Sony BDP-S480 3D Blu-ray Player Review

Mark takes a look at Sony's entry level 3D spinner

by hodg100
Home AV Review

13

Sony BDP-S480 3D Blu-ray Player Review
SRP: £199.00
The Sony BDP-S480 sits in Sony's mid-range of Blu-ray players and is their entry level 3D capable player. With Blu-ray player prices bottoming out fairly quickly after the format got off the ground and, for the most part, only very marginal differences in playback visible for playback of 1080p24 material, between players, manufacturers have a task on their hands to set their players apart with an increasing reliance on features to encourage DVD - or even existing Blu-ray player - owners to upgrade.

Every other player seems to be wi-fi ready, internet capable and network enabled but what we're really interested in is a players ability to play back material faithful to the source and how it performs with standard definition and interlaced material in addition to its 24p playback. Of course we now have 3D to throw in to the equation too so there's plenty to get our teeth in to. Are all Blu-ray players equal or are some more equal than others?

Styling and Connections

The S480 doesn't do much to endear itself in the looks department, in fact it looks as if it's sticking out a bottom lip. The PR photo's give the idea that's the 480 is a little more gloss than it is in the flesh but the main thing here is in the unobtrusiveness of the design meaning it will hide nicely in your rack when the lights are down. It's very slender although comparatively wide measuring 430mm; for anyone interested the remaining unit dimensions are, 36mm in height and 199mm in depth. There's very little weight to the 480 so there is always the possibility of it stacking on top of something else - heat dissipation allowing.

The stuck-out lip houses the standby button, to the left, with the eject, play and stop buttons just right of centre. Further to the right and above the lipped rim is a front panel display that can be dimmed - or even better - switched off during playback. Also to the front is a USB connection intended for playback of media files.

Sony BDP-S480

Moving to the rear and we have a further USB connection, a LAN port, a coaxial digital audio out - we were slightly surprised with lack of SPDIF - and a composite video out alongside L/R stereo audio outputs. It wouldn't be much of a Blu-ray player without a HDMI port of which there is one so owners of amps that aren't HDMI 1.4 compliant may wish to look elsewhere. There's also component video output but since the turn of the year manufacturers have been forbidden from allowing HD output of Blu-ray material through the legacy connection as a part of the AACS Adopter Agreement, it will now be shown at a rather unappealing 408i, yuk! One of the reasons for the nobbling of the component connection is in an effort to combat piracy but quite how effective it is, is a topic for another time.
The supplied remote is best described as stubby but effective. It doesn't have the quality feel of some of the Bravia Television handsets but both in layout and function, there are no problems to report here

Menus and Features

Whist the 2011 Sony TVs have undergone a design overhaul of the GUI, the Blu-ray players, evidently, have not. On pressing of the Home button of the remote, the BDP S480 brings up the Cross Media Bar (XMB) that has long been central to Sony products. The new TVs make the XMB far less imposing but the Blu-ray players maintain the central screen dominating presence. In operation they are identical in that it operates by scrolling both horizontally and vertically with various sub-menus available under broad headings. The likelihood, by now, is that you've probably used a Sony product with the XMB but, if you haven't, it will soon become childs play. There are nowhere near as many items in the S480's XMB as found in the TVs and certainly nothing like the number found on the PS3!

Sony BDP-S480
Sony BDP-S480

Under the Picture area of the XMB you can find settings for 3D output - it's choices are Off or Auto and we left it on Auto with no issues, Screen Size and aspect ratio plus a setting for governing DVD output. On to the second 'page' scrolling down and we have Cinema Conversion Mode that we'll deal with later, there's also Output Video Format that we imagine the vast majority of you will have set to HDMI and BD/DVD-ROM 1080/24p Output which is an On/Off option that you'll only want off if you have an older TV that doesn't support 24p playback. Next up, or in fact down, is the YCbCr/RGB (HDMI)option can be set as YCbCr 4:2:2, YCbCr 4:4:4 or RGB so you'd need to know which converts the 8 Bit 4:2:0 data on the disc better - the player or the TV and as most are very unlikely to know, we'd probably recommend Auto as the safe option. There's also a Deep Colour option that is also likely safe set at Auto but the cautious may just want to switch it off as the overwhelming likelihood is that you'll have no content that supports it barring some HD Video cameras output.

The S480 supports all the HD audio formats (Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS, and the DTS HD formats) over HDMI, either bitstreamed or as LPCM. There are no analogue outputs, for that you now need to be looking at something like our reference Oppo player that costs considerably more.

Sony BDP-S480
Sony BDP-S480

The S480 is certainly not short on features to supplement the more mundane playback duties. Sony's Bravia Internet Video service is ever growing in content with the likes of LoveFilm, BBC iPlayer and YouTube amongst the ranks. Naturally Sony wouldn't miss out on the chance to hawk their own platforms and both the Qriocity Music and Video on demand services feature on the XMB. With Samsung's 3D video on demand service proving very popular through their Smart Hub featured products, we can't help feeling that Sony et al won't be far behind in offering a similar service.

In addition to playback of media files from USB, the S480 is DLNA compliant and many will be pleased to hear the mkv container has been added to the list of compatible file extensions. We always throw a few test files at devices and natively the S480 played back 4 of 5, although we did manage to get PS3 Media Server to transcode the other. We'd describe the media handling capabilities of the S480 as robust although we're still some way from any Blu-ray player being a true media player replacement. The S480 isn't only a DLNA player, though, and is capable of streaming files to your smartphone - via an app of course! The player ships wi-fi ready but not enabled, you'll need a proprietary USB dongle for that.

Another newcomer to Sony's list of features for 2011 is their built-in web browser that we've already seen in a few of the Bravia TVs; and it also makes an appearance in the S480. The browser is very much intended for 'lite' duties and features only support for text and pictures, with no support for embedded video. We can't imagine many will abandon their laptop, tablet or smartphone to use the browser but perhaps Sony will flesh out the functionalities in the future.

1080p Disc Playback

Let's be honest here, in terms of fulfilling their likely primary function of representing 1080p24 material with full pixel mapping and at the correct frame rate, almost every Blu-ray player on the market will do so with, all but, equal competence and the S480 proved no exceprion. Effective SoC solutions for High Definition playback have been available cheaply to manufacturers for some time now so we're looking at whatever post processing, if any, a manufacturer chooses to add to differentiate their players in this vastly competitive market.

Regular readers of our reviews will know how much we value adherence to [tip=IndStand]industry standards[/tip] and in an ideal world the S480s output would closely match that of our signal generator so that no differences in [tip=Greyscale]greyscale[/tip], [tip=gamma]gamma[/tip] and [tip=gamut]colour gamut[/tip] would be present. In our experience this scenario is often not quite the case but we'd only expect minimal tweaking to bring our calibration back in to line. To give you an idea of how the S480's output compares to that of a reference signal we'll show you the results of a Panasonic plasma, calibrated against the generator, and then with the Panasonic showing patterns from disc on the 480. Whilst the performance of the Panasonic is a little short of reference status, it will be sufficient to show any major differences in the signal being sent.

Sony BDP-S480
Sony BDP-S480
As we said the calibrated performance is just a little short of reference but it's still excellent with [tip=DeltaE]Delta Errors[/tip] all below the magic number of 3 where the human eye can not perceive any problems. Now let's take a look what the S480 is outputting:

Sony BDP-S480
Sony BDP-S480

Not quite the unfettered results we were hoping for! The S480 is bending our gamma in a very noticeable way. Our mid-tones are now far too bright and there's no way of compensating in the available player controls. In actual fact, most displays don't have the available options to flatten out this response and it's disappointing that nothing can be done for it save what good tweaking the panel's greyscale could achieve. As it turned out, we could get greyscale tracking very well again but the gamma curve showed only a marginal improvement. The image certainly stands out from the crowd but that's not necessarily a good thing!

Fortunately the gamma aberration had little effect on gamut performance and this held true at 50 and 100% stimulus levels, as well as the 75% shown in the [tip=cie]CIE Diagram[/tip]. There were some minor differences in DeltaE but nothing anyone is ever likely to pick up on. The damage to greyscale and gamma were done, however, and these are far bigger crimes against calibration that are only likely solved by an external processor.

1080i Disc Playback

Ignoring the calibration issues and delivery of 1080i material was actually very good with some excellent deinterlacing and cadence detection performance. Deinterlacing of video content was handled very well with little in the way of jaggedness in the fine detail on either static or moving images. The BDP-S480 is not only adept at deinterlacing video content but also, for the most part, knows when to 'leave it alone'. When progressively shot film material is sent in an interlaced signal, with Cinema Conversion Mode set to Auto the Sony handled both the PAL 2:2 and NTSC 2:3 cadences without error, locking on promptly.

SD Playback

What was said above with regards to deinterlacing and cadence detection of 1080i material largely holds true for 480i/576i signals too. There was a little more jaggedness to content but that's to be expected of lower resolutions. Scaling performance was very decent indeed and appeared more akin to the algorithms found in the Bravia TVs than that seen in the PS3. Both have their merits, with each throwing away very little in the way of fine detail or introducing any unwanted ringing effects. We've always found the PS3 scaling introduces some noise to bright patches of colour and so we generally felt the S480 to offer slightly superior SD performance.

3D Playback

As we've said before, the image produced by a player is limited to the display it is shown on as well as its own limitations. During testing we had both a Sony and a Samsung 3D TV pass through our doors and, of course, we tested the S480 on both displays. We've said our piece on the performance of some of the Sony 3D TVs - for those that haven't seen the reviews, we weren't impressed by the 3D - and there was nothing the 480 could do for its stable-mate's rather sub-par 3D performance. In conjunction with the Samsung, on the other hand, we were happy the player wasn't introducing any additional problems beyond the display's own; that is to say we'd be more than happy to recommend the S480 as a 3D spinner. We managed to get in a back to back comparison against a PS3 and, although we don't like to rely on subjectivity, the image appeared to have more depth through the 480, although if there were differences there was very little in it.

The S480 doesn't offer a 2D>3D conversion mode and we only make mention as other models up the range do, as well as players from other manufacturer's at a similar price-point. That said, we've been less than thrilled with other attempts at 2-3D conversion so we'd consider the omission to be minor.

Load Times/Power Consumption

We have put these items together as they are tied at the hip on the S480. The player features a Quick Start mode which, you'll be unsurprised to learn, quickens the process of loading discs from standby. Even without the feature enabled the player is no slouch, comfortably outperforming the PS3 from their respective at-sleep states. With Quick Start enabled, the S480 took as little as 18 seconds from start up to opening frame, with the longest wait still under 30 seconds. Without Quick Start the numbers were higher at 28-48 seconds. Power consumption with the feature enabled measured 16.7w and 0.5w with it disabled, so some way want to consider the nature of the trade-off.

Verdict

5
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • Excellent Scaling and Deinterlacing
  • Robust Networking
  • Good File Support for Media Playback
  • Extensive Video on Demand Options
  • Speedy Load Times

The Bad

  • Detrimental Image Manipulation
  • Lack of Picture Controls in Menus
  • XMB Sometimes Sluggish

Sony BDP-S480 3D Blu-ray Player Review

The BDP S480 was shaping up to be a fairly routine 2011 Blu-ray player; stuffed full of features including a lite web browser, video on demand services and a fairly robust media playback implementation. Unfortunately the S-480 also introduces another feature, that isn't welcomed, by altering the luminance of the displays' greyscale, i.e. gamma manipulation. This wouldn't be such an issue if controls were available on the player to correct the problem but there aren't. There's no doubt the S480's image packs a punch but it's one that doesn't land for us. We could go on to say something witty at David Haye's expense here but we'll refrain.

It's a pity that the S480's processing skews the image in the manner it does as it does nothing else wrong. The player can be totally hidden in the rack thanks to its 'unreflective' black finish and the ability to completely dim the display. Deinterlacing performance impressed from both HD and SD signals as did the players ability to detect film based content. Scaling of SD material was of Sony's usual high standards and we actually feel it edges the PS3 in this department but there's something of the element of personal taste here. Load times were particularly speedy with the 'Quick Start' feature enabled but there's a power consumption v performance pay off, naturally.

Whilst we don't feel the majority of users would have any issues with the BDP-S480's picture performance - in fact some may prefer the punchy gamma curve - we, at the same time, find it difficult to recommend a player that alters the content in such a way. Without the processing from Sony they would have had another great value, feature rich player on the market; instead of one that just misses the mark in a such an unnecessary way.

Scores

Picture Quality

.
.
.
7

Sound Quality

.
.
8

Features

.
9

Ease Of Use

.
.
.
7

Build Quality

.
.
.
.
.
5

Value For Money

.
.
.
.
.
5

Verdict

.
.
.
.
.
5
5
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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