Sony has added BD-Live capability to the BDP-S350, making good on a promise it made when the Blu-ray player was released earlier this year. The upgrade is available as a free firmware update for existing users; it downloads and installs to the unit straight over the Internet at the click of a button. Even better, the price of the player has dropped to $300. That means--for the time being, at least--the player is 25 percent more affordable than the PlayStation 3.
We downloaded and installed the BDP-S350 update on our review unit, and it worked smoothly. (The S350 lacks internal memory, so you'll need to provide your own narrow USB drive--a remaining annoyance of the unit.) But testing the BD-Live content on Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story reinforced just how worthless the Profile 2.0 add-ons have been to date. The handful of additional "video commentaries" weren't particularly enjoyable: they were grainy, standard-definition scenes at the wrong aspect ratio, and the download time and interface were annoyingly slow. (This is more a problem with the technology in general than with its implementation on the BDP-S350.) But that's not to say that there won't be interesting BD-Live content at some point in the future, and its presence on the Sony means, at least, that the player isn't obsolete out of the box. (Compare that with the Profile 1.1 players sold by Insignia, Philips, and Sharp, which cannot be upgraded to 2.0.)
So, does the addition of BD-Live--and the current price drop--mean that the Sony BDP-S350 is the new standalone (non-PS3) Blu-ray player champ? I'd wait to check out our review of the new Panasonic DMP-BD35 (coming soon), and the Samsung BD-P2500. Also, note that a similar firmware upgrade (adding BD-Live) is on deck for coming for the older Samsung BD-P1500. But the BDP-S350 is definitely worthy of consideration for those ready to take the Blu-ray plunge. It's also more evidence that--as more name-brand players are priced at $300 and less--the $400 PS3 becomes less of a slam-dunk choice (for non-gamers, at least).