Sony BDP-S590

Low price and great features combine to make the Sony BDP-S590 a great-value smart Blu-ray player.

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Take the Sony BDP-S390 Blu-ray player, which was cut down to trim a few bucks here and there, and restore all the missing bits, and what you have is the AU$50 more expensive Sony BDP-S590.

Unlike the BDP-S390 you get a full-width unit. You get one that has a front-panel information display, and has not only a coaxial digital audio output but also optical (not that you're going to need either if you're using HDMI). It also has a rear-mounted USB socket in addition to the front one, so when you insert USB storage for advanced Blu-ray functionality, it won't be sticking out of the front of the unit.

It also provides 3D. Perhaps you don't need that now, but it's nice to have for the future, and it has all the other stuff in the cheaper unit, of course, including Wi-Fi.

But it is similar in many ways, looking just a little plasticky, and designed in such a way — with control keys on the top — that you would have to be foolhardy indeed to stack other stuff atop it.

However, the stuff inside is top class, and pretty much the same as that in Sony's top-of-the-line BDP-S790, barring the latter's ability to upscale video to 4K Ultra High Definition (UHD) resolution.

This unit also supports SACD; it's capable of delivering the sound in its native Direct Stream Digital format should an enthusiast desire this, or in very high-resolution PCM. And it can access the Gracenote online database to give proper names to most discs.

As delivered, this unit needed a firmware upgrade, which was performed online. This took about 10 minutes. Then, to get the extra content, it needed to have one of the options selected on the cross media bar menu, whereupon all of the icons and links were downloaded to the unit. That only took a couple of minutes.

Playing discs

Playback of discs was identical to the BDP-S390: excellent for normal 24-frames-per-second Blu-ray, and quite good for the more problematic 1080i50 Blu-rays and Australian DVDs. It would have been better if it had the ability to force the unit into film mode progressive scan conversion, since there are inevitably some difficult parts of films, delivered in an interlaced format, in which an electronic circuit has trouble distinguishing between video-sourced interlacing and actual on-screen content. Where this fails, you get odd-looking moire patterns and picture instability.

The Blu-ray 3D capability worked, too, just as it should.

The transport controls were also good, and, just like the BDP-S390, included single-frame stepping in both directions. This was not surprising, since the same smallish, but well laid out, remote control is used for both. Two keys that are missing from this, but available in the most expensive Sony layer, is a brief skip of 15 to 30 seconds in both directions, which is useful for repeating a missed bit of dialogue. This function is still there, and accessible via the iOS or Android remote apps.

Smart features

As with most of the other features, the online offerings are identical to those on Sony's lesser player. So if you have a yearning for a wide range of music on tap, or to hire movies supplied online, then look into the Sony Entertainment Network, which is available via this unit (this will cost you, though). Otherwise, there is a very wide range of other material. Amongst the close to 40-odd items online via this unit are catch-up services for the Australian TV broadcasters (other than channel nine), and the non-Sony movie-rental service Quickflix.

There is also something called "Crackle", which makes available for free a small number of movies and TV shows, occasionally punctuated by Sony advertisements at what can only be random points, so poorly chosen were they. On our ADSL2 connection, the delivery was reliable and the picture quality was about that of a middling DVD. According to the player's display, the thing was running at nearly 5Mbps.

DLNA content — movies, photos and music — from devices on the network can be played back. A remote control app is available for iOS and Android devices, to control it via the network.

Other stuff

With the ability to use the rear USB socket for the storage requirements of the BD-Live functions, the front one becomes a lot more useful, since you can plug memory sticks into it ad hoc. A good range of multimedia support is available: MP3, AAC, WMA and LPCM for music, and MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, WMV, XviD and AVCHD. In addition to JPG, PNG and GIF pictures, this unit supports MPO, the 3D still format.

In the end, the Sony BDP-S590 is pretty much at the ideal price point and feature level. It has all the basics and most of the advanced stuff to fulfill most people's needs, yet still costs less than AU$200.

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