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Sony HTP-B350IS Blu-ray Home Cinema System - Sony HTP-B350IS
Although there are loads of things the HT-IS100 can do, we feel compelled to point out something it can't, namely decode Dolby TrueHD, DTS HD Master Audio or Dolby Digital Plus - which makes it seem like an odd system to pair with a Blu-ray player.
However, the BDP-S350's built-in HD audio decoding means you can feed Dolby TrueHD or Dolby Digital Plus as linear PCM to the sub's HDMI input and enjoy hi-res sound quality (although the deck won't decode DTS HD Master Audio). This would be fine, except that it's not exactly clear how to make the BDP-S350 output in multichannel LPCM - the only HDMI audio options in the player's setup menu are ‘Auto' and ‘2ch PCM'. We're sure it's possible, but all this messing about and confusion isn't particularly convenient and makes us wish that the sub just featured the relevant decoding.
Elsewhere the HT-IS100 features component/composite-to-HDMI conversion and 1080i upscaling, the ‘Bronze' version of Sony's Digital Cinema Auto Calibration (which sets all the speaker channel levels, distances and frequencies using a microphone and test tones), Dolby Digital/DTS decoding, Dolby Pro Logic II processing and some ‘Sound Field' modes that will either enhance or ruin your listening experience depending on your taste.
As for the BDP-S350, this is Sony's current entry-level deck and offers full support for BD Live (thanks to the Ethernet port and Memory Stick slot on the rear) and other key features like 1080/24p output, MP3/JPEG playback, 1080p DVD upscaling and Dolby TrueHD/DTS HD Master Audio bitstream output (should you ever upgrade to a more capable AV receiver).
It's also beautifully built for a budget deck and styled in a fetching shade of bluey black. Outputs include HDMI, component, S-video, composite, optical/coaxial digital audio and analogue stereo but there are no multichannel analogue outputs.
In operation the system is superb. The S350's XrossMediaBar operating system is by far the most sophisticated we've encountered on a Blu-ray player, boasting big, eye-catching icons and smooth animation as you move around the menus. We also love the way the screen dissolves in and out of menus and disc playback. By contrast the sub's operating system seems positively archaic as it's all controlled from the basic LED display, but the presence of DCAC means you shouldn't have to do much tweaking anyway.
You get separate remotes for the player and system, but thankfully both components can be controlled by the system's zapper, which is a bit cluttered with labels and icons but its thoughtful button placement makes it feel intuitive.