Living with Sony’s BDP-S550 Blu-ray player

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Sony BDP-S550
Living with Sony’s BDP-S550 Blu-ray player

One project I’ve taken on for publication in Playback 15 is a review of Sony’s next-gen BDP-S550 Blu-ray player—the model that features BD Live and Bonus View features and both bitstream and 7.1-channel analog support for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks. This is, I suspect, the Blu-ray player that a lot of enthusiasts have been waiting for—a player that goes far beyond the capabilities of the first generation BDP-S300 and for not a lot more money. Part of the good news, as many of you already know, is that the BDP-S550 and its sibling, the BDP-S350, have both arrived with list prices that are a sweet $100 below the prices Sony projected at CEDIA 2008 (thus, the BDP-S550 retails for $400—not $500, and the BDP-S350 for $300—not $400). For obvious reasons, the BDP-S5550 is especially relevant for those who own legacy A/V receiver or controllers that pre-date the arrival of Blu-ray and therefore do not include built-in Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio decoders. For its theoretical benefits to work out in practice, of course, the BDP-S550 needs to have decent-sounding analog audio circuits, which happily it does.

First impressions: The BDP-S550 is a remarkably compact player and it appears, um, very “blue.” (If you’ve not seen one of Sony’s Blu-ray players, you’ll discover their faceplates feature a fetching, dark metallic blue—er, Blu?—color scheme that I personally find quite appealing. Your mileage may vary.) The Sony’s compactness derives, in large part, from the fact that the thing is uncommonly shallow (about 8 3/8 inches from faceplate to rear panel). For old-school folks like me, it’s just a little bit astonishing to think that Sony has managed to fit so much functionality into such an itsy-bitsy box. The player’s Blu-ray Profile 2.0 functions all work like a charm, and the player’s backlit remote control is, in my view, a beauty. Unlike Playback video specialist David Birch-Jones, I’m good with Sony providing blue backlighting for its remote controls (even though, as DBJ would no doubt point out, blue isn’t theoretically the best color for nighttime visibility) because the button lights are so intense that a half-blind person could probably read them at 20 paces in the dark. Besides, we wouldn’t want to screw up the blue-on-blue color scheme, would we?

Sound: I won’t give away all the details of the Playback review, but suffice it to say that I found the BDP-S550 a very good sounding player in light of its price—a player you can enjoy for CD playback as well as for Blu-ray content (something that can’t really be said for some of the Blu-ray players I’ve heard).  The Sony’s sound may not offer the last word in absolute transparency or definition (what $400 player does?), but the good news is that it errs on the side of warmth and smoothness, which certainly beats the tooth-gratingly bright and edgy alternative. In fact, the Sony’s sound reminds me more than a little of the hearty and engaging presentation of Marantz’s award-winning DV6100 universal player (which I reviewed in Playback 10). Not bad sonic company, eh? Watch for the full DBP-S550 review in Playback 15.

Coming in next week’s blog: First impressions of BG’s next-gen, hybrid planar magnetic/dynamic driver-equipped Radia Z-92/Z-62 surround speaker system.

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