Blu-ray players have come a very long way since their introduction in 2006. The much-maligned long loading times are on their way out. HDCP issues are becoming less and less common. Players are getting smaller, cheaper, and more advanced. Perhaps the best example of this advancement is Sony's new BDP-BX1. The BX1 is a special model of their BDP-S350 made for Costco stores. Aside from the different name, the BX1 includes an HDMI cable in the box, which the S350 lacks. We picked one up recently, and found that the BX1 is a very capable, fully featured Profile 2.0 Blu-ray player -- and a real bargain at $240.
Blu-ray Profile: 2.0
Maximum resolution: 1080p/24
Connection Panel: Composite video, S-Video, Component video, HDMI, Stereo RCA audio, coaxial digital audio, TOSlink optical audio, 100mbit Ethernet, USB port.
Small Form Factor. The Sony BDP-BX1 is a diminutive little machine, measuring only 17" wide by 8.5" deep by 2.5" tall. The front panel is simplicity itself, with very little clutter. Two top buttons control power and disc eject, while the right hand side has three smaller buttons for play, pause, and stop. A small LED indicates when 24p playback is enabled.
Intuitive Menu System. Like the Playstation 3, the BX1 features the "Xross (pronounced Cross) Media Bar," or XMB, menu system. While Sony's decision to squeeze an X into the name is amusing, the menu itself is easy to use, instantly giving the user access to configuration options for the player, audio files, and video files. A simple press of the enter button on any item brings up further options. Pressing enter on the icon for a Blu-ray or DVD movie starts the disc. The XMB system is easy to understand, easy to navigate, and lays out all the options, rather than squirreling them away inside some submenu.
Load times. An oft-bemoaned downside of Blu-ray movies is that they take significantly longer to load than DVD movies do. Players are getting faster, though, and the days of 90 second load times are thankfully over.
Previously, the fastest Blu-ray player we'd seen was the Sony Playstation 3. With a disc already in the drive, it took about 33 seconds to go from power on to picture on screen. Now, the BDP-BX1 can accomplish the same task in 37 seconds, which is the fastest load time we've seen thus far from a standalone Blu-ray player. If the player is already warmed up, the time from closing the tray to seeing a picture is only 29 seconds, which is a dead tie with the PS3. The bottom line is that you don't need to worry about an interminable wait with the BDP-BX1; compared to Blu-ray players past, it's downright zippy.
Supported Media. In addition to commercially printed Blu-ray movies, the BX1 can play BD-R and BD-RE writable discs, provided that they were authored correctly. It can also play DVDs, as well as all flavors of recordable DVDs. So rather than cluttering up your theater, you can use the BX1 to replace one or more devices and save some space.
Image quality. At the end of the day, Blu-ray is all about image quality. The BX1 is capable of bringing out all the detail inherent in Blu-ray movies, transmitting them to your television or projector in pristine 1080p/24 over HDMI. During testing, we used the Mitsubishi HC6500, which is one of the sharpest 1080p projectors available in 2008. Using this razor-sharp projector, any flaw imparted to the image by the BX1 would have been immediately apparent. We saw none. The BX1 upscales standard definition DVDs cleanly, as well.
LimitationsConnections. When compared to some other current Blu-ray players, the BX1 is limited in its connectivity. It has the requisite HDMI and component video outputs, and legacy s-video and composite connections are included as well. On the audio front, stereo RCA is joined by TOSlink optical and coaxial. An ethernet port rounds out the ensemble and allows for the use of BD-Live content. Missing are the discrete 5.1 or 7.1 analog outputs, which are one of the easiest ways to use the new HD audio codecs on an A/V receiver without HDMI.
Remote Control. If you have ever seen a Sony remote, chances are that the remote for the BX1 will look familiar. Sony's standard layout applies here, with numerical buttons near the top, a directional pad and menu controls near the middle, and disc controls near the bottom. A small button in the bottom right turns on the backlight, which illuminates the bottom two thirds of the remote with a blue glow.
So why is this listed under Limitations? The remote control is the only way to navigate on the BX1, since the front panel lacks any sort of navigation controls - in other words, if you lose the remote, you're out of luck if you want to do anything except play the movie from the beginning.
Sony's BDP-BX1 is a winner. Its small form factor and lightning fast load times make it a convenient, easy to use Blu-ray player. Its excellent menu system and easy to use remote make navigation a breeze, as well - just don't misplace your remote. And while there are no separate analog audio outputs, you can still make use of the player's TOSlink or coaxial audio outputs for excellent sound. With a retail price of $240 or less at your local Costco, the BX1 is a great value in Blu-ray players. If you do not have a Costco store nearby, or don't want to become a member, you can always pick up the Sony BDP-S350 at a store near you.