Sony BDP-N460 Review
Blu-ray Player, $249
I recently reviewed the Sony BDP-S560 and praised that Blu-ray player's wireless connection but bemoaned its lack of Internet content providers.
With the less expensive BDP-N460, Sony has flipped the features. This Blu-ray player foregoes the wireless network connection for the more traditional wired solution.
But with the N460, Sony supplies over twenty-five, at last count, Internet content partners like Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Video on Demand, and Slacker Personal Radio.
Those differences aside, these Profile 2.0 BD-Live units are similar. For example, neither furnishes 7.1 analog audio outputs which are must haves for home theater enthusiasts with non-HDMI equipped receivers. You would need to step up to the meatier Sony's ES Series players for this capability.
Here's the bottom line. If you just want a Blu-ray player from Sony to watch your new, bright and shiny Blu-ray DVDs, consider the no-nonsense BDP-S360. For about $50 more (street price), the N460 will add the ability to tap into all that Internet content and watch it on your TV. And adding another $30+, you can get the convenience the wireless BDP-S560 provides, but no Internet providers.
A Few of the BDP-N460's 25+ Internet Content Providers
Blu-ray Player Primer
Blu-ray disc players were introduced in 2006. Since then, their specifications have evolved through three classifications, (Profile 1.0, 1.1 and 2.0).
Profile 1.0 provided playback and basic interactive features. Profile 1.1, (also called BonusView), players added the capability for displaying Picture-in-Picture (PIP) and playing secondary audio tracks available on BonusView discs.
After October 31, 2007, all new Blu-ray players had to offer all the features in Profile 1.1.
BD-Live (Profile 2.0) players must have an Ethernet port for connecting to the Internet, where it can download online content associated with BD-Live Blu-ray titles.
Out of the Box
The front of the BDP-N460 looks much like the S560 with a minimalist glossy black face that contains only the Play and Stop buttons on the right and thin silver Power and Eject buttons located on the upper corners.
When you press that Eject button, the DVD tray emerges as the front face folds down out of the way.
Below the door, a USB port is recessed on the lower front right corner. It accepts flash drives with JPEG images. You cannot playback music or video from this port.
On the back of the machine, there is a second USB port, labeled EXT. You cannot insert a USB drive with photos here. This slot is reserved for external memory that is required to access BD-Live and BonusView content available with many Blu-ray movies.
Some manufacturers integrate this memory into the player. Others, like Sony, employ this USB flash drive external memory solution, but they do not include one in the box. If you are planning to sample BD-Live features, then make sure to buy a USB flash drive along with your purchase of the BDP-N460.
Also on the back of the player, the connection panel supplies one HDMI out and one set of Component Video (YPbPr) outs. A Composite out is also back there, but the quality of the video from this connection does a disservice to both this Blu-ray player and your HDTV. Please, you should only use the Composite for troubleshooting.
For audio outputs, the BDP-N460 supplies a set of analog Audio stereo outs along with both an optical and cable Digital Audio out. You can also pass audio through the HDMI connection, which supports both internal decoding and up to 7.1 channels of bitstream output of enhanced audio codecs like Dolby TrueHD and dts-HD Master Audio.
With the digital audio outs, the BDP-N460 manual states, "If your AV amplifier (receiver) has a Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic, or DTS decoder and a digital input jack, you can enjoy Dolby Digital (5.1ch), Dolby Pro Logic (4.0ch), or DTS (5.1ch) surround effects."
Also on the back panel is a LAN port for accessing the Internet and those 25+ content providers. You can go wireless but you will need to purchase a wireless bridge. The manual suggests "Linksys by
Cisco WET610N as of August 2009."
Somewhat oddly, the player does not connect to one content provider that can be invaluable, your home network. Whereas the S560 could directly tap into photos on my computer or other Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) enabled devices, the N460 cannot.
To view photos, you will need to transfer them to a USB flash drive, which plugs into the USB port on the front.
The Photo Viewer software on the N460 is pretty basic. You can play a slideshow at three speeds, Fast (3 seconds), Normal (5 seconds) or Slow (8 seconds), with cuts only transitions and no music. Nothing as elegant as the slideshow possibilities available on most BRAVIA TVs.
The compact remote control is the same as the one that comes with the S560. It is not backlit but its white labels are easy to read and the layout is sensible. I applaud the designers for adding a little real estate between the Home button and the navigation circle.
My favorite features on this remote are the Replay and Advance keys. Punch Replay once and the disk skips back 10 seconds, press it twice quickly and it jumps back 20 seconds and so on. Advance goes forward and 15 second increments.
This capability might seem more vital when watching content with commercials, but I still like it on my DVD player. If you need to put your scanning pedal to the metal, the remote has the more common Fast Forward and Fast Reverse buttons.
Also, when you click on the Display button, I find the data that pops up on screen to be perhaps the most informative that I have seen from any Blu-ray player.
The EPA is now publishing a list of ENERGY STAR qualified TVs. (You can find it here.) But the EPA is still in the midst of setting testing procedures for the ENERGY STAR Audio/Video Specification, which includes devices like Blu-ray players and AV receivers.
Until the EPA generates a list of ENERGY STAR qualified Blu-ray players, we continue to take our own set of power consumption readings.
To measure power, we hooked the BDP-N460 up to our watt meter, called Watts up? Pro, and took a reading during playback of a Blu-ray movie and another in standby mode.
During playback, the meter ranged between 14.7 and 15W, which seems about on par with other Blu-ray players that I have tested. If I stopped playing but still had the disc in, the meter hovers around 14.6W.
The BDP-N460 has a Quick Start mode, which shortens the startup time when turning on the player. It also uses more power. With Quick Start mode enabled, when I turned the power off, the meter drops to around 7.4W and no lower.
If I go into the Systems Settings menu and turn Quick Start off and then turn the player off, the meter drops to 0 and stays there. If you think about it, you use your DVD player maybe three or four times a week. For the other 160 hours in the week, you don't want it to be sucking up electricity. Therefore, turn Quick Start off. For me, the ten seconds gained with Quick Start is not worth the constant power drain.
After you unpack the BDP-N460 and hook it up, the first time that you turn it on, Sony will run through a simple procedure called Easy Setup. And it is, easy and fast. You truly can be setup and enjoying a Blu-ray movie in less than five minutes.
I won't guarantee that setting up the network connection will be as painless. Though I found that the player seems to be fairly intelligent about auto sensing network configurations. Basically all I needed to do was to plug the player into my router and the N460 did the rest.
Again, your experience may be different. But if you have opted for the N460, to take full advantage of its benefits, you should definitely connect it to the Internet.
Once the player is linked to the web, the first thing to do is to check to see if your player has a firmware update that you can download from Sony's website.
With this Sony, you select the Network Update icon in the Settings menu. The player will go online to see if you have the current firmware version and if not, it will download and automatically install the new one.
After dealing with network connections, there really isn't much more to fiddle with. The audio and video adjustments that you can make with the BDP-N460 are minimal. Though I do appreciate that you can make them while the DVD is playing.
For example, if you push the Options button on the remote during playback, you can select Video Settings and then pick Standard Room, Brighter Room or Theater Room and the BDP-N460 will adjust its video output.
You can experiment with the choices and might prefer one as a quick fix for a certain DVD, but as a rule, I try to do all my picture adjustments directly on the HDTV. Therefore, I am not concerned by this Blu-ray player's lack of extensive fine tuning controls.
To access some of the content providers like Netflix and Amazon Video on Demand, you will need to go to your computer and register your N460 on their respective websites.
Also, to stream movies from Netflix, you must be a paid subscriber. If you are, then you can stream for free as many of the available 13,000 movies that your eyeballs can stand.
Amazon offers a wider selection of movies, but you either rent or buy them individually. Most newer movies like Julie and Julia rent for $3.99. Some titles, like Star Trek, are also offered in HD for $4.99.
Once you start watching an Amazon rental, you have 48 hours before it becomes unavailable. If you buy the movie, (around $14.99 for a new title), then you can download it and transfer it to your portable video player - that is, if you really want to watch 2001: A Space Odyssey on a three-inch lo-res screen with tinny speakers.
Many of the content providers like Crackle, Wired and Epicurious provide specific clips directly to Sony and are accessed from the Video menu.
On this player at this time, Sony has added bonus content from one of their artists, the King of Pop. You can stream ten of Michael Jackson's most famous music videos, including "Thriller" and "Billie Jean".
If you are a music fan, the Slacker Personal Radio provides radio "stations" of various genres, like Alternative, Classical and Electronic/Dance.
If you are a news junkie, the NPR (National Public Radio) link offers thousands of programs on a wide range of topics.
As you can see, with the BDP-N460, you never have to leave your cave to be entertained and enlightened.
But if you are planning to stream content from these Internet providers, let me reiterate one point. The quality of streaming playback is directly related to the bandwidth that your Internet Service Provider can deliver to your home.
If you expect DVD quality from a stream from Netflix, they suggest bandwidth of 3 Mbps or more. I would recommend twice that. Also, remember that if the kids are downloading god-knows-what at the same time as you are streaming, you are sharing the bandwidth.
Don't blame the N460 if the picture quality of your streaming movie is sub par. Upgrade your bandwidth. From what I am seeing with products coming out in 2010, you will want as much bandwidth as you can afford. Anything north of 10Mbps would be a good start.
For standard definition DVDs the BDP-N460 uses the same Precision Cinema HD upscaling technology found in the S560. Sony states that it "uses advanced conversion and processing to detect image changes at the pixel level, rather than at the level of whole scan lines."
They claim that it can push standard DVDs to near HD quality. Near HD, near but not Blu-ray quality. I just popped in the SD version of The Return of the King and it looks good on a 50" plasma TV, but I know that Arwen on Blu-ray would look even better.
Now, I'm not ready to bequeath my collection of over 500 SD DVD's to Goodwill, partially because I know some will never come out on Blu-ray and also because upscaling Blu-ray players like this Sony extend their lives. But I also know that I will gladly replace any of them with their Blu-ray counterparts.
And when it comes to playing back Blu-ray discs, the Sony BDP-N460 performs very well indeed. In fact, what I look for in a Blu-ray player is that it stays in the background and quietly lets the Blu-ray disc do its magic.
That's exactly what this player does. It spun every disc I threw at it without a hitch. If you have read any of my other reviews, you know that Blu-ray technology itself is still evolving. We're in the early stages, homo erectus like - just learning to stand upright.
What that means practically is that with almost every player that I have reviewed, I have run across at least one glitch in playback of Blu-ray discs. It usually happens with a special feature.
For example, on the Director's Cut of Watchmen, the Maximum Movie Mode gives a lot of Blu-ray players trouble. Also, accessing the BD-Live content on the first Transformers Blu-ray can freeze up some players.
The BDP-N460, like its brother, the S560, flawlessly handled both trouble spots. This reliability is important. But as programmers of Blu-ray discs are constantly pushing the envelope, manufacturers of the players need to keep up. And Sony has proven capable, which is one of the reasons that you should make sure that your firmware is up to date.
As for audio performance, the BDP-N460 delivers all of the popular HD audio formats. The only feature it is missing are the 7.1 analog outputs, but I find that a non-issue for most users.
The more important factor is the quality of your audio system. To reap the full benefit of this Blu-ray player's Dolby TrueHD or dts-HD Master Audio output, hook it up to a compatible A/V receiver and a 5.1 or 7.1 surround system.
As I write this, Christmas is a couple of days away and Blu-ray manufacturers have been spreading the holiday cheer with bargain priced players. Sony is no Scrooge as they are offering the BDP-N460 on their SonyStyle website at a $50 discount from its MSRP of $249.
But in the midst of brand name players in the $150 range, even $199 seems a bit precious in this marketplace. Then again, I'm seeing this unit at other online vendors for at least $20 less. And when I add in Sony's dependability and all the streaming video sources, I'm starting to feel warm and fuzzy.
With over twenty five Internet content partners available, the Sony BDP-N460 becomes much more than a reliable spinner of Blu-ray discs. This Blu-ray player gives you access to the brave new world of on-demand streaming content.