* Prices may differ from that shown
Key Features: Two USB ports; Wi-Fi ready with wireless LAN adapter; BRAVIA Internet Video; Music, video & photo playback via USB; Picture presets and noise reduction
Sony’s BDP-S370 was one of the best budget Blu-ray players of last year, offering a number of snazzy features not always found on entry-level players, such as access to web content via Sony’s brilliant BRAVIA Internet Video. The Japanese AV behemoth follows it up this year with the BDP-S380, which looks like a similar proposition to its predecessor including its lack of support for 3D – if that’s what you’re after, you’ll need to step up to the BDP-S480, S580 or S780.
Like most players at this price point, the BDP-S380 is a slim, slinky unit that should pose no problems being slotted into a crowded AV rack. It’s designed to match Sony’s Monolithic TVs, and as such there’s a moody gloss-black fascia and a protruding lip at the bottom that sports a row of buttons. This gives it a sleek hi-tech appearance, plus the subtle white light in the centre provides extra allure. On the right hand side is a small but legible display panel and a USB port, while overall build quality is satisfying thanks to the sturdy aluminium bodywork.
Rear panel connectivity is pretty much what you expect from an entry-level player like this. There’s an HDMI output of course, which pipes those pixels to your hi-def TV and passes HD audio to your amp. It’s backed up by component, composite, analogue stereo and coaxial digital audio outputs, but there’s no optical output and no multichannel analogue outputs.
The Ethernet port is on hand to provide a wired connection to the internet, but thankfully the BDP-S380 supports Wi-Fi if you buy the UWA-BR100 wireless LAN adapter, and Sony has kindly put a second USB port on the back to house it.
Having owned a HD TV for some time I decided to update a now out of date standard DVD player for a new blue ray player. Having looked around the Sony blue ray players get good reviews. I did have a Sony DVD recorder some time a go and had nothing but issues when playing less than perfect discs, it would hang and then jump several minutes ahead and didn't play other formats, so I was a little usure to go back to Sony it seemed to tick all the boxes.
Sony has updated the well reviewed S370 with the S380, some minor cosmetic changes to the front but nothing major. The S380 is a good priced player, retailing around £90-100 it has been as low as £60-70 in some sales which is a cracking price for what is a very decent blue ray player. The machine itself is an odd shape from the front it looks standard width of around 43cm and around 3.5-4cm high, the depth however is around half of older style DVD players at just 18.5cm. For those that stack something else on top of a DVD player such as games console or Sky box you shouldn't be too concerned as the Sky box sits happily on top of it. I guess they have save a lot of plastic by not giving them the full depth. Buttons are small and feel slightly cheap they also dont illuminate and with it being all black in a dimmed room you find yourself running your finger over to find the button. Whilst the buttons are plastic and small this does not impact on the function of them and they are responsive enough, but other than turning the player on and inserting a disc its highly likely the remote will get used more.
It seems the big topic for blue ray players is start up time, some people don't have 5-10 seconds spare to wait these days. I cannot see the point of complaining over the start up time its not like it's in the minutes. The S380 when first connected and within the settings gives the option either eco mode with longer start up or quicker start up but the player uses more power in fast start up mode and only shaves a few seconds from the time. I opted for the eco mode and it takes all of 15 seconds when first turned on to be ready to load a disc.
The player itself is quite simple only four buttons on the front power, eject, stop and play. The remaining functions being on the remote which is a compact size. The player has a USB socket on the front and will play XVid content from a USB stick. At the rear of the machine Audio line out sockets, HDMI, LAN, Coaxial socket, Componet video and a second USB socket.
Its worth noting at this point that the S380 doesn't come with a HDMI in the box (not sure if this is common with most players). So worth remembering to buy one. And don't be conned into paying £10+ or in some instances over £40 for a HDMI lead they have been tested and no difference in quality compared with a cheap £3 one.
*Whats it like?*
In short great, the difference in both detail of picture and sound is amazing, the first Blue ray I tried was the new Transformers film and it was definitely better viewing on Blue ray, the sound was crisp and clearer, the picture contained a huge amount more detail with sharper deeper colours and contrast. The player itself was very quiet whilst in use and no issues seen over disc jumping or pixel block issues - I guess this will only be tested when trying scratched and imperfect discs. Whilst the picture is more detailed the player keeps the cinema feel of the picture so it doesn't like a home movie, various settings for picture and sound through the player's menu system which is simple enough to navigate can accommodate personal prefernce. It will upscale standard DVD's and so no need to throw away old DVD's.
The player can be connected to the internet, it's not a wireless machine and whilst they state you can buy a wireless dongle for it, they are never any good. The best way is to connect direct to the router via a LAN cable. Once connected you can access a much wider variety of content such as video on demand, streaming films from Lovefilm, BBC iplayer, 5 on demand and several others. Again once you're used to the menu system of Sony devices its straightforward to use, its always going to be a little fiddly as you have to use the remote to enter details. It's a great function to have, and you ca then access HD content such as BBC HD if you don't have sky HD or similar already. As a general rule you need a broadband speed of around 3mbs or more, I only get 3.8mbs and have no issues whatsoever connecting to BBC iplayer and watching HD content or streaming a film from Lovefilm.
Whilst you can buy cheaper non branded players for the money the S380 is a very good blue ray player especially if purchased at sale prices. The picture quality is superb and I've had no issues with the quality of the playback or the player itself. It does lack some functions over some players such as no DNLA - the ability to stream from a PC, and other devices but then my TV has this and have no requirement to stream from the player to another TV but if you do need this then its worth looking for an alternative. But if all you need is great picture quality you would be mad not to buy a blue ray player such as this and if still on standard DVD with a full HD TV you really are missing out.
Inevitably, there comes a time when you realise you have to see Flash Gordon in a higher definition than DVD can give you. I've had an HD ready telly for a few years, and now they're cheap and have won the format war, it seemed silly not to get a Blu-Ray player.
This was the model I went for. It's cheap enough to not be an utter disaster if it doesn't work out, but expensive enough to reassure me that I'm getting something reasonably durable. It has the slimline black appearance that seems to be de rigueur for these (macho) appliances these days.
Setting up was very easy. Plug the thing into the TV, switch it on, bob's your uncle. However, it doesn't come with any connector cables of any kind, so bob's only your uncle if you've already got something to plug him in with. There are various different options, but HDMI is apparently the best in terms of picture quality, so that's what I went for. The player takes maybe 20 seconds to switch on and be ready to play.
You'll also need to connect to the internet to download firmware updates. You can get a wireless adaptor to plug into the player (it has three USB ports), but it doesn't come with one. I'm not sure if any old wireless USB adaptor will do or if it needs a bespoke one. As it's right next to my router anyway I just stuck a spare Ethernet cable in the back of it. It will prompt you when it thinks you should upgrade, flashing a message up on screen, even if you're halfway through watching something. This is a bit clumsy, like your butler lumbering in to tell you the new washing machine's arrived when you're in the middle of a swingers' party. The actual download and install of the update takes only a couple of minutes.
The little buttons on the player are a bit too small, but who presses buttons on a player anyway? The remote is a nice, dinky size and easy to get to grips with. It's more or less the same as any DVD remote (but somehow much smaller) and I figured it out in about a second. There's a menu when you first switch the player on, which is slightly less intuitive than it could be, but which is easy enough to find one's way around. It's slightly inconsistent about whether it will autoplay disks you put in, or just leave you to select them from the menu screen.
So obviously it plays Blu-Ray disks, and equally obviously they have much, much better picture quality than DVDs - sharper, more detailed, with better colour definition and blacker blacks. I've not got another Blu-Ray player, so have no idea how it compares to different models - presumably some are better than others. But this is certainly going to keep me happy for the foreseeable future. How durable the format itself is remains to be seen, but I reckon there will be a couple of years' life in it, which is enough to warrant getting a player.
The player itself whirs a bit when you first put a disk in, but isn't notably noisy when it's playing, a criticism I've seen levelled at some players. This is a single region player (Region B), but a lot of American Blu-Rays are being released as all regions, so this isn't a major disaster. I've already picked up American Blu-Rays of my two favourite movies. There's plenty of information on the web about which releases are region free and which aren't.
I can't really judge how good its sound quality is as my TV has fairly basic speakers. It's not what I bought the player for, but there are impressive looking options available.
My taste in cheap, old, never-going-to-get-upgraded horror movies means I'm not ready to wave goodbye to DVDs just yet. It plays DVDs too, of course. It's supposed to 'upscale' DVDs, making their picture quality slightly better. I have to admit, I can't notice any difference between the picture quality for DVD playback on this, on my DVD player, or on my Xbox 360. I'm keeping my all-regions DVD player anyway - this player is only region 2, and I buy an awful lot of multi-region imports. (You can reportedly enter a code that lets this play multi-region DVDs easily enough, but I've no particular reason to do so. That only applies to DVDs, not Blu-Rays - as far as I can tell, you're stuck with just the one Blu-Ray region.)
The one problem it's had was with an old Dr Who DVD. I was watching in it 4:3 aspect ratio (the old TV ratio), as that's what it was recorded in. Twice the player randomly flipped me into widescreen without warning. It only happened on that one disk, though (other Dr Who DVDs I watched didn't do it) so I'm not too worried.
You can also go online and watch internet video sites, of which plenty are available (presumably software upgrades will add more in the future). I've only had a quick look at this as I watch very little TV anyway. BBC iPlayer can be a bit temperamental - sometimes it seems to have trouble connecting, which can sometimes require switching the player off and on again to get it to do anything else. Sky News and Youtube both work. Youtube obviously involves you having to search for things, and you use the numbers on the remote rather like a mobile phone's texting (although sadly it doesn't do predictive texting.) Still, I got my favourite youtube video (a Russian man singing) up within maybe two minutes, so it's not that bad. Obviously youtube video quality isn't best suited to big TVs, though.
The player can also handle music - pop a CD in and it plays it. It plays various common sound file formats, and you can plug an external hard drive full of music into one of the USB ports if you so wish. Here, though, is where the limitations of the navigation system become apparent. The hard drive in question has loads of music on it - it's a backup of all the music I have on my PC, which is an awful lot. Scrolling through it all takes ages, and if there's a way to skip to things I couldn't find it. The huge list, ludicrously, doesn't loop, so if you're browsing your Frank Zappa albums and suddenly realise that, actually, you're in the mood for a bit of Abba, you have to scroll all the way back up again. Which takes ages.
It can also play video files, and you can view photos on it, from various USB storage devices or DVDs (or even CD-ROMs, I guess). Here's where another annoyance rears its head. The menu has separate options, for photos, video and music. Although the USB drive will appear under all three categories, it will only play things if you select it from the right one. So if you put in a drive full of photos but try to view it through the Video category, it will tell you there are no playable files on the disk. This seems annoyingly pedantic when we're all used to computer operating systems which allow you to browse whole drives at once.
But really all these extra features - internet video, music, photos - are irrelevant. I bought this to watch films on, and it lets me do that to my satisfaction. Even if Blu Ray proves to be an ephemeral format, just a final footnote to the physical media era, it'll do me very nicely as a DVD player too. I paid £100 for this on amazon (it's cheaper elsewhere, it turns out), and if you're looking for a simple-to-use and reliable player, this seems to fit the bill.
Oh, and it has a thin blue light on the front that looks sort of science fiction-y. What a time to be alive!
I'm only relating my own experience of this as a relatively tech-illiterate consumer. If you want to know the technical details, they are here: