Sony BDP-S790 review

Pros

  • Generous feature list
  • Stunning pictures
  • Easy to use
  • Excellent web content

Cons

  • Pricey
  • No DivX playback

Sitting proudly at the top of Sony’s current Blu-ray player range, the BDP-S790 comes with all the bells and whistles you’d expect. Not only does it play 3D Blu-ray discs and SACD hi-res music, but it can also stream content from Sony’s online portal and your own files from DLNA servers through its built-in Wi-Fi connection.

It’s an all-round entertainer then, but this functionality doesn’t come cheap – at £200 it’s pricier than most disc spinners, so let’s find out if it’s justified.

Design and connections

The BDP-S790 is a slim and slinky machine, measuring just 42mm high and blessed with a curved underside to soften the lines. The top half is gloss black, with a gorgeous brush effect on top and soft-touch controls along the front edge.

On the front you get a small LED display that’s just about big enough to read from the sofa, the disc tray and a USB port under a flap. There’s an unusually busy rear panel too, with two HDMI outputs allowing you to feed signals to a TV and AV receiver separately – handy if your receiver doesn’t support 3D signals.

Joining these on the rear are optical and coaxial digital audio outputs, a composite output, analogue stereo output and a second USB port, which like the front one can be used to play back media.

There’s also an Ethernet port should you require the reliability of a wired Internet connection, but the deck boasts built-in Wi-Fi for convenience.

Features

Perhaps the most eye-catching feature, if not hugely useful at the moment, is 4K upscaling. The BDP-S790 is the first deck to offer this, and with 4K screens and projectors starting to emerge it’s good to know this deck is ready for it. That means you can upscale any DVD or Blu-ray disc to 4K resolution when connected to a suitable screen, which may have performance benefits over the display’s own upscaling.

Connect the deck to the Internet and you’ll be able to access Sony’s array of web content, which is still the best of any Blu-ray player. That’s because it includes a wide range of video-streaming and on-demand movie sites including BBC iPlayer, Demand 5, Netflix, LoveFilm and YouTube. And if that’s not enough, you’re also granted access to the Sony Entertainment Network, which includes its Video and Music Unlimited streaming services and 3D Experience section.

You’ll also find Facebook, Skype, Sky News, vTuner Internet radio, the Opera TV store with its own range of apps and even a web browser. With a selection like this it could be ages before you even think about playing a Blu-ray disc.

Then we come to the deck’s impressive DLNA streaming functionality. You can play AVCHD, MKV, WMV, MP4, 3GP, AVI, XviD, MP3, AAC, WMA, WAV, JPEG, PNG and GIF from networked media servers, which is a good range but anyone hoping to play DivX files is out of luck.

If you’re a picture pedant you might be encouraged by the range of picture tech onboard. Internet Picture Enhancer Pro aims to reduce noise on web-streamed video, plus there’s a dedicated video adjustment menu that includes presets for ‘Brighter’ or ‘Theatre’ rooms, plus Auto and Direct modes.

Two Custom modes let you tweak the picture manually and save the results. Here you can adjust contrast, brightness, colour, hue, plus fiddle with Clear Black, Contrast Remaster, Super Resolution, Texture Remaster and Smoothing modes, all of which are designed to enhance the sharpness, depth and smoothness of the picture.

As well as 3D Blu-ray discs and DVDs, the BDP-S790 will play SACD, which marks this out as a player discerning music fans might want to check out.

Operation

The BDP-S790 is a breeze to operate, thanks largely to the intuitive Xross Media Bar menu system. This uses a horizontal bar of menu categories, which is intersected by a vertical axis housing the relevant options. It’s fast and easy to follow, although when a menu category has a lot of options it can take a while to scroll down to the bottom.

It’s all controlled with a very user-friendly remote, which is uncluttered, well labelled and sports a thoughtful layout. Key to its success is the central direction pad, circled by ring of essential buttons.

More tech-savvy users can control the S790 over a network using their iOS or Android smartphone or tablet. Sony’s Media Remote app offers full control over the player and even acts as a mouse for the deck’s web browser, which is a real godsend.

Performance

The BDP-S790’s picture quality is excellent with both 2D and 3D discs. Starting with 2D, Prometheus looks utterly stunning through the Sony because it drags every last pixel of detail from the disc and delivers it to the TV unhindered.

That means the movie’s CG landscapes look crisp and textured while the complex interiors of the Prometheus ship are rendered in all their hi-tech glory.

The image is also supremely cinematic thanks to the deck’s solid blacks and wide contrast range. You can play around with the custom adjustments but even in the Theatre Room preset the image looks deep and punchy.

This also makes dark scenes easy to watch, even in the murky caverns. All the detail is clear on the background walls and floor, and when the snake-like alien attacks it’s disgustingly lucid.

We’re also impressed by the Sony’s colour reproduction, which makes everything look natural, not garish or forced. Subtle shades are smoothly blended with no banding.

The S790 continues this fine performance with the 3D version of the same film, whisking you away with its deep and beautifully composed pictures. In fact this deck makes everything looks good, from upscaled DVDs to web-streamed video from BBC iPlayer. With no compatible screen to hand, I couldn’t check the quality of its 4K upscaling.

Verdict

If you’re looking for a Blu-ray player that offers features aplenty, the best web content in the business and stunning pictures, then the BDP-S790 is the deck for you. And if you have half an eye on buying a 4K TV in the near future then rest assured this deck is ready for it. The only downside is that you have to fork out a little bit more than your average Blu-ray deck, but do so and you certainly won’t be left feeling too short-changed.

Specifications

Manufacturer and model

Sony BDP-S790

HDMI output

2

Component video output

No

Composite video output

Yes

Ethernet

Yes

Digital audio outputs

2 (1 optical, 1 coaxial)

Dolby TrueHD decoding

Yes

DTS HD Master Audio decoding

Yes

USB port

2

Built-in Wi-Fi

Yes

iPod/iPhone support

Yes

DLNA media streaming

Yes

Smartphone control

Yes

Online content

Sony Entertainment Network

3D ready

Yes

2D-to-3D conversion

No

Supported media formats

AVCHD, MKV, WMV, MP4, 3GP, AVI, XviD, MP3, AAC, WMA, WAV, JPEG, PNG, GIF

Dimensions (main unit) W x H x D

430 x 42 x 193mm

Weight

1.9kg