Monday, January 30

Initial Impressions of Sony's BDP-S185 "Smart" Blu-ray player

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At just $80, Sony's BDP-S185 is an obvious attempt to pillage the wallet of any still Blu-ray reluctant Average Joes with the combo of a trusted brand and multitude of features at an extremely competitive price. What pulled me in was the tiny form factor. The width and length of the unit equals just a half a fingernail over two standard DVD cases set side-by-side. It fits perfectly on top of my standard ATX PC tower with room to spare...

But why would I set it on my PC? Long story short, my parent's already-repaired-once Samsung LCD kicked the bucket, again, so they threw up their hands and shuffled sets around. They ended up getting a larger set for a second room and were gracious enough to give me their 32" Sony LCD (KDL-32L5000) which I'm now looking at as a monitor. With HDMI inputs, I wanted to get a BD player just for this display to watch/spot check Blus and DVDs right at my desk with the push of a button. I could have just bought a BD-ROM drive, but you should already know I'm weird like that. After determining the easiest way to grab one was to join the People of Wal Mart, I found literally stacks of them on an endcap for $78.

The player is simple to set up. Just plug-in, connect with an HDMI cable (not supplied, visit Monoprice), and turn on. The boot-up is less than fifteen seconds and you'll be greeted with a simple version of Sony's XMB interface seen on the PS3. There's selectable icons for Set-up, Photo, Music, Video, and Network. Looking over the video and audio feature set, the S185 supports almost everything the Blu-ray format can currently muster. 1080p/24 playback, Deep Color modes (10/12/16-bit), BD-Live 2.0, and internal decoding and/or bitstreaming of lossless audio types via HDMI. Firmware updates are also a breeze. The only drawbacks are a lack of Blu-ray 3D support, no time display on the player's front, no Wi-fi capability, and the required use of at least a 1GB USB stick for BD-Live features. I personally couldn't care less about the lack of these aspects. The biggest issue might be no front read-out but that's helped by a on-screen display that can be called up with info like the current/total track time, audio track, resolution, chapter number, and video bitrate (again, like the PS3's display).    

Disc load times are speedy, more-or-less matching the PS3. The responsiveness to commands like chapter skipping or audio track changes is instantaneous. Worldly DVD collectors will bemoan the fact that the unit won't play even region free PAL format titles, but I already have several other players that can do that so I'm not holding that against it. One tiny yet extremely important feature is the disc tray design. I can't tell you how annoying it is when you buy a player and the tray isn't user-friendly. Many brands have forgotten this, like LG's BD550 (review here), which drove me up the wall with its ultra-thin tray that took the fingers of an aged Chinese sweatshop assembly worker to simply remove the disc by the edges. This Sony's tray is more like a traditional CD-ROM, that opens all the way out, just deep enough for you to easily see that the disc is properly "seated" to avoid jamming the (quiet) drive. The sides of the disc are also clear of the tray for assured removal even by big hands. It might sound stupid, but this factor alone is a huge plus because I certainly don't want to fuck up my media with scratches and fingerprints from being forced to employ awkward handling to simply use them.  

Outside of the solid Blu-ray and DVD performance, the S185 also offers a bunch of online services like Sony's own movie/music rental service, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, Hulu, Pandora Radio, Slacker Radio, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, and Crackle. I don't have the pay services, so I can't say how their implementation fares here, but the free ones run pretty smoothly. YouTube is fleshed out with most of the options you'd find online, including access to your own account, and the ability to watch videos full screen. Pandora is kinda shitty with Slacker being better thought out. The only problem was Slacker locking up the player if I became too overzealous with hitting the remote. Just like the PS3, hold the power button down on the player to force a shutdown. Crackle works well and offers free streaming movies and television, like NOLD '90 above. There's a useful image noise reduction feature that can be used with the online video services. You can also hook up a keyboard via USB for faster searches. Sony appears intent to add more services in the future, like the "coming soon" CinemaNow. You can even get tips or something from Dr. Oz and Lance Armstrong through their services...yeah...   

I'm an idiot when it comes to all these newfangled media file types available, but there were no problems with viewing images and playing .avis and mp3s on USB drives. The remote is a little too small for all its buttons but compliments other recent Sony remotes. As for odd little features, the audio can be delayed up to 120msecs on DVDs and BDs during playback if the sync with the video seems off. Also in the Audio Set-up there's an option to automatically convert mono or stereo tracks into processed DTS Neo6 Surround. A feature I've never seen a disc player have that's always reserved for A/V receivers or processors. Overall, so far, this plucky player seems like a very good deal at the price point and it shows how far Blu-ray decks have come. It's almost like a PS3 without the gaming feature for a fraction of the cost.
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5 comments:

Jayson said...

My player's current FW version is M09.R.0029.

Jayson said...

Also I'll be updating this entry with tidbits in the comments section since my thoughts on that LG player is one of the most visited entries on this blog...

Jayson said...

Now on M09.R.0033

Tested DVDs out more, they can be upscaled to 1080p/24, which is a nice feature. That means that with film-sourced material on DVD, the need for the 3:2 pulldown process is totally eliminated and you see the original standard definition video at 24fps.

I can remember when this feature was kinda like a "hidden" aspect of certain HD DVD players that were the very first to play regular DVDs in this fashion.

Erik (Drunketh) said...

Great article man. Sounds like you've got some pretty cool set-ups going on there.

Anonymous said...

Mine S185 plays region-free European BD discs flawlessly. Second Sight's ROTLD disc, and the French Phantom of the Paradise BD, are amongst those I've tried.

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