The Sony BDP-S790 will be the Blu-ray machine to beat this year – or at least that's what its manufacturer hopes. After all, when it comes to entry-level players, Sony has been one of the most consistent performers over the past couple of years: it's battled with Panasonic for the top spot, and just been just edged out on the awards front.
Sony BDP-S790: Smart features and apps
Looking at the feature set on offer, the Sony’s certainly a tempting proposition. 2D and 3D Blu-ray playback is a given, but it also boasts some of the most impressive ‘smart’ functionality on the market, including all manner of video-on-demand services.
BBC iPlayer is commonplace on machines like this, but the Sony also has Demand 5 content, not to mention its own online content portal, the Sony Entertainment Network (SEN). Under this umbrella are both Sony’s Music and Video Unlimited on-demand services.
There’s a huge catalogue of content to choose from and a fine selection of apps, which puts it ahead of some of its closest rivals, all accessed via either wired ethernet or wireless connection.
Sony BDP-S790: Connectivity
Those of you who pay particular attention to the rear panel will also notice that this is the first Sony machine to offer twin HDMI outputs. This helps owners of older surround sound amps, incompatible with 3D signals, to bypass them for picture and just feed in the sound.
The ‘S790 is also compatible with SACDs, and carries DLNA certification so you can stream content to it from compatible devices: it supports a number of file formats including MKV, XviD, WMV, AAC, MP3, while it can also play files from FAT32 and NFTS formatted USB hard drives.
But that’s not all…
Sony BDP-S790: 4K support
4K, ultra high-definition is one of the hot topics at the moment, and the Sony can currently claim to be the only 4K upscaling player on the market. This means it can take a picture, be it standard definition or high-def, and output an image of 3840 x 2160 pixels to a compatible display.
There are only a couple of 4K displays currently on the market, one being Toshiba’s £7000 55ZL2 TV and the other Sony’s very own £16,790 VPL-VW1000ES projector.
Until more screens are available a feature like this might be low on people’s priorities, but at least it’s a box which early adopters, and those who want to be futureproofed, can tick.
Sony BDP-S790: Smartphone control
Those of you who consider the smartphone mightier than a conventional remote control can try their luck with Sony’s Media Remote app.
It’s available for both iOS and Android devices, and gives you pretty much complete control of the machine, from turning it on to surfing the web. It works on tablets, too, but isn’t optimised for them, so you have to use the small version or zoom in to a slightly pixellated version for the full-screen effect.
The apps work rather well: swiping the main screen gives you a choice of control menus, such as one for general playback, and another which allows you to navigate the menus on the player and on discs. The controls are accurate and super responsive.
You can also see a history of the discs you’ve been spinning and you can access additional information from an online database, such as cast and crew information as well as the ability to search for specific information and content for titles from the likes of Wikipedia and You Tube.
Hit the ‘Catch and throw’ logo and you can surf the web, flinging pages from your smartphone so they can be displayed on a TV. You can then use Free Cursor Remote like you would a mouse.
Sliding your finger across the screen moves a cursor around the webpages and you simply tap the screen to select the relevant link. Again, this works surprisingly well and it’s one of the more intuitive manufacturer-specific control apps we’ve come across.
And generally speaking, this is an intuitive machine, helped by Sony’s trademark XrossMediaBar menu arrangement. It’s a slick, responsive system that is made all the more intuitive by the handy traditional remote and the smartphone app.
Using the S790 is uncomplicated from the second you turn it on, and it’s this seamless usability that gives it the edge over the Panasonic players. Also, the internal dual-core processor means it’s no slouch when you’re navigating around.
Sony BDP-S790: Picture quality
Now we’ve thoroughly exhausted the feature count, how does the Sony stack up in the picture and sound stakes?
Pretty spectacularly is the answer: images are as vibrant as we’ve seen at this pricepoint, with whites brilliant and packing a real punch, while blacks are luscious and deep while still allowing for plenty of visible detail. Spin Mission: Impossible, Ghost Protocol and during the opening shots the cityscape of Budapest is sharply defined, the tricky panning shots displayed with the tightest of grip.
Switch to Monsters vs Aliens on 3D Blu-ray and the results are similarly captivating. As Ginormica is shown around her new top-secret abode, the sense of depth to the 3D image is deeply impressive, well and truly immersing the viewer in the action.
Due to the lack of 4K displays and projectors we were unable to test the Sony’s 4K upscaling, but as and when these become more mainstream we’ll update this review accordingly.
The BDP-S790 also does a fine job with standard-definition content. DVDs are presented in a detailed and resolute manner. Spin a Dangerous Method and the player tries its best to sure up the edges and fine detail on the actors’ costumes.
Internet content is perfectly watchable, too. We watched a 30 minute Panorama programme from BBC’s iPlayer and the picture was decent, with just the odd trace of noise.
Sony BDP-S790: Sound quality
Used as part of a home cinema set-up, this player delivers a soundtrack as punchy as the picture. There isn’t an ounce of fat on explosions and this makes for a lively and entertaining sound.
The emphasis here is on agility, although the Sony doesn't quite have the weight and authority of the Panasonic DMP-BDT500 we've tested recently, sounding a touch lean at times.
As for music, use the Sony as a CD spinner and there’s a decent sense of agility and timing for a machine of this type, although admittedly it’s no substitute for a dedicated CD player.
There’s no doubt a feature like the 4K upscaling will only appeal to those who have deep pockets or who want to consider themselves futureproofed should a flotilla of 4K screens arrive in the near future.
But looking past that, the Sony BDP-S790 is still a superb Blu-ray player, positively revelling in great features and excellent picture performance. Sony has definitely got a winner on its hands.
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