So, what got me so interested in seeing how the BDP-S760 plays Blu-ray? The biggest selling point from my videophile standpoint is one of the features of Sony's so-called "HD Reality Enhancer" set of tools, which for once, actually does subtly enhance the image quality of certain Blu-ray movies. Keep in mind that when I say "subtly enhance", I mean that it processes compressed movies and alters the picture in a way that makes it more closely resemble the original studio master, rather than simply tinkering with the image. Sony's promotional text has never been consistently clear on what terms like "Super Bit Mapping" and "HD Reality Enhancer" mean, but in this review, I'll investigate what each control on the player does (and which controls you should avoid).
I've personally seen the benefits of the such processing before, earlier this year, on Sony's high-end BDP-S5000ES player. The BDP-S5000ES, unfortunately, introduced other artefacts into the image, and didn't handle PAL DVD playback correctly, which I found unacceptable on such an expensive machine. If Sony's cheaper player can offer the benefits of the "HD Reality Enhancer" processing without introducing other errors, then it should be an extremely attractive player, especially at a comparably low price. In this in-depth review, we'll investigate the BDP-S760 and find out what's going on under the hood and see if it really does deliver the goods.
The back panel has every worthwhile connectivity option I can think of covered. Like all players, there's an HDMI AV output port and also analogue Component video outputs for getting HD video to pre-HDMI equipment. There are also standard-def Composite and S-Video outputs, as well as analogue stereo audio output jacks. For digital audio-only outputs, there are Optical and Coaxial connectors, which will limit you to standard-def audio quality. Crucially for some, the BDP-S760 features Multichannel (7.1) analogue surround outputs, so if your AV receiver doesn't have an HDMI input, then you'll still be able to enjoy HD audio.
There is also a LAN port for connecting the player to a router, but this isn't strictly necessary, as the S760 is Wireless capable. There's also an "EXT" port, which is designed for plugging a USB storage device into. In fact, you'll have to plug in a USB Memory Drive (or similar device) if you want to access BD Live features. It's a common misconception that Profile 2.0 BD Players have to ship with internal storage of their own, but in reality, there is no such requirement. The only thing a Profile 2.0 player has to do is allow the user to pay for their own storage and plug it in!
1080p Disc Playback
Finally, the Chroma Multiburst test card showed that the player could resolve the tiniest coloured details correctly, without smudging the thinnest red and blue lines on the card into a purple blur (there are a few TVs which can't reproduce these finest details, though, so your display device may be the limiting factor here). One thing worth mentioning for the most die-hard videophiles is that there is some ringing on the edges of coloured transitions, which appears to be a side-effect of whatever chroma upsampling processing the player is doing. This will almost never be visible in real-world usage, though.
As noted, the BDP-S760 is a rare example of a Blu-ray Disc player which actually does improve upon the video stored on the disc, if the "Smoothing" feature is turned on. Don't expect to look at the screen and be bowled over by the difference, though – the banding concealment effect is only visible with certain content. After all, when was the last time you watched a Blu-ray Disc and were upset by the amount of banding visible? Remember that here has to be a real problem in the first place before the player can fix it! Only titles that have visible banding will benefit from the "Smoothing" and Super Bit Mapping features, and titles that have already been treated during the encoding stages to specifically avoid this problem will look just as good on any player.
Unlike Sony's high-end BDP-S5000ES player, the S760 keeps 1080p/24 content as 1080p/24 all the way through the signal path. The high-end player appeared to use a 1080i/60 centric design, which meant that even pure 1080p content ran the risk of combing (and I witnessed it doing just that a couple of times during the review). This was one reason why my opinion of Sony's high-end player was so lukewarm. The cheaper BDP-S760 keeps 1080p content in the 1080p domain at all times, which is the way it should be.
1080i Disc Playback
Sadly, the 2-2 cadence is not successfully detected and compensated for if the material is 50hz-based (in other words, European or Australian TV material that uses a film-like motion pattern). Fortunately, there is not a lot of this content on Blu-ray.
The player also did a good job with pure video material. The Diagonal Filtering test on the HQV test disc (Blu-ray version) produced smooth diagonals on the two topmost bars, and somewhat smooth diagonals on the toughest bottom bar. In real-world usage, this results in effective suppression of jaggies on pure video content.
480i/576i SD DVD Playback
The diagonal interpolation tests produced the same results as their 1080i counterparts, which is not too surprising: the player did a good, but not top-tier job of disguising jaggies in video material.
I fed the S760 a SMPTE RP133 resolution test chart to see how well it was upconverting the deinterlaced SD video to 1080p output resolution. There was a moderate amount of ringing around edges in the image, which I noticed immediately after being used to the highly crisp, clean output of HQV-based scaling products. Fortunately, entering the Video menu and changing the "Enhance" setting to -1 cleaned edges up a little (but still didn't make them as clean as the best of DVD players). Again, this is a somewhat pathological test, because almost no DVD titles are good enough in terms of effective resolution to actually highlight blatantly clear differences between different scaling solutions.
One issue did arise with the S760's DVD playback during testing. When the player hasn't locked onto a film cadence (that is, when it's in Video deinterlacing mode), the Coloured portion of the image flickers. The most obvious manifestation of this issue is with interlaced, animated content, or any other colourful interlaced material. This will potentially be an issue if you still watch a lot of this sort of material, but personally, most of my viewing is on BD now, so I wasn't too upset, and the issue is subtle anyway (unless you have a screenful of red objects). All the same, I hope Sony will fix this with a firmware update.
Disc Load Times
Sony BDP-S760 Blu-ray Disc Player Review
Due to the inclusion of this feature, which marks the first time I've seen a BD player make a visible, commendable improvement to picture quality without sacrificing quality in other areas, the BDP-S760 receives a "Reference" score for HD Video Quality. This score comes in spite of the fact that the BDP-S760 failed four out of the ten 1080i/60 film cadence tests, but I feel this is acceptable given that almost all BD content is either 1080p/24 or video-centric 1080i/60. In other words, this limitation will almost never be revealed in real world usage.
The S760 is also a very nice DVD player. Like many, it can occasionally be tripped up by 2-2 PAL Film material, but this is true even of some high end devices. In fact, much of the time, the S760's PAL Film DVD playback is just about perfect (even although its scaling isn't the cleanest around), something that can't be said for Sony's 4-figure BDP-S5000ES player. It also delivered perfect results on every single one of the film cadence tests on the NTSC (US/Japanese standard) HQV test disc, a fact that should be impressed upon owners of large Region 1 DVD collections (assuming they can find a multi-region version of the machine).
Users who already have a Blu-ray player shouldn't rush out en masse to ditch their old machines in favour of a BDP-S760. Please remember that Blu-ray Disc is the best quality delivery format we have ever had in the home, and users should enjoy their player rather than convincing themselves that they can have a better one (because they often can't). However, if you're perhaps relegating an old player to a second room, or are looking for a BD player for the first time, then it comes highly recommended.
The BDP-S760 is currently available from Amazon for just under £312 delivered.
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