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Sony Blu-ray Disc Player Gets Serious Upgrade

Jul 17, 2008 1:30 PM, By Rebecca Day

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The Blu-ray Disc is finally beginning to expand to its potential. Sony unveiled its latest Blu-ray player in New York last week and the downsized BDP-S350 packs all the requisite features of a 2008-age player: BD-Live compatibility, lossless Dolby and dts decoding, an Ethernet port, USB port, and green packaging. Amid all the bells and whistles, consumers’ favorite feature is likely to be the under-6-second bootup time from load to menu.

Holding up the downsized player next to its BDP-S300 brother, Chris Fawcett, vice president of marketing for Sony’s home-video division, told journalists the new $400 player is 55 percent smaller than its predecessor. A smaller component translates to less packing material and reduced shipping weight. That, combined with all-paper packaging and Earth-friendly dyes in the manual (made from recycled paper), brings down the carbon footprint of the new player to 43 percent of the older Sony model. The new design isn’t just a token gesture for the green movement. Sony says the BDP-S350 sets the tone for future designs—excluding beefy models in the ES series.

Plugging the BDP-S350 as a fully compliant Blu-ray player, Fawcett noted that the unit comes capable of showing Bonus View material via PIP, packs lossless Dolby TrueHD and dts Master Audio decoding via HDMI (along with 7.1-channel analog outputs), upconverts standard DVDs to 1080p resolution and is ready for BD-Live when a firmware upgrade is available this fall.

BD-Live is expected to finally gain traction in the fourth quarter. Sony Pictures has nine BD-Live titles in its line now and all titles going forward will have BD-Live content, according to Rich Marty, vice president of new business development for Sony Pictures. Lion’s Gate has released two titles with BD-Live and Disney said last month it will release all future Blu-ray titles with BD-Live capability. Warner Bros., according to published reports, won’t have BD-Live titles this year.

Marty was sanguine about BD-Live’s contribution to the at-home movie experience. “We’re in the early days of BD-Live,” he says. “It’s an evergreen concept. We can keep changing to stay current.” For studios, that means the days of has-been trailers are gone. “When we authored DVDs we were stuck with the trailers that went on the disc,” Marty says. With BD-Live we can swap in new trailers as they’re released—both standard and high-def.”

On the creative side, the interactive Blu-ray disc is in its infancy. Discs include timelines, bookmarking, picture-in-picture and playlist capability. Consumers will be able to play games related to the movie--by themselves or against others via the online connection. In the upcoming release 21, viewers will be able to play a blackjack game with others around the country. A leaderboard will post the name of top scorers. Starship Troopers, due in August, will offer viewers the chance to be onscreen. They upload a photo to the player via USB and see themselves inserted into the movie.

Buyers of the BDP-S350, which began shipping last week, will have to perform a firmware upgrade to get BD-Live capability. Fawcett said there’s no schedule for the upgrades but that consumers will be prompted that an upgrade is available if they’ve opted in to that feature on the player. Other options for firmware upgrades include PC downloads and DVDs.

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