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Sony BDP-S490 review

TV & AVReviews
8/10
, 22 Nov 2012Reviews
Sony BDP-S490 review

The BDP-S490 sits bang in the middle of Sony’s five-strong Blu-ray player range. It’s positioned below the high-spec BDP-S790 and BDP-S590, but adds several features not found on the entry-level BDP-S185 and step-up BDP-S390 – chief among which is 3D playback.

Design and features

While many manufacturers are happy to shove all the electronics in a plain old black box, Sony has gone for something a little more chic. The BDP-S490 features a large flat top panel – decorated with a fetching brushed texture – with gloss black side panels that curve underneath. Its sleek and modern vibe will go down well in most living rooms, but like many players at this price it feels a little lightweight when you pick it up.

On the front is an LED display panel, a USB port (covered by a flap) and the disc tray. Buttons for up-close control can be found within a silver strip running along the top.

The rear panel offers a generous line-up of sockets. Alongside the HDMI v1.4 output are optical and coaxial digital audio outputs, a second USB port, composite video, and analogue stereo outputs. There’s also an Ethernet port, which is crucial to many of the deck’s key features.

The BDP-S490 lacks built-in Wi-Fi, so you can either connect it to your router via Ethernet or invest in Sony’s wireless LAN adapter, the UWA-BR100. This costs about £50, but if it’s Wi-Fi you crave you might as well step up to the BDP-S590, which only costs £40 extra.

But whether it’s delivered via dongle or cable, it’s worth the hassle because the Sony Entertainment Network’s content is arguably the best of any Blu-ray player.

The list covers high-profile services like BBC iPlayer, Demand 5, Sky News, YouTube, DailyMotion, Sony’s 3D Experience and Sony Entertainment Television, backed up by Netflix, LoveFilm and Facebook, plus Music Unlimited, Moshcam and vTuner in the Music section. Some apps on my wish list still remain unchecked – 4oD and ITV Player being two – but this is still a terrific selection in anyone’s book.

You can also use the BDP-S490 to stream music, video and photos from servers on your home network thanks to its DLNA certification. It works without any hassle, and format support is good if not exhaustive – MKV, AVCHD, MP4, AVI, XviD, MPEG-1, JPEG, GIF, PNG, MP3, WAV, WMA and AAC. DivX and FLAC are conspicuous by their absence, and the deck downgraded WMV HD files into a much lower resolution.

You can play these files from USB drives and external HDDs too. The Sony will also play Super Audio CDs, which should please hi-res music fans.

Elsewhere on the spec sheet is 2D-to-3D conversion, which could give your DVDs a new lease of life, plus the Qriocity Entertainment Database provides details and cover art for the disc you’re playing. You can also use an Apple or Android smartphone to control the deck over a network if you install Sony’s Media Remote app.

Less fancy but equally important is the deck’s ability to convert Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio into multichannel PCM for receivers that lack the relevant decoding, but it’ll also output the raw bitstream if you prefer. 1080/24p output and 1080p DVD upscaling are also part of the deck’s repertoire. There are three picture presets – Standard, Brighter Room and Theatre Room – plus Block and Mosquito Noise Reduction settings.

Operation

Using the BDP-S490 is a generally slick and hassle-free experience thanks to the familiar Xross Media Bar layout that Sony’s been using for years. It uses two axes – the categories are lined up horizontally, intersected vertically by the corresponding options. The Sony Entertainment Network content and DLNA functionality are incorporated into this menu.

It’s effective, but with one caveat. The Sony Entertainment Network’s content has swelled to the point where this layout has become impractical. To access many of the video apps, for instance, you have to scroll down a very long list, which takes a while. Sensibly, BBC iPlayer and Demand 5 are found at the top, but fans of Billabong will get tired thumbs.

But there’s much to admire about the menu, such as the use of logos for each app, the way it displays the name and actors of the disc and the way it smoothly glides between options. DLNA and USB content can be accessed from separate Video, Music and Photo sections of the home menu – in each case it lists the connected devices that house such content. The media playback displays are excellent.

The Display and Options menus provide quick access to key functions and information. The deck’s remote poses no problems, with thoughtfully placed controls and clear labelling. Its stumpy size fits nicely in the hand too.

The Sony’s Quickstart mode aims for fast disc loading speeds, but the 43 seconds it took to load Terminator Salvation is typical. Less Java heavy discs load up in about half that time.

Performance

Load up a Blu-ray disc and the Sony delivers excellent hi-def picture quality. Images are stripped of all noise and judder, leaving you with nothing but crisp detail, lavish colours and sharp edges.

Its pleasing black depth and rich colour saturation result in an effortlessly cinematic look, while its subtle fine detail reproduction and smooth tonal blends make everything appear natural.

Dark scenes also scrub up nicely, with the Sony allowing none of the detail to get crushed out. This is most obvious when watching Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings movies – at no point during my visit to Hogwarts and Mordor did I feel the need to fiddle with the brightness or contrast to see what’s going on.

The Sony is equally assured with 3D discs. Not only does its composed 3D layering provide a flawless sense of depth, but its images are also fluid, meticulously detailed and vibrantly coloured – qualities that draw you right into the picture.

I’m also impressed by how the deck handles online content. Programmes streamed from BBC iPlayer and Demand 5 look much crisper and smoother than I expected, thanks to on-board processing tech that cleans up streamed video.

The inclusion of SACD playback elevates the BDP-S490’s audio prowess to a higher level than many similarly priced players, but it does a great job with MP3s and CDs too.

Verdict

The BDP-S490 is an undeniably excellent Blu-ray player, boasting generous online content, stylish looks and solid picture quality. However, the lack of built-in Wi-Fi might be an issue for some, given that the superior BDP-S590 offers integrated Wi-Fi for around £40 more (and rival decks include it for the same price). It’s also clear that Sony’s menu system isn’t best suited to the growing amount of content SEN has to offer. But if you don’t mind hooking up an Ethernet cable (perhaps with a view to adding the dongle at a later date) then the BDP-S490 is a fine Blu-ray deck in every other respect.

Manufacturer and model

Sony BDP-S490

HDMI output

1, v1.4

Component video output

No

Composite video output

Yes

Ethernet

Yes

Digital audio outputs

2 (1 x optical, 1 x coaxial)

Dolby TrueHD decoding

Yes

DTS HD Master Audio decoding

Yes

USB port

2

Built-in Wi-Fi

No

iPod/iPhone support

Yes

DLNA media streaming

Yes

Smartphone control

Yes

Online content

Sony Entertainment Network

3D ready

Yes

2D-to-3D conversion

Yes

Supported media formats

MKV, WMV, AVCHD, MP4, AVI, XviD, MPEG-1, JPEG, GIF, PNG, MP3, WAV, WMA, AAC

Dimensions (main unit) W x H x D

430 x 42 x 199mm

Weight

1.5kg

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