Sony launches new Blu-ray Players, sets feline loose amongst avian rats

Well, Sony has done two launches in two days. Yesterday it unveiled a whole bunch of stuff including a 200Hz LCD TV (apparently it interpolates three new frames between each incoming real picture frame). Another new LCD TV uses hundreds of LEDs for backlighting, and these are individually addressable so they can be brightened and darkened individually in order to provide more precise aspect ratio enhancement.

Apparently just about everything (or so I’ve heard) will be networkable. And Sony has moved its menu system for all its equipment to what it calls XMB, for cross (X) Media Bar. If you are familiar with the PS3, it’s essentially the same menu system that it uses. It’s certainly no worse than any other menu system and the cross-product consistency will be welcome. I didn’t go to that event.

Today was all about Blu-ray and I most certainly went to that launch. I’m glad I did. The emphasis Sony has placed on Blu-ray gives me hope that the format truly will succeed in the mass market.

The Sony BDP-S350 Blu-ray playerWith a view to helping that, Sony says it will be launching a significant publicity campaign very soon on Channel 10 to raise Blu-ray’s profile (it will involve a ‘classic Australian actor’).

Sony will also be releasing two new Blu-ray players. The BDP-S350 will becoming out in October and the BDP-S550 in November. Both of these are BonusView capable (ie. support picture-in-picture and sound-in-sound). Incredibly, both are also BD-Live compliant (they both have Ethernet ports and their firmware will support full BD-Live capability). BD-Live means that they support Internet interactivity where provided on discs. For persistent storage, both provide a USB port. With the BDP-S350 it’s up to you to supply a USB memory stick for storage. With the BDP-S550 you get a 1GB Sony Microvault USB memory stick.

Both are capable of delivering 1080p24 video and bitstream of the new audio standards over HDMI. I forgot to ask, but if the hardware is an enhancement of previous models, then you ought to be able to change the output resolution on the fly using a key on the remote control.

The other major difference (there isn’t much between them visually) between the two concerns audio decoding. Apparently the cheaper model will still decode Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus to multichannel PCM to be delivered via HDMI, but lacks analogue audio output. The BDP-S550 adds 7.1 channel analogue outputs and DTS-HD Master Audio and High Resolution decoding.

The Sony BDP-S550 Blu-ray playerSo Sony is suddenly tripling the number of full BD-Live Blu-ray players on the market (beating, it seems, Panasonic with its unit). But here is where the cat does indeed get amongst the pigeons. The pricing.

The BDP-S350 will enter the market as the cheapest Blu-ray player available, with an RRP of $449! Pretty impressive since the cheapest Blu-ray player on the market at the moment is the Olin OBDP-1000, at $499. The BDP-S550, at a promised RRP of $649, is still lower in price, as I write, than the Samsung BD-P1500 and the Panasonic DMP-BD30. And both of those are, as I write, still BonusView only, not BD-Live (Samsung promises a firmware upgrade for its unit to make it BD-Live some time in the future). By the time it launches, though, I would expect considerable adjustments of RRPs for competing products.

During the launch, Sony showed a graph suggesting that DVD players really took off in Australia late in 2001 once the prices hit the $400 mark. Their, and my, hope is that the same thing happens with Blu-ray.

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