Rating: 4 out of 5
The trumpets have sounded, the debris has been cleared from the battlefield and Sony's Blu-ray format has been declared victorious in the "high definition DVD" war. There were a few souls who tempted fate (and lost) by taking the plunge on Toshiba's HD DVD players, especially after prices dipped below $500 just before Christmas. Most people, though, were happy to stand on the sidelines until a winner was declared.
Now that Blu-ray's time has come, Sony has a raft of players lining up for your home entertainment dollar. The latest of these is the top-shelf BDP-S500, which is strikingly similar in design and features to the $699 BDP-S300. With the S500's higher asking price come numerous advanced audio options delivered by the updated HDMI 1.3 interface.
Provided your system is built around a compatible late model AV receiver, the BDP-S500 can either stream or internally decode all the latest 7.1 surround sound formats except for DTS-HD Master Audio, which should only dishearten the purest of audio buffs. Even so, the sound on our older 5.1 system was crystal clear, with detailed channel separation.
Data formats supported include recordable disc formats such as writeable Blu-ray, which we'll start to see on high-end PCs and Macs before the year is out.
The S500 also gets a motorised front sliding panel that elegantly lowers to reveal the disc tray and transport buttons. A LCD display shines through from behind the panel with disc information. As with the more affordable S300, this model also supports Sony's 24p True Cinema for smoother visuals when it comes to movies shot at 24 frames a second.
It also performs well at upscaling standard DVDs to 1080p, in most cases giving the movies far more definition than the original picture.
Missing from that list is the picture-in-picture option that's starting to appear in some movies. This was introduced late last year when the Blu-ray specification was updated and, while it hasn't been confirmed, a possible firmware update for the BDP-S500 could add this feature down the track.
As it stands, this superior player ticks all the right boxes, particularly in the advanced audio area. If you're willing to forgo these features, the BDP-S300 at $699 would be worth considering.
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