At UCHI this week, Sony were showing off their latest Blu-ray players, the BDP-S350 and the BDP-S550. And while we've seen these players on Giz before, it's good to know that Sony are finally releasing some BD-Live capable players here in Australia. What's more, they're actually at mass market price points: $449 for the S350 and $649 for the S550.
But the announcement of these players in Australia wasn't the most exciting piece of Blu-ray information gained from the event - that mantle went to the hint that the next generation of players would include wireless networking capabilities.
Discussing the BD-Live situation with a Blu-ray product manager, I asked why Sony had opted for wired ethernet connection when most homes don't have an ethernet plug near the TV. The response was candid: the reason this generation only has a wired solution is to try and break that $500 price barrier to encourage widespread adoption of the technology, which they have now done with the S350.
I also asked why, in Sony's mind, anyone would opt for a standalone Blu-ray player when the Playstation 3 is not only a higher specced machine (it's all firmware upgradeable, remember?), but can play back games. Sony believe that aesthetics will play a big part in the move to standalone players, and believe we'll follow the same pattern as DVD, where people used their PS2 for DVD playback until the price of standalone players reached a point where they were almost impulse purchases.
As far as BD-Live goes, Sony made a big show about the fact that it's a "blank canvas", which essentially means that they don't know what they'll do with it. Of the films on display to showcase the online technology, Starship Troopers 3 was a ridiculous attempt to insert a cardboard cutout of your face into the movie, while 21 allowed you to play blackjack online with other viewers. The best BD-Live implementation was on John Mayer's latest Blu-ray concert, which allows viewers to download bonus tracks, something that's actually somewhat useful and appealing.
And for anybody interested in the latest Sony Blu-ray players themselves, here's the press release:
Sony adds new Blu-ray Disc players that maximise the power of HDTV Two models bring new levels of interactivity to home entertainment Sydney - 23-25 September, 2008 - Sony maximises the potential of your high definition television and brings a new level of interactivity to home entertainment through its two Blu-ray Disc players launched today. The BDP-S350 and BDP-S550 are capable of accessing advanced interactive features such as Bonus View and BD-Live.
"It's simple, without Blu-ray you're just not getting the most out of your HDTV," said Andrew Smith, Product Manager for Home Video at Sony Australia. "With over one in four Australians now having access to an HD LCD TV1, the best way to ensure you're making the most of this investment is to connect it to a Blu-ray player. With Blu-ray content becoming more widely available through both retail and video rental stores, the exciting new interactive features these models offer take the movie experience beyond what cinemas can offer, delivering the next generation of home entertainment."
Both models are capable of utilising BD-Live, a newly developed Blu-ray feature that lets you access the internet during a movie to download a variety of up-to-date content, such as refreshed previews and exclusive special features like ringtone/wallpaper downloads, peer to peer interactions, live events and gaming. This is achieved through an Ethernet port, which also enables easy firmware updates. A Bonus View feature provides "picture-in-picture" capability with select Blu-ray Disc titles - useful for viewing director or actor commentary while the movie plays.
A USB port lets you connect USB flash-based memory to store downloads from BD-Live. The BDP-S550 ships with a 1GB storage device. Sony's Blu-ray players feature 1080/60p and 24p True Cinema output. They are compatible with most standard DVDs and feature 1080p upscaling through an HDMI connection to capable HDTV sets, improving the picture performance of existing DVD libraries.
These two models include the latest audio technology to ensure sound is just as powerful as the image quality. With 7.1 channel Dolby® TrueHD and Dolby® Digital Plus decoding, bit-stream output, plus dts®-HD High Resolution Audio and Master Audio bit-stream output, the BDP-S350 sounds incredible. The BDP-S550 adds dts-HD High Resolution Audio and dts-HD Master Audio decoding as well as 7.1 channel analogue audio output for an out-of-this world sound experience.