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.


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.


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