Just as Sony claims, the BDP-S380 boots up incredibly quickly (the Home menu appears almost instantly after hitting On) and disc loading is also super-quick. It reached the first video segment on the tricky Terminator Salvation platter in 43 seconds, and Avatar loaded up in just 35 seconds.
We kept James Cameron’s sci-fi spectacular in the tray for picture evaluation, and the results are extremely pleasing. The deck stays faithful to the disc’s extraordinarily bright and challenging colour palette, rendering everything from neon plants and bright blue skin to subtle human hues without making any of it look garish or unnatural, which is the first step towards an impressive picture. It also picks up subtle variations in tone and shade and blends them without any banding or ugly block noise.
Detail is Blu-ray’s killer selling point and on that score Sony’s doesn’t let the side down. This is as sharp and vibrant an HD picture as you’re likely to see at this price, apart from the Panasonic DMP-BDT110 perhaps, with the deck bringing the movie’s eye-popping array of textures, patterns and complex scenery to life. But there’s also a solidity and clarity to the picture, anchored by dense blacks and excellent shadow detail during dark scenes.
The Silicon Optix HQV disc provides a more rigorous test for the player, but it has no trouble tackling its tricky test patterns. Both the Video and Film Resolution Loss tests are expertly reproduced, with no strobing in the striped boxes and a smoothly rotating bar. The pan across Raymond James stadium suffers a little judder but the seats look crisp and stable. The Jaggies tests show no signs or stepping or feathering along the diagonal lines.
The deck also does a nice job with CDs and SACDs, digging out plenty of detail and generally making music sound enjoyable without coming close to the audiophile refinement of more expensive players.
If you can live with the lack of 3D support and media streaming from PCs, the Sony BDP-S380 makes a very tidy choice. Picture quality is excellent and it looks great but the inclusion of BRAVIA Internet Video is the real clincher here – its unrivalled range of content trumps Viera Cast or Samsung’s Smart Hub, adding real value to the overall package. Also pleasing is the top-notch operating system, quickish loading times, two USB ports and unusual features like Gracenote and SACD playback. On the downside it won’t play DivX and apart from Smartphone Control there’s nothing here that wasn’t already found on the BDP-S370, and this dearth of exciting new features could end up pushing buyers toward the better-specified BDP-S480.