To test how well the BDV-E300 performs, we grabbed the trusty Hellboy II: The Golden Army Blu-ray off the shelf. After 45 seconds the disc started playing, which is a lot quicker than the 92 seconds it took to crank Terminator Salvation into life, but still a fairly long time to wait.
Once it gets going, the Sony delivers a marvellous performance with the movie’s DTS HD MA soundtrack. Flip to our favourite scene – the Elemental attack in chapter 11 – and the scale of the soundstage is immense. It blasts out the action with more attack and distortion-free dynamism than most similarly priced rivals we’ve auditioned, which makes it a thrilling system to spend time with.
The sound of the beast’s tentacles crashing down on cars is wall-shakingly fierce, while its screams are loud and powerful but not grating. There’s also detail by the bucket load. The chirpy chatter of the movie’s odd little creatures and other high-frequency sounds during the Troll Market scene ring out loud and true across the soundstage.
The rear channels project themselves well, creating an almost 360-degree soundstage, but their range isn’t limited to high-pitched effects. They also handle mid and low frequencies with surprising aplomb, which gives the rear soundstage unusual depth. During calmer passages they lay out a rich bed of sound that intensifies the atmosphere.
There isn’t really much to criticise. The only thing we’d say is that you can get even more detail, punch and refinement from a good separate speaker system made by the likes of KEF, Teufel or Monitor Audio – but to achieve that you’d be spending over £500 on speakers alone, which kind of defeats the object. By one-box system standards this is almost as good as it gets.
The great work continues on the video front – the BDV-E300’s picture is beautifully detailed, punchy and lustrous, the same sort of quality you get from standalone Sony players like the BDP-S760. Similarly, DVD quality is hugely satisfying. The system converts the image to 1080p without compromising on depth, detail or colour fidelity, as well as keeping video nasties like jaggies and block noise at bay.
With limited digital media support – including an inexplicable inability to play MP3, WMA and DivX from discs and USB sticks – the BDV-E300 isn’t the kind of all-singing, all-dancing system you’d get from LG or Samsung. What’s more, the lack of Wi-Fi (as found on Sony’s latest players) further underlines the system’s outdated feel.
But the Sony makes up for this with the kind of performance you don’t normally associate with one-box systems. It’s powerful, sonically insightful and side-steps the harshness we’ve heard from some of its rivals, which might just be enough to win your favour despite the gaping omissions on the feature list. And it earns further Brownie points with the inclusion of auto calibration and a superb operating system, which Blu-ray newcomers will be really grateful for.