There are those who say that a Blu-ray player should do more than just play discs, but also provide a conduit to the Internet and access to applications and websites in a manner similar to that of “Smart TVs” and mobile devices. Sony’s BDP-S790 3D Blu-ray Player does that in spades and because it takes the sting out of navigating its many functions, it’s a pleasure to use.
The BDP-S790 3D Blu-ray Player has a euro-curved chassis and feels more “solidly” built when handled. This is surprising considering that it is about half the width of a conventionally sized Blu-ray player (although the length is similar). A look at the back reveals the internal additions that add to its weight: there are dual HDMI outputs and an air exhaust grill. Also found on the back are optical and coaxial audio outputs, a Composite video output, an Ethernet port for a wired connection to a home network, and an input to use for integrated control of the player with a Sony compatible TV or amplifier. Finally, a USB port is also on the back panel and is mirrored by one on the front right edge of the chassis. Illuminated soft-touch buttons are located at the front upper right of the chassis and control disc eject, play and stop features. Their use is echoed by the LCD panel which lights up with text to indicate any activity that the player is currently involved with.
The BDP-S790 comes equipped with wireless connectivity and so does not have the placement restrictions that a wired connection has in use with a home network’. But unlike a wired connection’s automatic process, activating the player’s WiFi requires providing details about the home network on a menu screen (such as the network’s name and password).
The remote is just a little bit shorter than the long candy bar style models that have become standard, and has a slightly grooved back for easy gripping. The controls are fairly standard in that the center section consists of a direction pad that is surrounded by angled buttons for accessing the Menu, selecting Options or returning to the Home screen. But the spacing between the direction pad and the tabs are a bit too close, causing large fingers often skim over the direction pad and hit a tab instead. This is not helped by the fact that the remote is not backlit.
The remote’s bottom section provides Play/Pause and other direct control over an inserted disc, while the top section has a numeric pad, power and input buttons so that it can be used to control a compatible TV, such as one from Sony. There is also a dedicated Netflix button.
The BDP-S790 is 3D compatible. This presented me with a problem since I normally send the Blu-ray player’s video through a non 3D-compatible amplifier used as a switcher. The normal solution would be to direct the HDMI cable to the display, and then run out an optical audio cable from the display to the amplifier. But since the BDP-S790 has dual HDMI outputs, one can be directed to the display while the other can go to the amplifier for audio. This solution can also come into play if there is a 4K display, since the player can up-convert the video to 4K but the amplifier on hand might not be able to.
The player uses the Xross Media Bar navigation menu that was first pioneered on the Sony PlayStation 3. The basic setup screens take just a few minutes to work through, although you can tweak such features as picture quality, contrast and other image enhancements afterwards. There is also a special “Party mode” that is activated in the Audio settings, and which will stream music to any/all Sony-compatible wireless speakers simultaneously. There is also a Photo option, allowing you to control how slide shows are presented, and the player can also play music off of a USB drive
plugged into one of the two USB ports.
Online access to sites such as Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, Crackle, YouTube, Skype and others is initiated by pressing the SEN tab (Sony Entertainment Network) above the direction pad. I was able to stream Netflix video in high-definition consistently with a wired connection and it looked impressive. The same results were experienced with the other online services. I was able to achieve the same results with the player set up wirelessly, but had to angle the player so its internal antenna could get the best signal strength possible. The Sony web browser can help with this because it displays a signal strength meter at the top of the browser. The browser was able to bring up websites of all types.
The player is also app compatible and can accommodate Skype video/audio calls by connecting a webcam of your choosing through the USB port. Having a Skype account already active is a requirement. Additionally, Sony’s Entertainment Center portal can be accessed as well as Sony-specific special features, such as relating to Michael Jackson or Spider-Man.
The USB port can accept a USB thumb drive, whose contents can be accessed from the Video, Photos and Music menus from the Xross Media Bar; t
he resolution of the video or photo decides its quality, but in general will look as good as a comparable one from disc-based content.
The BDP-S790 has a 16-bit signal processing video engine. While I can’t test it quantitatively, I can get an approximation of how superior it performs compared to my existing Blu-ray player. For the test I used the Blu-ray disc set of The Prisoner — a restored television series from the last 1960’s that starred Patrick McGoohan. I played a number of scenes from Fall Out, which contained both quiet moments as well as action scenes (guns, people running around, a missile taking off..). In comparison to my Blu-ray player, the Sony exhibited less“grain” as well as produced colors
with more intensity.
Moving to the more recent “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” Blu-ray disc, I repeated this test using the scene where the Rider “shoots” a stream of fire across a darkened horizon. Again the BDP-S790 performed better than my Blu-ray player: the stream seemed to be brighter and with a greater sense of depth existing between it and the surroundings. Repeating this scene with the 3D disc version had the fire’s arcing appear more believable. And in both cases there was no discontinuity in the fire stream to belie its being believable, such as a momentary artifact appearance or burst of “noise.”
Bottom line: The Sony BDP-S790 3D Blu-ray Player comes with added functionality that is not often seen in its price range ($249 retail). Those looking for a competent high-resolution 1080p Blu-ray player that also offers Internet connectivity features will not be disappointed.
- High-resolution audio can be independently outputted
- Player has 2D to 3D conversion technology built-in
- DLNA compatible for use with a computer through the network
- Front-mounted USB port’s cover can easily break off
- No Component cable option
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.