Sony BDP-S790 Review
3D Blu-ray Player with Wi-Fi, $250
Sony crowns its BDP-S790 as its flagship Blu-ray player, and justifiably so.
Topping off an arm's length of features like a dual core processor, dual HDMI outputs, IP content noise reduction, 3D playback and a built-in Wi-Fi adapter, Sony adds the whipped cream on the top, 4K upscaling. (More about 4K later.)
And of course, there's an extensive laundry list of popular Internet streaming content providers.
For those that don't speak geek, the Sony BDP-S790 simply is a high performance Blu-ray player with all the bells and whistles. But at $250, it may be more than you need, especially if you have a TV that already provides some of those extras.
With its other 2012 models, Sony provides a range of Blu-ray players at less expensive prices. For example, the next offering in the lineup, the BDP-S590 (MSRP of $149) still provides 3D playback and an integrated Wi-Fi adapter but not the second HDMI output nor 4K upscaling .
Subtract another $20 and the BDP-S390 loses the capability to play 3D Blu-rays but it still has the Wi-Fi built-in. And for under $100, the S-185 drops the Wi-Fi adapter but retains Internet streaming content through a wired connection.
Before you read on, unlike many Blu-ray players in the past, none of these 2012 Sony models include Component video (YPbPr) outputs. If you are planning on connecting this Blu-ray player to your AV receiver or HDTV with Component cables, you are out of luck. If you can't use an HDMI cable, then look elsewhere for a Blu-ray player.
With that said, I am using our Blu-ray Buying Guide as a template for writing this review and as you can imagine, the Sony BDP-S790 ticks almost all the boxes on the Guide's checklist and then adds a few goodies to the mix.
The Sony BDP-S790 plays back 3D Blu-rays with aplomb. Of course, to watch 3D movies at home, you will also need a 3D TV. But it doesn't matter if your 3D TV requires the active shutter or passive polarizing glasses, the S790 will work fine with either.
This Blu-ray player also can convert 2D photos or videos to a 3D-like image. I'm not a big fan of this feature, most often the resulting image pales in comparison to what the player can do with "real" 3D content.
The S790 also recognizes .MPO files, which are 3D still image photos captured by 3D capable still cameras like the Sony NEX-5N. Seeing .MPO files displayed on a large TV screen can be quite arresting though often a bit unsettling.
The Sony BDP-S790 supplies both wired and wireless methods of connecting to the Internet. Once you have the network established, you should be pleased with the depth and breadth of Internet content providers that Sony supplies through it Sony Entertainment Network (SEN).
A quick count yielded over 80 apps including the usual big names like Netflix, YouTube, Vudu, Hulu+ and Pandora as well as more niche channels like blinx and TerraTV.
The Sony BDP-S790 also offers connections to Skype, Facebook and an Internet browser. My past experiences of trying to surf the web from a TV or a Blu-ray player have been painful for two reasons.
First, the responsiveness of the system has been excruciatingly slow. I'm not sure what has changed with this Blu-ray player, though my guess is its dual core processor, but the browser speed was satisfyingly nimble.
Now, the second frustration that I encountered in the past was how unwieldy it was to type search terms into the browser. And again, when I first tried to use the remote control as an input device, I almost gave up.
But later I decided to try the free Sony Media Remote app (Android and Apple) and the clouds lifted. Not only could I use the keyboard on my Android tablet, I discovered the joys of voice recognition.
When I was searching for a title in Netflix, I said, "sons of anarchy" into my tablet's Media Remote app and magically the response popped on to the TV screen. The joys of modern technology.
As a reminder, to use an Internet capable Blu-ray player, you will need Internet service in your house. Then by connecting the player to your home network through a router, you can stream content like movies from Netflix through your player to your TV.
Also, if you are serious about obtaining good picture quality when you are streaming movies, you will need fairly fast and robust bandwidth from your Internet provider, ideally around 10Mbps.
I know some sites suggest as low as 2.5Mbps, but if anyone else in your house is accessing the network, the video playback will deteriorate. At least try to have around 5Mbps.
Luckily, many Internet providers are now offering service with speeds up to 60Mbps and beyond. See if the speed you now have works for your streaming needs and then rev it up if you require more.
Once the S790 is plugged into your home network, it is possible to play photos, music and movies directly from your DLNA-compatible computer or media server through this DLNA certified player.
The Sony BDP-S790 has a wireless adapter integrated in the player and requires no additional components. I still prefer the speed, reliability and ease of setup of a wired connection. But often the Blu-ray player is not within easy reach of your router and in that case, the built-in Wi-Fi adapter is convenient and capable.
Blu-ray players these days are little slivers of kit. This Sony is less than two inches high, but it packs a lot of technology inside. The one thing you will notice about its design is that the unit does not exhibit any discernible buttons.
Rather, when you turn on the S790, lighted icons appear on the front of the top indicating Eject, Play and Stop buttons. You simply lightly brush one and the function is activated.
I've encountered no hiccups playing an assortment of DVDs and Blu-rays (2D and 3D) on the Sony BDP-S790.
The manual lists that the Sony BDP-S790 will play the following media, BD-ROM, BD-R/BD-RE, DVD-ROM, DVD-R/DVD-RW, DVD+R/DVD+RW, CD-DA (Music CD), CD-ROM, CD-R/CD-RW, Super Audio CD. I did not try to play any non-commercially produced media on this player.
Here's a table of file formats that it can handle.
The S790 supplies one USB port on the front right corner. There is no SD card slot.
You can download photos, music, and videos stored on your computer on to a USB flash drive, pop it into the S790 and display or play them on your TV.
The slideshow menu is good. It only offers three transitions speeds but the effects include the all-important Fade. You also can add music to your presentation from a file on the USB drive or a CD in the player.
A side note about what kind of JPEGs that the S790 can play. If you have read my review of last year's Sony top of the line TV, the XBR-HX929, you may remember that it wouldn't play back JPEGs that had been post-processed in a program like Photoshop. I am happy to report that the S790 does not possess that same shortcoming. This Blu-ray player was able to display every JPEG that I sent its way.
The player includes another USB port on the back panel. Originally, when the first wave of Blu-rays came out, studios introduced a system of linking to extra content that could be downloaded onto a USB drive. Its port was traditionally located on the back panel.
I don't see this feature as often on Blu-ray discs, but Sony still includes this second USB port. And though the manual does not mention it, you can plug a USB drive full of music or video or images into this rear port and the S790 plays the content back as described above.
As you can see from its back panel, the Sony S790 does not offer 7.1 Analog Audio Outputs. None of the current Sony models do. In fact, very few 2012 Blu-ray players include this feature, which is only important to those audiophiles who still have legacy audio equipment with 7.1 analog audio inputs.
Here's a tip. If you are transmitting audio through the HDMI out and you want to send HD audio signals (Dolby Digital or DTS) to the receiver, go into the Audio Settings menu on the S790 and make sure that the BD Audio MIX Setting is turned Off. (The Default is On, which "Outputs the audio obtained by mixing the interactive and secondary audio to the primary audio." Use this On setting when you want to hear the additional audio track like a voice over commentary from the Director.)
And as a reminder, as you can see, the back panel does not supply Component video outputs. The one analog video output is Composite, which only should be used for maintenance purposes.
The S790 does provide a second HDMI output, which is useful in certain situations but not necessary for the majority of consumers.
For example, in a home theater projector setup, the first HDMI output would send video to the projector, while the second HDMI could carry an audio signal to an AV receiver on the other end of the room.
Also, some older AV receivers may not relay 3D video. In that case, HDMI1 would send the 3D video signal from the Blu-ray player directly to the 3D TV or projector, while HDMI2 sends the audio to the receiver.
But do not just think that HDMI2 is only for relaying audio signals. By default, as the manual states, the S790 "Outputs video signals and audio signals simultaneously via both the HDMI OUT 1 jack and the HDMI OUT 2 jack." Therefore the Sony BDP-S790 could feed two displays without switching cables.
The manual states Power Consumption at 21W, which is higher than some Blu-ray players that I have reviewed.
To conserve electricity, you can make sure that the Quick Start Mode is turned off. This option, which shortens the start-up time when turning on the player, quietly sucks power when it's activated because the player never totally powers down. By default, the Quick Start Mode is turned off.
The retail price for the Sony BDP-S790 is $250, which is steep for Blu-ray players today. Even online retailers are not discounting that number.
Then again, to put the S790 in context, those $150 Blu-ray players in the marketplace may Wi-Fi enabled and 3D capable, but they are not truly as "fully-featured" as this Sony. Those players that do carry features like dual HDMIs are usually in the $500 and above range.
Of course, if you don't need dual HDMIs and a dual core processor, then go for any of the other less expensive models.
And as promised, a word about the S790's 4K upscaling, I asked a Sony representative about this feature which upconverts HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) content to 4K (4,096 x 2,160 pixels or in TV dimensions, 3,840 x 2,160) resolution to be displayed on a 4K projector or TV.
Sony has been selling a 4K projector for a while and is releasing a 4K TV, the 84-inch XBR-84X900 in November. Both the projector and TV retail for a cool $25,000 each.
Since both displays include more sophisticated 4K upscaling technology than what is in the $250 S790, the rep said that "The S790 was brought to market to work with other (non-Sony) 4K displays."
Which, in my words, means that this 4K upscaling is a future-proof type of feature that does not have a lot of value now. But that does not detract from the performance and convenience that the Sony BDP-S790 offers.
The BDP-S790 rightfully deserves the title as Sony's flagship 3D Blu-ray player. With features like dual HDMI outputs, a dual core processor, and the future-looking 4K upscaling, the S790's $250 price tag should be compared with niche Blu-ray players often costing at least twice as much.