Sony BDP-S300

The format war rages on. Price-concious numpties who don’t know any better will be picking the HD-DVD format when faced with a wall of high-def spinners. Eager to close the gap, Sony launched their budget Sony BDP-S300 player to try and beat Toshiba’s wonderkind at its own game: the bargain-end of the market.

The BDP-S300 is a quantum leap ahead from the BDP-S1E spinner: Sure, it costs about half as much as its big brother, but it weighs much less (a blessing if
you’ve ever tried lugging the S1E anywhere). It can play audio CD’s, and looks
pretty tasty to boot. There’s not a cheap bit of plastic in sight, and it feels as professional and high-end as the S1E did.

Sony have stripped off a couple of functions, including the Dolby True HD and
various other high-end audiophile grubbins, but that’s not really a problem: If you’re into audiophilia, you’ve probably grown accustomed to being charged both of your arms and your leg from the kneecap down for your A/V gear.

For the rest of us, this is a phenomenal Blu-Ray player: Full-on, glorious 1080p video with jaw-droppingly good picture quality when playing Blu-Ray discs: We dare-say the picture quality is actually on par with the vastly more pricy S1E player. If you’ve got a library of plain-old DVDs, you’ll be pleased to hear that it copes perfectly with them as well, up-scaling them to sexy hi-def with rather good results.

We found that the BD-S300 isn’t exactly the Speedy Gonzales of the spinner world. Menus took a painfully long time to load, and the loading screens were
buggy (Dear sony: When you use a progress bar, people expect to be done waiting when the progress bar fills up completely.). They didn’t make much sense and would sometimes freeze up for up to a minute at a time… Put differently: Having to go a full several minutes from inserting a disc until starting to enjoy a movie is a complete joke.

In short, it’s a very capable high-quality player all around. Sadly, all of
the praise we are prepared to pour over the S300 are conteracted by a couple
of silly choices from Sony’s side: Without internet connectivity the Sony
BDP-S300 will find itself struggling. Whereas HD-DVD is a finished format with
a load of upgradeable players, Blu-Ray are still polishing its repertoire and
are making changes to the format as they go along. This can be a good thing,
of course, but it also means that the hard-earned cash you shelled out for your entry-level Blu-Ray spinner might be a waste of money sooner rather than later – in fact, seeing as how the BDP-S300 player is a so-called Profile 1.0 player, there are already discs out there (such as the ones that use picture-in-picture commentary) this player can’t play properly.

Don’t get us wrong, the Sony BDP-S300 is a great little player, and generally we don’t give a hoot about forward compatibility in our gadgets. It’s just that it’s a bitter pill to swallow for a tech-loving gadgeteer, when you discover that you may have to upgrade sooner than you like to stay au fait with the blue-lasered warrior in the format war. Our top tip? Save up another fifty quid and buy a PS3 instead…