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Onto performance and the BDP-S350 is clearly a solid Blu-ray player, but some elements of its performance with the HQV Benchmark Blu-ray disc betray its budget status. It handles the Diagonal Filtering test with real expertise, with absolutely no trace of jaggies on the edges of the rotating bars, even at the most oblique angles - evidence of some skilful on-board processing. However it fails the Film Resolution Loss test with strobing boxes in the corners of the SMPTE pattern and flickering on the upper tier of the seats on the stadium shot, evidence that it's not able to properly convert 1080/60i back to 1080/24p.
However, with straight-up 1080/24p movie material (which, to be honest, is what you're more likely to watch on Blu-ray) it does a much better job. Hancock looks stunning thanks to the deck's immaculate reproduction of the busy LA scenery and remarkably vibrant handling of colours. Detail looks pin-sharp (just check out Will Smith's stubble and clothing texture for proof), solid blacks give the picture a convincing amount of depth, edges are well-defined and motion tracking is fluid.
But even more impressive is the remarkably smooth and powerful sound delivered by those tiny speakers. The sound is precise, detailed and expertly controlled - during Hancock's frenetic action sequences, there isn't a hint of brashness in the treble, mid-range sounds are full-bodied but not muddy, dialogue is natural and distinct, while the subwoofer belts out enough rich and punchy bottom end to give the soundstage real presence without getting carried away. This top-drawer performance is surprising but a real treat, and proves that bigger doesn't always mean better when it comes to home cinema speakers.
Despite its home cinema leanings, CD playback really sparkles. Letting it loose with an array of genres from house to hip-hop via jazz and rock, the HT-IS100 displays admirable versatility and skill at handling music, injecting whatever it plays with a great sense of rhythm, fluidity and detail.
The HTP-B350IS is a decent entrée into the world of Blu-ray, pairing a very impressive BD Live player with a stylish receiver/speaker system that delivers surprisingly impressive sound quality. Those tiny speakers are no mere gimmick - the sound they produce is better than many of the larger one-box speaker systems we've tested of late, but they only take up a fraction of the room. What's more, the system's generous connections, auto calibration modes and fantastic GUI make it easy to install and operate, which is exactly what you want from a one-box system.
That said, the receiver unit's inability to decode Dolby TrueHD, DTS HD Master Audio and Dolby Digital Plus strips away some of the system's user-friendliness and makes it feel slightly over-priced, plus the player's lack of DTS HD Master Audio decoding doesn't help matters either. If you want the full Blu-ray audio experience, you're probably better off pairing the BDP-S350 with a separate Master Audio-capable AV receiver and speakers, but if you're happy to work around the system's limitations then it still has a lot to offer.
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