Sony BDP-S790 3D Blu-ray Player Review

The Sony BDP-S790 has been winning numerous awards this year but does it warrant the all the praise?

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Highly Recommended
Sony BDP-S790 3D Blu-ray Player Review
SRP: £200.00

Introduction

As the creators of the Blu-ray format, Sony are always expected to deliver when it comes to their disc players and never more so than with their latest flagship model - the BDP-S790. Expectations have been high since the player was announced earlier in the year and the inclusion of 4K scaling has generated plenty of discussion. Of course the more cynical amongst us would suggest that this higher resolution capability is more for marketing purposes than a genuine feature; after all any 4K capable display - like Sony's own VPL-VW1000ES - will almost certainly have better scaling than a £200 Blu-ray player. However there are plenty of other features on the S790 to recommend it, including dual HDMI outputs, streaming media playback and smart functionality. So let's see if the S790 is worthy of all the praise that has been heaped upon it.

Styling/Build/Connectivity

The S790 uses the same curvaceous design that has gradually dominated many of Sony's products since the launch of the original PS3. As you would expect from the Japanese manufacturer, the look of the player combines both form and function in equally stylish measures. The build quality is excellent, giving the player a solid and robust feel and the matte black body is offset by an attractive brushed metal effect on the top. The chassis itself measures 430 x 193 x 42mm and weighs a reasonable 1.9kg and this added weight keeps the noise to a minimum during playback, although disc navigation could be a bit noisy.

The front of the S790 is decidedly minimalist with very little to distract from the elegant design. On the far left - at the top - is a touch sensitive on/off button and just to the right of that is the disc tray, which is smooth and reasonably quiet in operation. The disc tray can also be locked by holding down the play button for 10 seconds, as a safety measure against unwanted attention from small children. Just to the right of centre is the front panel display, which can be dimmed but not turned off completely, and to the right of that is the remote sensor and a USB port with a plug cover. On the far right at the top are some basic touch sensitive controls - open/close, play and stop.

Sony BDP-S790

t the rear are a basic set of connections including two HDMI outputs, which means owners of older amps, processors and receivers that are incompatible with 3D, can send the video directly with one output and pass the audio with the other. Surprisingly, considering the S790's flagship status, there are no 7.1 analogue audio outputs and the remaining connections are all fairly standard, with a second USB port, as well as an Ethernet port and a composite video out, although who uses this is a mystery to us. There are coaxial and optical digital outputs, along with stereo analogue outputs using RCA connectors. Finally there is a hard wired power cable measuring 1.5m in length.

The remote control is a wonderful example of concise design, with everything you need sensibly laid out and easy to use. The relatively small size of the remote makes it comfortable to hold and you will find all the controls you need for operating the S790, including navigation, playback and other useful features like the Home, Option and SEN button for accessing the Sony's online service (Sony Entertainment Network). The remote itself is made of fairly light black plastic but ultimately it gets the job done and given some of the disastrous remotes we've seen of late, we'll take simplicity any day.

Setup/Menus

The S790 uses Sony’s Cross Media Bar (XMB) user interface, so if you're already familiar with it, you'll find it easy to navigate. If however you aren't, it can take a bit of getting used to, although once you have familiarised yourself it works well and is quite responsive, which is good to see. To access the XMB you press the Home button on the remote and to navigate you have a series of main menu sections which you move between by going left or right and then within each of these sections you access the sub-menus by going up or down. The horizontal bar is split up into six main categories – Setup, Photo, Music, Video, Network and Sony Entertainment Network - as well as the optional Recommendation section that allows uploading of your viewing or listening habits to Sony's database, which results in reciprocal suggestions based upon those habits. The majority of these suggestions emanate from Sony’s own, subscription based, Music and Video services. The Setup menu contains all the sub-menus needed to correctly set the S790 up and these include Screen Settings and Audio Settings which are the two with the most interest to us.

Sony BDP-S790

Within Screen Settings, the first option is 3D output, with choices of Off or Auto and we would recommend just leaving it on Auto. Cinema Conversion Mode is the option to engage film cadence detection for standard definition material and should also be set to Auto. The Output Video Format offers an option to output 576i over HDMI which will interest those with an outboard video processor, otherwise the choices are 480/576p, 720p, 1080i and 1080p. You can select a specific resolution but again the Auto option will also take care of everything for you, as will selecting Auto for the BD/DVD-ROM 1080/24p Output options. The YCbCr/RGB (HDMI) option can be set as YCbCr 4:2:2, YCbCr 4:4:4 or RGB but you'd need to know which converts the 8 Bit 4:2:0 data on the disc better - the player or your TV - and as you are unlikely to know we would recommend Auto as the safest option. There's also a Deep Colour option which you can just leave set to Auto, in case you ever intend to watch some video content recorded using HD camcorders that actually support the standard (nothing else does).

There are a couple of options that are unique to the S790, the most obvious of which is the 4K upscaling. The S790 can take lower resolution content and scale it up to 4K/24p when the player is connected to a 4K capable display. Sadly we didn't have a 4K capable display to actually test this feature but, let's be honest, this is a pure marketing gimmick because we suspect the upscaling built into any current 4K display will almost certainly be superior to the processing in the S790. What might be of more use, given the lack of 4K content, is the S790's ability to show native 4K still photos on a 4K display. The other feature is Super Bit Mapping which is designed to smooth out the gradation of video signals output over HDMI. Whilst this feature did smooth the gradations it did so at the expense of image accuracy and resulted in pictures that had a processed look, so we left it off.

Sony BDP-S790
Sony BDP-S790

The Audio Settings are rather less extensive than those on the video side and include a choice of Auto or PCM output via HDMI and a DSD (Direct-Stream Digital) output mode for those who listen to SACDs and have a DSD capable receiver. The BD Audio Mix Setting outputs the audio obtained by mixing interactive and secondary audio when set to on but if you’d prefer to only send the primary audio to your HD audio capable AV receiver, leave it off. The Dolby Digital/DTS option provides you with choices of Bitstream or Downmix PCM if your receiver is older and doesn’t have built-in decoding support. The DTS Neo:6 outputs a simulated surround effect from stereo sources and has options for both Music and Cinema. There is an Audio DRC (Dynamic Range Control) setting for those that wish to reduce the dynamic range of the audio, so they can watch content without disturbing other members of the family or neighbours. Finally there is a Downmix feature that allows you to choose between outputting the surround channels or downmixing the audio to stereo when connected to devices that don't support more than two channels.

Sony BDP-S790
Sony BDP-S790
Aside from the previously mentioned Screen Settings and Audio Settings, the other sub-menus within Setup are Network Update, where you can update the software on your player; BD/DVD Viewing Settings, where you choose the language and subtitle options; and the Parental Control Settings, where you set all the parental control features. There are also the Music Settings, where you setup the SACD playback; System Settings, where you set the remaining player related settings; and the Network Settings, where you setup the internet connections and any networks. There is also a button the remote called OPTIONS which brings up some other setup related features, the most important of which are the video settings. It is in here that you are offered a series of Picture Quality Modes - Direct, Brighter Room, Theatre Room, Auto, Custom 1 and Custom 2 - make sure you have selected Direct.

Features

To date, Sony have concentrated their online efforts very much in the area of Video on Demand (VoD) services. This makes sense as their products are primarily devices to watch video on and in addition to Sony’s Video Unlimited service, the S790 has 30 VoD widgets pre-loaded with just about every major service covered - Netflix, LOVEFiLM, BBC iPlayer, YouTube and Demand 5. All that’s really missing are 4OD and ITV Player but considering those are available on the PS3, we assume it won't be too long before they also appear on this platform. Other items of interest include Sky News, Eurosport and Dailymotion – which is nearly as ubiquitous on Smart platforms as YouTube and BBC iPlayer these days. Also available is Sony’s streaming 3D Experience service which has a decent variety of sports, video games and nature clips plus some music videos, Harry Potter, Travel and ‘World Heritage’ material.

Sony BDP-S790
Sony BDP-S790

The Sony Entertainment Network (SEN) includes both Sony’s Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited services. These services can be accessed via the Music, Video or SEN menus on the XMB and are subscription based, giving you access to a multitude of Sony Entertainment created content. The Music Unlimited service is similar to services like 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 users 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 it's also the place to download the videophile’s answer to YouTube, Vimeo. The good news is that all of the nearly 25 apps in Opera TV appear to be free. Sony have also included software from Gracenote, allowing you to access their database and download information about the content you are watching or listening to.

Sony BDP-S790
Sony BDP-S790

These days almost every manufacturers provides remote apps that allow users to operate their TVs using their smartphones and tablets. More recently we have seen increasing support for remote apps aimed at receivers, Blu-ray players and other assorted smart devices. Sony’s Media Remote app for Android and iOS is one of the best 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.

Sony BDP-S790
Sony BDP-S790

The S790 wouldn't be a modern Blu-ray player if it didn't offer network support and media streaming capabilities. Of course in terms of disc support the S790 can play BDs, DVDs, CDs and SACDs and you can also access content via a connected thumb drive. In addition you can connect the S790 to your network either via an Ethernet cable or using the built-in WiFi and it is fully DLNA compliant. We were able to connect to our network without any issues but we do recommend that owners download either Servio or the Sony branded Homestream version of it, to ensure there are no connection issues. With either installed we were able to play most of the popular files including DivX, AVCHD, avi, wmv, mkv, mp4, mpg, mp3, wma, wav, jpeg, gif, png and mpo; there is however no lossless support.

3D and 1080p Playback

We would expect any capable Blu-ray player to be able to deliver a flawless performance when it comes to 3D and 1080p content, as long as the player isn't interfering with the video signal. Sadly there has been a trend recently for manufacturers to include a number of picture modes, similar to those found on TVs, on their BD players. It's bad enough that we have to tolerate these modes on TVs without having them on BD players as well, where they serve absolutely no purpose. Let's get this straight from the start, all a BD player should do when it comes to 3D and 1080p content is deliver the video signal exactly as it is on the disc with no interference. This issue is compounded by the fact that these picture modes don't appear in the main menus but are often hidden away under an additional Options menu. This means users may not even know that a particular picture mode has been chosen, which could be unfortunate if the player defaults to something highly inaccurate.

Sony's record in this area has been patchy, with some previous players interfering with the gamma and delivering a curve that was decidedly 'baggy'. Whilst the S790 does have a number of picture quality modes and they are hidden away under the Options menu, we're glad to say that one of the modes is helpfully called Direct. A quick check with the meter revealed that this mode is true to its name and is just outputting the image directly from the disc without interfering with the signal in any way. As a result we could enjoy a superb level of performance from the S790 with pristine 1080p and 3D images being delivered to our reference monitor. We used the recently released Prometheus as a test disc for both 1080p and 3D playback because the transfer is nothing short of perfect. The S790 was flawless in delivering the reference 1080p images and equally adept when it came to 3D, with no crosstalk or other artefacts. As long as you are in Direct picture quality mode, then the S790 can deliver an exceptional level of performance to match any other player on the market.

1080i Playback

It is in the area if 1080i playback that Blu-ray players can add value and substandard video processing can be found wanting. Thankfully the S790 performed superbly, passing almost every cadence test on both our Spears & Munsil and HQV Blu-rays. We also used the HQV Blu-ray disc to check the quality of the video deinterlacing, this disc has a jaggies pattern that uses three rotating bars and with the S790 all three bars were smooth with no jaggies. The Sony also had no problems with the video resolution loss test, correctly processing the moving portion of the image and leaving the background free of artefacts. The S790 was thus able to handle discs with content encoded at 1080i without any problems and this is very useful for anyone who watches a lot of concert films or BBC programmes on Blu-ray.

Standard Definition Playback

The S790 displayed an excellent level of performance when it came to processing standard definition signals and it correctly scaled standard definition images without any loss of detail or unwanted ringing. With the video deinterlacing tests the results were also excellent; the S790 reproduced the rotating line without producing any jaggies, even at the most extreme angles. In the motion adaptive deinterlacing test the performance remained superb with all three moving lines being reproduced correctly, even on the bottom line. In the cadence tests the player also performed flawlessly, correctly detecting the most common 2:2 cadence without any problems. The player also had no problems with the test displaying film material with scrolling video text, the text was always clearly readable without any shredding.

Disc Load Times

The S790 takes 25 seconds to get to the home page with the Quick Start feature off and a very quick 5 seconds with it on. The player uses more energy when in standby with the Quick Start feature on, so it really is a case of how big a deal those additional 20 seconds are. The time it took to actually load a disc and reach the copyright notice ranged from 20 - 30 seconds depending on the disc but getting to the actual menu page could often take much longer, although in fairness this is as much dependent on the Java encoding on the disc as it is the player. The load up times for DVDs were surprisingly slow, with some discs taking as long as 60 seconds before reaching the menu page. Given how fast some of the competition are when loading BDs and DVDs, this is an area that could use some improvement.

Energy Consumption

Sony is as dedicated as all the other manufacturers to reducing the energy consumption of their products and the S790 certainly delivers in this area. In standby without Quick Start enabled the S790 measured zero on our meter which means the energy consumption was lower than 0.5W but with Quick Start enabled it was a little higher at 8W. However, even in operation the S790 only used 9W when on and only using 10W when actually playing a disc.

Verdict

9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • Untampered 1080p Playback
  • Excellent scaling of DVDs
  • Impressive handling of interlaced signals
  • SACD playback
  • Built-in WiFi
  • Extensive VoD Services
  • Media streaming works very well
  • Stylish and solid construction
  • Remote app is very good
  • Superb energy efficiency

The Bad

  • Disc loading is slow - especially DVDs
  • No 7.1 analogue audio outputs

Sony BDP-S790 3D Blu-ray Player Review

As we have come to expect from Sony, the S790 is a thing of beauty with an elegant design, curved matte black chassis and brushed metal effect on the top. The touch sensitive controls add a hint of sophistication and the build quality is very good giving the player a solid feel. At the rear are two HDMI outputs, which can be handy if you have an older amp, but otherwise the connections are fairly standard and there are no 7.1 analogue audio outputs. The remote control is simple but effective and the menu system, whilst an acquired taste, is very responsive. The player is reasonably quiet in operation, although there is some noise when navigating discs and the load up times could be quicker but the energy efficiency is excellent.

As far as features go the S790 is at the front of the pack, with just about every modern convenience that you're likely to find in a BD player. There's 3D playback, of course, along with SACD support and you can also connect a USB drive to access content. The S790 has both built-in WiFi and a LAN port to connect to your home network and stream media content and we found the file support to be reasonably comprehensive, except for lossless audio. Sony's Smart platform is very Video-in-Demand heavy, offering a wide choice of catch-up and premium video services and music services as well. Sony's remote control app is one of the best available - smart, slick and very effective - allowing you to ‘catch and throw’ the built in web browser between your tablet or smartphone and the TV.

The inclusion of 4K upscaling makes for great marketing literature even if it is rather pointless in reality but the video processing on the S790 is excellent and as a result standard definition material looks fantastic. The S790 is equally assured with 1080i content and as long as you select the Direct picture quality mode, the 1080p and 3D playback is flawless. In fact when it comes to delivering video and audio over HDMI, the BDP-S790 is one of the best players available and is easily worth a Highly Recommended badge. The irony is that S790's biggest competitor could be Sony's own BDP-S490 because if you only need one HDMI output, there is little to differentiate the S790 from its equally impressive and incredibly cheap little brother.

Highly Recommended

Scores

Picture Quality

.
9

Sound Quality

.
9

Features

.
9

Ease Of Use

.
9

Build Quality

.
9

Value For Money

.
9

Verdict

.
9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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