The addition of “smart TV” functions and other add-ons have clouded the main reason for getting a Blu-ray player: to play a high quality, high resolution 1080p video. Sony’s BDP-S790 3D Blu-ray Player knows exactly what that’s all about, even if it does have all those “frills” found in models considerably less expensive.
The BDP-S790 employs a half-sized chassis with a rounded euro-curved design. There’s a small but readable LCD screen providing basic information and a series of touch sensitive buttons that glow gently in use along the top. The back is where can be found the dual HDMI outputs and RCA analog, optical Toslink and coaxial audio outputs. There’s also a single USB port, although the one on the front right end will be the most used, due to its location.
The “heart” of the BDP-S790 is its menu interface, which is a variation of that pioneered by Sony with the PlayStation 3. Functionally it is straightforward and similar to that found on Sony TVs — my 50″ for example. Horizontal movement conveys you from one section to the other for video or music or photos or settings, or to access premium features like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, the Sony Entertainment Network, etc. Once a section is selected, a drop down menu provides options based on the section, for example, picking a movie or displaying a photo. The most important thing here is that, unlike my TV, a dual core processor is in use which speeds up all of the functions, from the physical movements of selecting a section to making a choice from it (it also plays a part in smoothing the video image). This also applies when exiting sections, for example, quitting Netflix, which sends you back to the interface quickly. That and the simplified visual approach of the interface lowers the BDP-S790’s learning curve.
Those touch buttons are a nice touch, but I doubt anyone will use them instead of the remote, which accesses everything the BDP-S790 offers. It’s a short, stubby model that parallels the bigger ones found on SonyTVs, but the lack of backlighting is a definite minus. On the plus side, the direction pad that is the inner part of the dual concentric rings fits well under even big hands.
An important selling point of the BDP-S790 is in its hardware. Having dual HDMI outputs means you can send a 3D movie directly to the TV while sending the audio out to a legacy amplifier and so not give up on your home theater’s surround sound. I appreciated being able to send audio only for playback and, while I don’t have any gear for measuring whether the audio stream was more “pure”, I did find that SACD discs and even conventional CDs sounded better to my ears this way. But I wish the BDP-S790 could also play DVD-Audio discs.
The BDP-S790’s ability to play a stable and solid video signal is why I got it over other models costing less, not for all of its “smart TV’ functionality, or its having Skype built-in (requiring a webcam) or even the built-in WiFi (which maintained a signal without any image breakup or freezing whenever I used it). But being able to up-convert to 4K is a hardware function that’s useful as “future proofing.”
A good example of the BDP-S790’s performance was had by playing Tom Cruise’s Oblivion movie on Blu-ray disc. This sci-fi film had a lot of CG effects and very wide vistas engulfing the entire screen. The two areas of concern that I had were how whites and blacks looked, and whether the level of detail inherent in the effects would come through clearly or become mushy sort of like how an eraser drawn over a line blurs and dulls the image. If I was looking to be disappointed too bad — the technical performance of the image was spot-on. The BDP-S790 had no problems in displaying a wide color palette that was free of color casts — especially where white was concerned. This also helped to make the skin tones of the actors look natural as opposed to pasty. As for blacks, the BDP-S790 did a better than credible job of avoiding the introduction of gray into the black, along with avoiding turning shadow areas into ink pools.
I’ve played a lot of other Blu-ray discs since then and have been pleased with the results overall; I started with all the enhancements possible set to “default,” although later slightly increased the contrast level on selected discs (this became my “default” for DVDs). But there’s no law against fudging with the settings that alter the black level or work to smooth the overall image, especially when playing Internet videos. Just keep in mind that the settings on the TV the BDP-S790 is connected to also affect the image.
Bottom line: The $249.99 Sony BDP-S790 3D Blu-ray Player competes successfully with other models that are many times more expensive. I wanted a Blu-ray player that could give me the best 1080p image that my HDTV could display. With the BDP-S790, I got it.