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Sony BDP-S360 Blu-ray Player
The BDP-S360 is the follow-up to last year's marvellous entry-level Blu-ray player, the BDP-S350. This new and improved version supports BD Live from the box (no firmware update needed this time) and a stack of other features likely to appeal to Blu-ray virgins and veterans alike. Also sure to gain universal approval is the sub-£200 price, which is small beans for a big-name brand.
The deck's design is unremarkable - the all-black finish and subtle blue light on the fascia are a tasteful combo and the slim, shallow dimensions are undoubtedly appealing, but it doesn't grab you in the same way as Samsung or Philips' latest players. The fascia is one big transparent flap that drops down when the tray opens, and behind it is a display panel that shows the elapsed time clearly. Only a few buttons adorn the front, which keeps it clutter-free.
Being an entry-level player, you get a fairly basic selection of sockets on the rear panel, headlined by that all-important HDMI output. It's a v1.3 affair, which means HD audio bitstreams, Deep Colour and x.v.Colour are all supported. Component and composite ports provide further video output options.
The easiest way of enjoying the deck's audio capabilities is to connect its HDMI output to a suitably-equipped receiver and set the BD Audio output to ‘Direct'. The player will then output Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio bitstreams (as well as regular Dolby Digital and DTS) via HDMI, and your receiver should automatically detect and decode what's being played. If your receiver lacks HD audio decoding, the Sony can convert these soundtracks to LPCM so you still get the same hi-res benefits.
Those without HDMI inputs on their amp can use the optical or coaxial digital audio outputs to enjoy Dolby Digital or DTS soundtracks. But anyone hoping for 5.1or 7.1-channel analogue outputs is out of luck - all you get is a stereo pair.
Unlike the Wi-Fi compatible Samsung BD-P3600, the Sony relies on a clunky Ethernet connection to hook up to the web, plus you need to plug a USB flash drive (at least 1GB) in the back to store movie downloads. The PS3 offers Wi-Fi and built-in memory, so we would have liked to have seen the company pushing such features on its standalone players. The step-up BDP-S560 apparently boasts Wi-Fi but we're not sure if and when this is coming to the UK.