With Blu-ray finally on the verge of superseding DVD as the disc format of choice, Sony reckons the time is right to get it on the move and in the car too. Enter the BDP-SX1, the company's first portable Blu-ray player. It's available for around £300. Here are our first impressions.
This transportable debutant is large but posh, and comes with a charmingly patterned lid. The player is surprisingly heavy, at 1.5kg, and feels like a netbook in the hand, but its build quality seems good. When snapped shut, it measures 259 by 40 by 204mm.
The 10.1-inch TFT LCD screen swivels 360 degrees on its hinge. It has a resolution of 1,024x600 pixels. On a display this small, that resolution could make for quite a sharp picture. But there are caveats, which we'll mention later.
Not only is the BDP-SX1 portable, it can also function as a source player within a larger system. On the right of the clamshell case, you'll find an HDMI output, as well as a power supply jack, dual headphone outputs, a USB connector, input/output mini-jacks for sound and vision, and an Ethernet socket. There's no integrated Wi-Fi. A dumpy remote control is provided in the box.
Using the AV input/output mini-jacks, you can enlist the BDP-SX1's screen for any random analogue video source you may have sitting around. These jacks may also prove useful if you take the BDP-SX1 on holiday and find you only have access to the front AV input of a hotel TV.
There are limitations in using the BDP-SX1 as your main player, though. Unlike other Blu-ray decks in the Sony line, there are no Internet TV services on tap, and the unit doesn't use its Ethernet port to access media across a network.
Battery life is well above average. The player takes around 6 hours to charge, but offers an extended playing time of 5 hours. Supplied in the box is a car battery adaptor that runs from the lighter socket.
The BDP-SX1 isn't just about discs. It can also play media files from USB. The unit managed to unspool the majority of AVI, AVCHD, WMV, MPEG, TS and MKV-wrapped files in our test folder, with subtitle support. It's also compatible with MP3, AAC, WMA and LPCM audio, and you can play JPEG slide shows too. The USB input doesn't work with an external drive.
The BDP-SX1's picture performance is a mixed bag. The 10.1-inch panel is moderately bright and its non-reflective nature helps with in-car use. But you need to be careful how you hook it up. When anything is connected to the mini-jack I/O, the resolution of both the panel and corresponding HDMI output drops to 480p. On a screen this small, that translates to general mushiness. When you output the image to a larger screen via the HDMI output, the deterioration is much more marked.
If you keep the mini-jack clear, and select 'original resolution' in the 'screen' menu, you're rewarded with a somewhat better picture. That said, Blu-rays on the BDP-SX1 still look only marginally sharper than DVDs.
Audio is as thin as a Tesco carrier bag, and the output can't be more than a couple of watts (Sony declines to publish figures). In spite of this, the unit offers four sound-processing modes: standard, dynamic, dynamic surround and dialogue. You can only really hear a difference via headphones, and even then it's negligible.
With no loading-tray mechanism, discs boot quickly. Our Java-heavy reference disc, Goldfinger, delivered the 007 logo in a swift 42 seconds. The lightweight Lou Reed concert movie Berlin popped its menu screen up in a mere 29 seconds.
In use, the player is almost wilfully noisy. You might expect mechanical grumbles when it's searching physical discs, but the BDP-SX1 complains just as loudly when you stop a file streaming over USB. The player's operating noise is consistently on the high side, even making a grinding sound when it passes through every chapter stop.
The Sony BDP-SX1 is a solid option for those who want Blu-ray playback when out and about. Its USB media capabilities are a welcome bonus too. But you'll need to take care in order to extract the best performance from the unit, particularly if you're going to link it up to your home system.
Edited by Charles Kloet