Design and Connections
Sony have a justifiably good reputation when it comes to engineering but the S-490 feels very lightweight and plastic – largely because it is. The supplied remote is a great example of shrunken-down simplicity, however, and makes operations an absolute pleasure. We’re tempted to send it over to Toshiba, who could use a tip or two in this department, given the aberration of a controller that shipped with the BDX3300, recently reviewed.
Connections wise, as you would expect from a player in the sub £100 category, there’s not a lot to impart although it’s nice to see both coaxial and optical digital audio out options to the rear and there’s also left and right stereo audio outputs for those that would rather. Video connections are limited to a single HDMI and, if you’ve lost your marbles, a composite video out. Connectivity options are completed by the LAN port and two USB inputs, with one at the back and one concealed under a flap on the font.
The Sony Entertainment Icon allows access to Sony’s Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited services. These are subscription based and give you access to a wealth of Sony Entertainment created content. The Music Unlimited service is akin to the likes of Spotify but feels a little bit restricted given Sony doesn’t have the rights for a lot of recordings. Still, there should be enough to keep most happy. Venturing out of the Sony world, the Opera TV Store has an assortment of mostly basic games to download, including Sudoku, Chess and Backgammon but also is the place to download the videophile’s answer to YouTube, Vimeo. All of the nearly 25 apps in there appear to be free.
It’s commonplace for manufacturers to provide apps for tablets and smartphones to operate TVs and there’s increasing support for receivers, blu-ray players and assorted smart boxes happening now too. Sony’s Media Remote app for Android and iOS is amongst – if not the - best of the bunch and offers full control of the player through a simplified or full interface. Not only that, there’s also the ability to ‘catch and throw’ the built in web browser between your tablet or smartphone and the TV, which makes page navigation much easier than using the remote control. It’s not a bad browser but the lack of Flash support makes most embedded video content unwatchable on the TV.
1080p & 3D Playback
First up we took a look at Rio, which whilst perhaps not being the most inspiring of stories, does present an absolutely excellent AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.40:1. Initially we suspected the S-490 was ‘bending’ the luminance element of the signal in a similar manner to its forerunner, the S-480, but on closer inspection we noticed the player had been left in the ‘Theatre Room’ Picture Quality Mode by whomever had last used it. Whipping out the Klein K-10 and some test patterns confirmed our suspicions that the Theatre Mode does indeed play havoc with the gamma, taking our display’s reasonably flat 2.3 response to a very ‘bendy’ affair that saw it hit 2.8 in the mid and low scale but brightening up near white to plumb down to 1.9. Not only did that make much of the detail hard to see and tonally ‘wrong’ but it’s not a response that will suit almost any environment or display. Pictures packed plenty of punch but were clearly a long way from how calibrated images should look.
Dismayed by this, we reset the box and were happy to find the S-490 defaults to the far more transparent Standard mode, which barely coloured the 1080p signal at all. Colour luminance took a little bit of a hit so the animations were looking a little more muted than ideal but a very slight adjustment to the displays control brought everything back in to line. We would advise that the default settings for BNR (Block Noise Reduction) and MNR (Mosquito Noise Reduction) of 3 do take a little – and we mean a tiny amount – of high frequency detail from the picture so it’s best to turn them off for Blu-ray. The noise reduction processing is actually rather good and useful for less well transferred DVDs and watching internet content.
In addition to both the 2D and 3D versions of Rio, the Swiss Family Hodgkinson viewed the same for Monster House and Puss in Boots and each displayed excellently on our calibrated display, with no added judder or any other sort of artefacting. Turning to some more adult fare, running through some of our more usual test material - The Dark Knight, Boardwalk Empire and The Bourne Trilogy and we were suitably impressed by the S-490’s faithful presentation of the discs’ excellent encodes. For 3D testing, we went back to the excellent Titanic conversion and the now almost worn out Avatar and, again, we sensed no added crosstalk or unexpected surprises; played through both an active and passive display.
Our advice, leave the Sony BDP S-490 in its default playback settings – bar turning off the Noise Reduction options – and it will deliver near flawless 1080p and 3D pictures.
Disc Load Times
- Standby: 0.0W
- Standby with Quick Start Enabled: 4.1W
- Full screen 50% white pattern: 5.3W
- Untampered 1080p Playback
- Excellent scaling of DVDs
- Impressive handling of interlaced signals
- Lots and lots of VoD Services
- Remote app is very good
- Media streaming works very well - with certain media players
- A bit slow at disc loading - especially DVDs
- Build quality feels a touch flimsy
- Default settings cause a tiny amount of grain reduction
Sony BDP-S490 3D Blu-ray Player Review
Somehow we don’t find Sony’s XMB bar such a chore on their boxes as we do on their TVs and it was easy enough to find all the important settings in the GUI. Further video settings can be accessed during playback via the Options button on the remote, although we’d advise leaving the Picture Viewing Mode, as is, to ensure the most clean representation of the video signal. It is, however, best to turn off the noise reduction features in there.
Sony’s continued effort to bring as much VoD content as possible to their smart offerings is one we welcome. There’s over 30 pre-loaded on the XMB, including the big guns of BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Netflix and LOVEFiLM but much more besides. Sony’s Media Remote app for Android and iOS is amongst – if not the - best of the bunch and offers full control of the player through a simplified or full interface. Media streaming proved very capable once we turned to Sony’s tweaked version of Servio, Homestream, but was a bit of a disaster with every other player we tried which needs attention.
All the VoD services in all the world aren’t really worth a damn if a Blu-ray player can’t fulfil its primary purpose of showing disc based content in all its glory and the BDP-S490 didn’t disappoint here. Not only did we run through a few of our reference discs but we also got out the measuring kit to confirm that the Standard Picture mode adds almost nothing in influence to 1080p material and keeps it faithful to what the content providers intended. The S490 also handled interlaced content extremely well, in both High Definition and boring old SD, ensuring your DVDs and Blu-ray music concerts are handled with due care and attention.
There’s almost nothing to fault the Sony BDP-S490, it handles both high and standard definition discs brilliantly whilst throwing in more VoD services than you could probably ever use. Build quality could be improved and it’s not the quickest to load but these are minor complaints and overall it offers great value - a definite Best Buy.
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