The Sony BDP-S790 replaces the BDP-S780 in Sony’s Blu-ray player line-up. It’s the top model in a series of four players, and what sets the BDP-S790 apart is its revamped feature-set. It keeps the 2D and 3D Blu-ray playback of the previous model, along with Sony’s solid range of Internet video and social media services, but makes some future-proofing and speed improvements. See also Group test: what's the best Blu-ray player?
Sony BDP-S790: Design and setup
The Sony BDP-S790 is more solidly constructed than the company’s previous Blu-ray players, with a mix of aluminium and thick plastic making up the majority of the body. The tray-loading Blu-ray drive isn’t hidden behind a fascia like on Panasonic’s models, while the white single-line LCD screen is bright and easily visible. Visit How to rip audio from your Blu-ray discs.
The logo, power button and Blu-ray drive of the BDP-S790.
Three LED-lit, touch-sensitive buttons on the top right of the player mean easy access to disc eject, play and stop controls. There’s another touch-sensitive button on the left for power, but it doesn’t light up. There’s a USB port hidden behind a flap below the right buttons — this will handle all kinds of downloadable media files, with MKV, WMV, XviD, MP4, WMA, AAC, MP3 and JPEG files working successfully at 480p and 1080p resolution in our tests. See also Group test: what's the best external DVD/Blu-ray drive?
The BDP-S790's model number and USB port on the player's right side.
The back of the Sony BDP-S790 is its most interesting part. Here, you’ll find not one but two HDMI outputs, an Ethernet network port, an additional USB port, optical and coaxial digital audio, as well as a set of backup composite audio/video connectors. The BDP-S790 has Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n built in.
Ports on the rear of the BDP-S790, including two HDMI outputs.
The dual HDMI output is an interesting feature. Its advantage is in making it possible to connect an A/V receiver or home theatre system with one HDMI port, and using the other port to send an unadulterated HDMI signal to your TV or home theatre projector. If you’ve got an A/V receiver that won’t pass through 3D video, for example, this is a big selling point.
Turning on the Sony BDP-S790 for the first time, there’s a very basic setup procedure to be followed. When we turned on the player and connected it to our wired network, we were quickly informed of an available software update — doing this adds new features and fixes any problems with existing ones. Wireless network setup is reasonably quick, and the remote is labeled with a T9 keyboard layout (ABC on keypad button 2, DEF on 3, and so on) which makes entering long alphanumeric passwords slightly easier.
Sony BDP-S790: Features and performance
We really liked how fast the BDP-S790 was to respond to remote control commands, and how swift it was to navigate through menus and enter applications. It loaded Blu-ray and DVD movies roughly on par with competitors, booting into the menu of our test Avatar 3D Blu-ray in 27 seconds and into The Dark Knight in 20 seconds flat.
We thought the amount of video customisation available through the BDP-S790’s menu system — accessible through Options while you’re watching a 2D or 3D Blu-ray movie — was excellent. There are several increments for each of the Texture Remaster, Super Resolution, Smoothing, Contrast Remaster and Clear Black options that let you tailor the BDP-S790’s output to suit your tastes.
With a little adjustment, we found that the second increment of each setting produced the most detailed picture with attractive contrast.
This is a Blu-ray player that absolutely flatters high definition content. It produced an excellent picture with ourThe Dark Knight, Terminator: Salvation and Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 3D test Blu-ray movies, andAvatar 3D came close to looking as good as it did in the cinema (albeit on a smaller screen, of course). Its lower-resolution upscaling is also excellent, bringing just the right amount of sharpening and smoothing to 480p DVD video and accurately de-blocking lower quality downloaded video.
The BDP-S790's conspicuous 3D Blu-ray logo, on the player's top right.
We didn’t have a chance to test the Blu-ray player’s 4K up-scaling — this is a feature that’s only worthwhile when you’re connecting to a 4K TV or projector, and since almost all of these units aren’t going to hit the Australian market until the very end of the year, it’s a bit redundant at the moment. Theoretically, 4K upscaling from a Blu-ray player should be superior to 4K upscaling from a TV — it’s earlier in the chain from the video source to its display — but we’ll reserve our judgment until later. It’s nice to have the feature for future-proofing, though.
The dual-core processor used in the BDP-S790 contributes in a big way to the general speediness of the user interface. Remote control input is mirrored on-screen almost instantly, which is a huge difference from the half-second wait we’ve experienced with older Sony models using the ‘Xross Media Bar’ (XMB) interface. We’ve always liked XMB, but it’s a pain to use on a slow machine — it’s excellent on the BDP-S790 though, and as a result we think it’s even easier and more intuitive to use than before.
A sticker advertising the BDP-S790's diverse video and Web features.
Sony has been keeping up with its competitors in updating its Blu-ray players with new video on demand services, and the BDP-S790 continues that trend. Connect it to the Internet, register it on Sony’s site and you’re able to access a large variety of different video apps. There’s Quickflix streaming movies, ABC iView, Moshcam concerts, The Wiggles for the kids, YouTube, MUBI, SBS On Demand, and plenty more. We counted 28 video apps in total. Sony’s Video Unlimited is one of these — it’s probably the most comprehensive movie service available on the device, with a broad range of video from Sony’s Australian distributors.
Music apps also abound; alongside Sony’s subscription Music Unlimited service you can also purchase Berliner Philharmoniker concerts and listen to vTuner and National Public Radio podcasts and broadcasts. There are no photo apps, but the BDP-S790 will happily play any JPEG, GIF or PNG files from an external hard drive or USB stick although it takes a few seconds to load each new photo.
In the Network section of the BDP-S790’s XMB interface you’ll find instant access to Skype (with optional Sony webcam, at $199) and Facebook, and the Opera App Store which lets you access Twitter and install other apps from the Opera TV app library. The range of apps is definitely limited — at the time of writing, there are eight (25 Square Puzzle, Backgammon, Bubbles, Geo Quiz, River IQ, Solitaire, Sudoku, and Twitter) but the option to access these games is a nice time-waster.
The Web browser is also accessible from the Network section, and is a very basic Opera implementation. Every time you want to enter a URL or text, you have to access the on-screen keyboard through a two-step Options menu process. It’s quite convoluted and we think it’s too difficult to be useful; you can use a wired keyboard through the USB port, but you’ll still need to do some selecting with the remote control. It works acceptably well if you’re willing to wait through the difficult text input.
Sony BDP-S790: Conclusion
We have only praise for the BDP-S790’s high quality video output, even though its 4K upscaling selling point is merely academic for the time being. Its video and music on demand features are comprehensive, but the Web browser fails to impress. All in all, we think the BDP-S790 is a worthwhile investment at £239 for someone who wants to future-proof their home in time for their next 4K TV upgrade.