Being an entry-level player, you miss out on the wider range of features offered by the BDP-S480, S580 and S780. These include support for 3D, DLNA networking, built-in Wi-Fi and (in the case of the BDP-S780) Skype. You can, however, access BRAVIA Internet Video, which despite the best efforts of its rivals still offers the best range of content of any integrated web service. On the video side, you get BBC iPlayer, Demand Five, Sky News, LoveFilm, Video on Demand from Qriocity, Sony Entertainment TV, Eurosport, YouTube, Dailymotion and a range of more specialist applications. On the music side, there’s Qriocity’s Music Unlimited service, the Berliner Philharmoniker ‘Digital Concert Hall’, Moshcam and National Public Radio.
Although you can’t stream content from your PC over a network, the S380 does support local playback of music, video and photos from USB devices. We plugged in a stick and the deck happily played WMA, MP3 and AAC music files, MP4, AVI, MPEG-1 and XviD videos and JPEG photos. However it refused to play our hi-def WMV and AVI files, but even more heinous was its lack of support for DivX.
A couple of other features caught our eye, such as the online Entertainment Database Browser uses Gracenote technology to call up information about the disc you’re watching. Even more unusual is the deck’s support for Super Audio CD, which will give fans of hi-res audio something to cheer about. Elsewhere the player supports Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio and 1080/24p video output.
Like Panasonic, Sony has added Smartphone control to the spec sheet, which allows you to operate the S380 using an iPhone, iPod Touch or Android phone, as well as search the internet for content related to what you’re watching. This will be of interest to anyone who can’t stand using the supplied remote, which actually isn’t all that bad. It’s more compact than most Blu-ray remotes and features a clear, intuitive layout with good labelling. The all-important Home button is easy to find, coloured blue and bigger than the other keys.
This makes the player a doddle to operate, but much of the credit for this goes to our old friend the Xross Media Bar, which displays the various categories horizontally, intersected by the corresponding options. But as much as we like Sony’s beloved GUI, the growing amount of BIV content means it can take an age to scroll down to the bottom of the list.
The other onscreen displays are simple and clear. Particularly useful is the Options menu, which can be called up during movie playback and provides quick access to often-used features. It also offers a few video settings, including three presets that tweak the contrast for different lighting conditions – Standard, Brighter Room (higher contrast) and dimly-lit ‘Theater’ rooms (lower contrast) – as well as block and mosquito noise reduction modes.