The top panel of the Sony BDP-S5100 looks like it’s been cut from a chunk of crystal. But this isn’t a blingy one-of-a-kind Swarovski edition; it’s all part of Sony’s new ‘Sense Of Quartz’ design philosophy.
This is something that features heavily in all Sony’s home entertainment products for 2013, including its televisions and home cinema systems. Even the control buttons running along the top edge are shaped to look and feel like tiny crystals.
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While the BDP-S5100 has a new look, however, the remote control is standard Sony issue – it’s a shame the wand doesn’t quite match the more flamboyant appearance of the main unit. But, it’s compact, functional and works well with the Sony’s trademark Xross Media Bar menu system.
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Button presses and manipulation of the D-pad are acknowledged in super-quick time, making this one of the speedier and more gratifying user experiences we’ve seen recently.
Connectivity is good too, with a single HDMI output and ethernet (as well as built-in wi-fi). The only slight difference from the norm is the Sony has opted for a coaxial digital output instead of optical.
For those who embraced the format, the S5100 is compatible with SACDs, and it also ticks the DLNA box so you can fire over content from compatible networked devices. File support includes MKV, XviD, WMV, AAC and MP3 while external hard drives are also catered for via USB.
Like the other machines at this price, the Sony Blu-ray player can handle 3D Blu-rays in addition to standard 2D and DVD fare, but 4K ultra HD upscaling is still reserved for Sony’s top model, the BDP-S790, which continues from last year. (Incidentally, the S790 is also the only Sony model with twin HDMI outputs).
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There’s a fair amount of smart functionality at the player’s disposal too. The Sony Entertainment Network (SEN), which comprises Music and Video Unlimited services is your starting point and can provide content other machines can’t access.
The main video-on-demand offering comes courtesy of Netflix and LoveFilm, but compared with content-rich rivals from Samsung, catch-up TV is limited to just BBC iPlayer and Demand 5 at the moment.
The existence of remote-control apps for smartphones and tablets is nothing new, but Sony does have a new one compatible with certain 2013 Blu-ray models. Out goes the old Media Remote and in comes TV SideView. You’ll find it available (free) for both iOS and Android devices and it gives you pretty much complete control of the unit, from powering it up to selecting and playing apps stored on the player itself.
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Sony TV SideView is fancier and offers more functionality than the old remote app. You’re presented with a choice of tiles through which you can access a virtual remote and see information on Blu-ray movies you may have watched.
This app also works with Sony’s 2013 TVs, so there’s even an up-to-date TV guide – click on a programme and you get a mini synopsis of the episode in question. Like the supplied hardware remote, the smartphone controller is accurate and super responsive.
The Sony BDP-S5100 scores very highly across the board for picture performance. Contrast levels are impressive and the player packs a serious visual punch.
The blue skies and white clouds hovering over New York during The Amazing Spiderman are vibrant, with even the faint edges of clouds sharply and clearly defined. The S5100’s clean, pristine picture shows plenty of fine detail too.
As Spidey web-slings his way around town, movement is handled smoothly with little trace of judder – and when the action moves in to the gloomier confines of the New York’s sewer network, the Sony translates darker tones and shadow detail remarkably well.
Switch to Toy Story 3 and once finally loaded (for some reason our review sample took over four minutes to reach the movie’s menu screen) the Sony presents a hugely enjoyable and beautifully layered image. Colours are vibrant without looking overblown and the definition on Woody’s sheriff outfit is startlingly good whether you’re watching in 2D or 3D.
DVD playback is a strong point, too. Compared with some lesser rivals, the Sony boasts a firm grip on upscaled images. Lines are drawn solidly and robustly and the image is processed with greater conviction, promoting a convincing 1080p picture.
In our past experience, Sony’s Blu-ray players tend to go for a leaner sound but there’s a welcome sprinkling of richness to the BDP-S5100’s tone. Low frequencies have a little more meat on their bones, so explosions still sound taut and precise (as do any basslines thrown the Sony’s way) but it doesn’t sound as forward in the treble as, say, a BDP-S790.
Spin The XX’s Heart Skipped a Beat on CD and the player skips along, showing a fine sense of timing – the deck’s canny ability to follow a rhythm keeps it one step ahead of many rival machines.
If the BDP-S5100 is any indication of what’s to come, 2013 could be a bumper year for Sony’s Blu-ray players. This has all the hallmarks of a class-leading machine.