc (supplied with every player inside the carton), was transferred using a film master that was absolutely filthy, with every speck of dirt and scratch in the film master clearly visible on-screen (why Sony decided to include this disc with the player is beyond me). However, the debris in the master does an excellent job showing off how sharp the images are when playing the Blu-ray disc on the BDP-S1.

Conclusion

While the Sony BDP-S1 takes some time to load and play discs and the occasional soft pops are not desired, the overall outstanding picture performance and quality of construction warrant it a  ♥♥♥♥ rating , a best value in its class, the HD Guru says “Buy It”. Check it out.     

Copyright 2006 HD Guru (SM) all rights reserved            
 

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22 Comments so far ↓

  • Joe

    This “blu-ray and HD DVD” formats remind me of “beta and VHS” wars. Right now I think I’ll wait to see what format takes off. I don’t want to be stuck with an HD player that becomes discontinued after a year. Great site Guru.

  • Scott

    Does an upgrading DVD player provide a “true” 720P picture? I see they advertise “HD like picture quality up to 720P”. What does “HD like” mean? what does “up to 720P” mean? Are these players worth the money or is it marketing? thanks again… awesome site!!!! Scott

  • Scott

    Guru, for those of us with a 720 native resolution HDTV and an upgrading DVD player which upgrades to 720P. Would a blue ray improve picture quality? sound quality? I’m using the Samsung HP-S5053
    1366 x 768 and Samsung DVD R135. thanks

    Yes. Resolution is just part of what makes a great HD image. Blu-ray’s (and HD DVD’s) high bit transfer rate makes a high definition image that is virtually artifact free and better than anything you can see on cable or satellite. The high rate affords better audio too, though some players to date can’t take full advantage of it (see my reviews for more on this )

    The HD Guru

  • erick

    I could not get the audio to work on both my systems through the optical..I received two supposedly factory sealed machines..same occurances at the precise audio sections in the begining of the disc, 5th element and in the sony intro, and yes, it takes forever to load, and on the menu..no clicks or beeps either until I change to uncpompressed audio…Oh I can hear the “umcompressed” but DTS or 5.1?//NO way..Disgusting…

  • Rocky

    Or maybe it’s because the HD DVD player of the Xbox 360 is on par with the BDP-S1 Blu-ray player. Why spend $1000 on a player that makes images look as good as a $200 player? Economically, that really doesn’t make sense.

  • Bandgap

    Maybe because the video bitrate of “Superman Returns” movie is no more than 20Mbps.

  • LR

    Sony website says a firmware update disk will be released in early 2007 for BD-R capability.

  • David Richardson

    Could somebody comment about the edtv’s.

  • Rocky

    Could the HD Guru answer my last question, please??

  • Archie

    I have purchased a Sony Blu-ray Disc Drive and installed it in my computer.
    I shot a short movie with my Canon HV10 camcorder and played it on the software provided with the BWU-100A Drive.
    When I inserted a sony BD-R disc, the display read “this disc type is not supported”.
    Will the sony not burn from a HDV camcorder?

    ————————————————————-

    I am not familier with the Sony computer drive. Perhaps another reader can chime in.

    The HD Guru 

     

  • Rocky

    I was in a Best Buy the other day and noticed that one of the technicians had an Xbox 360 HD DVD player hooked up to a Sony plasma. Right next to it, he had a BDP-S1 Blu Ray player hooked into the same exact television. The picture looked identical. I looked at them both at the same time, from different angles and distances. I noticed the SAME exact picture on both. The HD DVD player for the 360 is $199. The BDP-S1 is $999. Could you explain this??? By the way, the movie that was playing on both of these players was Superman Returns.

  • censored

    So, it’s slow. It’s expensive. It’s heavy. It has a bug in the resolution set-up, the remote control is unresponsive, and there are bugs in sound reproduction over HDMI.

    Yet you say ‘Buy It’? Sounds like you’re believing the hype, not the reality of the player…

    —————————————————————————————

    Its picture and audio  looks and sounds great. It compares favorably to whats out there. The HD Guru bases his rating on current technology, not a ideal that does not exist. If either had a major flaw i.e. noisy picture the would have been awarded as low as one heart (don’t buy it). Bottom line is the Sony and Pioneer afford a top quality image and Dolby digital. There also comparable image savailable using  current HD DVD players, I have seen no better consumer HD images to date , hence the four hearts.

    The HD Guru 

     

     

  • KEVIN

    Just a comment,

    The panasonic tv you are using is not a 1080p tv? Why are you even trying to output 1920×1080 to it, the TV will just native produce it at 720p. Probably has something to do with direct not working correctly.

    For being an HDGURU at least test your product on a 1080P set please…

    ———————————————————————————————-

     The Plasma is 1366 x768 not 1280 x720  one should always input an equal or higher resolution signal to a display, not downconvert the source and then have the display upconvert to its native matrix. The panasonic accepts 1080p signals. I had 1080p LCD on hand but it does not accept 1080p signals , so I decided to aquire a 1080p plasma that does and it just arrived.  I will be adding any comments that are relevent to the Sony review . if there is anything to report on. 

    There will soon be a review of another Blu-ray player, so stay tuned 

    The HD Guru 

  • Rodney

    Perhaps you ran into difficulty feeding 1080p to your TH-50PX600 because (per the Panny site) it only handles 1080i.

    Also, that plasma display’s 768-line resolution can’t do justice to BD or HD-DVD 1080-line content.

    The TH-50PX600 accepts 1080p/60 signals.

    The HD Guru 

  • Rocky

    Actually, Samsung leads the way in High Definition Television products. Samsung pioneered HD. Go do your research….

  • FiguredMaple

    Up until now I’ve heard and even read a review that the Sony PS3 is the best example of Blu-Ray playback.
    I’d hope that this Sony offering would be better. Perhaps you could review the performance of the PS3.

  • Pap

    The “Direct” function does work. You have to go to the System Menu and set the 1080/p24 to “Off”.

  • Tech Gadgets

    Sony BDP-S1 Reviewed (Verdict: Great Picture Quality, Weird Format Support)

    So the Sony BDP-S1 Blu-ray standalone player was finally released. But how does it perform? Well, if

  • I. Bell

    So, in your oppinion, now that the final blu-ray player has hit the market. Wich produced better image quality? Blu-Ray or HD-DVD?

  • Dorji

    Better yet is to compare Toshiba’s HD-XA1 and Sony’s BDP-S1.

  • Gizmodo

    Sony BDP-S1 Reviewed (Verdict: Great Picture Quality, Weird Format Support)

    So the Sony BDP-S1 Blu-ray standalone player was finally released. But how does it perform? Well, if all you care about is image quality, then it’s pretty great. HDGuru says: All images appeared razor sharp and artifact free. Particularly appreciated…

  • Dave

    If you can do SONY vs. Panasonic vs. Samsung Blu-ray players it will be great!

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