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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Standard Definition Playback
Disc Load Times
- 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
- Disc loading is slow - especially DVDs
- No 7.1 analogue audio outputs
Sony BDP-S790 3D Blu-ray Player Review
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.
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