With all the fuss about 3D right now, you'd think everyone had finished tweaking their home cinemas to perfection, and were ready for the next enhancement to complement their perfect set-up. But that's not the case, and it seems people are still opting for 3D before they've got a proper surround-sound set-up.
That's crazy. As far as we're concerned, you get a much more involving and exciting experience from decent surround sound than you can from 3D. For a start, the only special equipment you need to hear sound all around you is a pair of ears. Aside from the speakers, there's no need to buy special attachments for your head because the technology is already built in to your brain.
So we welcome the Sony BDV-E370 with open arms. It's a Blu-ray home cinema system and, with a firmware upgrade, it can also do 3D -- for the best of all possible dimensions. On its website, Sony is asking £500, but sites like Play.com are offering it for a much more sensible £300.
Bigger than your average Blu-ray player
It's not the 3D capability that makes this player more chunky than normal, it's the amplifier for the surround sound. Even though it's at least two times larger than Sony's standard Blu-ray machines, it's not ungainly, and we don't think it's any larger than the first generation of Blu-ray players. So, if you're looking to replace an ailing 2D machine, this device could slot into the same gap.
Go wireless at the back
One of the advantages of 3D is that you don't need wires everywhere to get the three-dimensional effect. Surround sound has always had a low 'spousal acceptance factor' (or SAF) than most technology because it requires speakers all over the place and wires trailing here and there. Sony understands that's a problem and, to help, offers the option to add a wireless module to drive the rear speakers without running speaker cable to them. You'll still need to plug the speakers into a receiver, however, which will need to be powered, so getting rid of cables altogether might not be possible.
Quality picture and quick performance
Sony is no fool when it comes to picture quality on its Blu-ray players. We had a very enjoyable viewing experience with this machine, with both animated features and live action looking crisp, realistic and colourful. Of course, it's pretty hard to fault the picture output of most Blu-ray players, but we're very satisfied with this device. It's well worth considering, even if you've got high standards for picture quality.
Unlike a lot of Blu-ray players, the E370 has a super-quick load time, which we very much appreciate, being busy and incredibly impatient. A few seconds is all it took to load and start playing Casino Royale and Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs.
Bravia Internet Video
We've written a fair amount about Sony's IPTV service, and with good reason: it's excellent. Through it, you can watch BBC iPlayer, Demand Five and stream movies from Lovefilm. It works well, too, and uses one of the slickest interfaces we've ever seen. In addition to the main services from broadcasters, there are also other video providers offering content. The extra content includes video from clip sites like Dailymotion and YouTube, as well as material from Europe.
While you probably wouldn't buy this system for its ability to stream video over the net, it's certainly a nice little perk when you do get around to trying it out.
One word of caution, though. Although the player is 'Wi-Fi ready', it doesn't have a built-in wireless adaptor, so you have to buy an approved one to attach. It's easier to use Ethernet, if necessary, in tandem with powerline adaptors.
Surrounded by sound
The Sony can cope with all the major surround-sound formats, including the lossless variants found on Blu-ray. During our testing, we found movie soundtracks were handled very well indeed, with incredible clarity. We were very pleased with the dialogue, which was exceptionally clean and crisp.
The stereo and surround effects channels also did their job well. These speakers are reasonably small, and the cables that attach them aren't massive, so be careful if your room is slightly larger than average. Sound was loud enough from these satellites, though, and everything sounded pretty impressive.
Our one complaint has to be about the subwoofer. It does do the job to a reasonable standard, but compared to a proper 5.1 channel system with a decent-sized woofer cone, this can't compete. It does add valuable bass to an otherwise high frequency sound. However, the sound isn't as deep and exciting as we're used to. It might seem like a small point, but good bass is crucial in movies, and a good subwoofer can change the whole dynamic of movie viewing.
With surround sound, 3D, Blu-ray and Bravia Internet Video in one box for just £300, it's hard to complain about this system. Sure, the audio won't fill a big room, nor is the bass as deep and resonant as we'd like, but as a system for those who want to expand their home cinema horizons a little, we think it's a plucky little trier. Good work, Sony.
Edited by Emma Bayly