If the recession has eaten into your Blu-ray player budget then all is not lost - there are some great-value decks on the market that deliver the high-def basics without making a large dent in your savings. We’ve already looked at the Samsung BD-P1600 and Philips BDP3000, both of which deliver solid features and performance for under £150, and now there’s another one to add to the list - the Sony BDP-S360.
The follow-up to last year’s BDP-S350, the S360 once again offers full 1080p picture quality and support for HD audio but strips away the fancy flourishes found on the step-up S560 announced at IFA. This time round it supports BD Live from the box (the S350 had to be firmware upgraded), so you can vent your spleen over the latest Saw instalment online, or download trailers to your heart’s content.
Understated, minimal looks are the order of the day - a large flap covers the entire fascia, hiding the buttons and disc tray, while a blue light gives it some much needed glitz. Around the back you get a limited selection of sockets, including an HDMI v1.3 port, Component and Composite outputs, plus optical and coaxial digital audio outputs.
Of course, being a budget player the lack of built-in Wi-Fi, multichannel analogue outputs and built-in memory is no surprise. But less forgivable is the Sony’s limited digital media support. The rear-mounted USB port is only for BD Live storage, and it only plays MP3 and JPEG from discs - surprising from the company that brought you the PS3, a device more media-friendly than Max Clifford.
The S360 makes up for it with a fantastic operating system. Dubbed the Xross Media Bar, the main menu presents its options as intersecting horizontal and vertical rows, while the cursor skates around the funky icons and colourful backdrops with pleasing fluidity.
There’s also a quick start mode that boots-up the Sony in 6 seconds, but it comes unstuck when you load a disc, taking close to a minute to fire up Java-heavy platters like Spider-Man 3 when other decks do it in half the time.
Limited features, slow disc loading - it’s a good job this deck’s pictures are up to scratch. Decent detail retrieval gives images that searing sharpness that you expect from Blu-ray, while strong colour saturation injects warmth and vibrancy into the picture, without compromising the accuracy of skin tones.
Noise is kept to a minimum and motion looks generally judder-free with 24Hz output engaged. We won’t deny that you get better picture quality from step-up decks like the Pioneer BDP-LX52 or Panasonic DMP-BD80, but it easily matches other players at this price. The Sony even provides impressive DVD upscaling, with crisp detail, vivid colours and effective suppression of edge jaggies.
If you’re looking for your first Blu-ray player then the BDP-S360 is a definite candidate for your cash. The feature list is unduly sparse, but its user-friendly operating system, BD Live support and solid picture quality just about make it money well spent.
That said, in our eyes the Samsung BD-P1600 is still a better bet, boasting wider digital media support, faster disc loading, a USB port and the option of adding Wi-Fi.