The BDP-S3100’s operating system hasn’t moved on from last year. Sony is still keeping faith with the Xross Media Bar design for its Home menu, where categories and their corresponding options are laid out in intersecting axes. It works smoothly and still looks great, but the growing amount of content means the vertical lists can be really long – maybe time for a rethink next year.
The menu includes music, video and photo sections, and in each case it lists the connected devices where that content can be found (including any loaded discs, USB sticks and DLNA servers) as well as listing any relevant SEN content of that type.
Alternatively you can access the SEN by hitting the blue button on the remote. This whisks you away to a separate menu with a funky layout and cover art for all the available content. It’s split into Apps, Video and Music, the last two drawing their content from the Video and Music Unlimited services.
Configuration is self explanatory within the thorough setup menu. But if you want to make any tweaks as your disc plays (which is useful if your Blu-ray doesn’t have a resume function), hit the Options button and a menu bar pops up on the right of the screen. It provides quick access to disc information, playback options and the Video Settings menu – here you can choose from three presets (Standard, Brighter Room and Theatre Room) and set the Block and Mosquito noise reduction levels. There’s no user-defined mode however.
Elsewhere the Display button on the remote provides an at-a-glance guide to the disc being played, including the video and audio formats and bitrates, elapsed/remaining time and chapter info.
Navigation is smooth and disc loading is quick. We clocked the load time for Terminator Salvation at xx seconds (from disc tray open to the Sony Pictures logo appearing), although it’s not a patch on the Samsung BD-F6500’s 28 seconds. And provided you have a good healthy Wi-Fi connection, internet video and DLNA content stream quickly and reliably, with terrific picture quality to boot.
Controlling the BDP-S3100 couldn’t be easier thanks to a compact remote that sits comfortably in the hand. The direction pad is placed directly under your thumb, surrounded by often-used keys like Return and Top Menu. Home and SEN buttons are highlighted in bright blue, and all of the keys are clearly labelled. You can also control a Sony TV using this remote.
3D pictures may be off the agenda, but the BDP-S3100 compensates with some sumptuous 2D images. We delved into Prometheus and the Sony renders its otherworldly visuals with real panache.
CG landscapes are sharp as a tack, enhanced by assured contrast levels that make everything look rich and punchy. This eye-popping clarity and brightness isn’t always good news – images of freaky face-huggers and severed humanoid heads covered in gunk look more gruesome than ever.
During gloomy scenes inside the caverns, excellent shadow detailing allows you to pick out the textures on the walls, plus creases on the scientists’ spacesuits. We’re also impressed by its reproduction of subtle colours, which is particularly important when handling pale alien skin tones and eerily-lit scenery on board the ship. Every shade looks smooth and clean, with no banding or grubby mosquito noise to sully the purity.
The Sony also does a bang-up job with DVDs, upscaling them to 1080p resolution while keeping artefacts to a minimum. There’s softness to the picture but that’s inevitable given the low source resolution – you can’t add detail that’s not there in the first place – but the image is bold and solid enough to keep your SD discs in action for some time to come.
A run through of our Silicon Optix HQV Blu-ray reveals that the BDP-S3100 is fine with challenging video formats despite its low price tag. You can literally see it adjust to the cadence of the Video Resolution Loss test the moment it appears on screen, locking down the detail and holding steady as the test card moves. The jaggies test pattern is wonderfully clean and sharp, while the Film Resolution Loss test reveals a little flickering but nowhere near as wild as we’ve seen from some budget decks.
Weighing up its features, performance and price, we can only conclude that the BDP-S3100 represents superb value for money. It boasts a generous array of features, including built-in Wi-Fi, web content and DLNA streaming, all for a little over £100 – plus it’s attractively styled, surprisingly well built and delivers dazzling 2D pictures.
On the downside Sony’s selection of internet content now pales in comparison to that of the similarly-priced Samsung BD-F6500, which offers all of the major catch-up TV services and on-demand movie sites. Other little niggles like the lack of DivX support and format limitations with network streaming take the sheen off an otherwise decent deck and make its Korean counterpart look like the better option.
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