Blu-ray Players

Sony BDP-S570 Universal Blu-ray Player

ARTICLE INDEX

Introduction

After seeing the debut of the new Sony Blu-ray player lineup at CES this year, I was excited to get a chance to try one out. Taking its place at the top of the non-ES single-disc Blu-ray player lineup, the BDP-S570, boasts WiFi, Netflix, Pandora, and can even be controlled with an iPhone app!

Specifications

  • Design: Universal Blu-ray Player
  • Codecs: All, Including Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, SACD, and DVD-A (LPCM-Multichannel Output
  • WiFi 802.11n Built-in
  • Internet Audio and Video (Pandora, Netflix, and Slacker)
  • 3D-Ready
  • DLNA-Ready
  • iOS (iPhone/iPod Touch) Remote Support
  • Dimensions: 1.8" H x 16.9" W x 8.1" D
  • Weight: 5 Pounds
  • MSRP: $249 USA
  • Sony

Recently, I had a chance to test drive this unit and explore these features and more. The BDP-S570 is priced at $249, and while this is considerably cheaper than almost any Blu-ray player cost only 24 months ago, there are plenty of less expensive options out there today. So, the question, as always, is whether this player meets that price in terms of performance and capability. Are the extra bells and whistles worth the marginally higher price?


Design and Setup

I unpacked the very thin and light BDP-S570 and placed it in my rack. The unit is about half as tall as its predecessor, the BDP-S560. Normally, I have my disc player underneath my Xbox 360, but because of this unit’s size, I thought it best to be placed on top for the duration of my review. Connecting the device was as easy as can be; I simply connected the HDMI cable to my Onkyo receiver, and the power cord to the wall. While I do have a wired Ethernet connection in my rack that could accommodate this player, I decided to let one of its distinguishing features (Wi-Fi) be put to good use.

The first time you power the unit on, you are greeted with a wizard that steps you through the basic configuration points allowing you to use the player. It begins by asking what language you would like to use, and then moves on to the type of video connection you will be using. I selected HDMI, and once I did, it next asked me what resolution I would like to use. It had preselected the automatic option, with which I allowed it to proceed. This correctly detected and selected 1080p (the player also supports 480i, 480p, 720p, and 1080i). After checking to be sure I could see the display properly, much like a PC does after you change screen resolution, it moved on to ask me whether I would like to allow Blu-ray playback to access the internet connection (for things like BD-Live).

Then, there was a second request to allow the internet connection to be used to access the Gracenote database. By allowing this, the player can identify the inserted disc and display the corresponding disc information from the database. Next, the wizard asks whether you want to “shorten the startup time”, which it accomplishes by leaving the player in more of a standby state rather than a full power down (indeed, the screen actually indicates that if you choose to shorten the startup time, the fan will continue to run and power consumption will increase). This concluded the easy setup wizard and allowed me to finish of the configuration from the main menus.

During the time I reviewed the unit in May, there was also a firmware update released, so I was able to quickly run through that process. Firmware updates can be downloaded over the internet directly to the player, or can be downloaded to a USB Flash drive, which can then be inserted into the player and the update run locally. In my case, I simply let the firmware update occur over the WiFi link. It was as painless as you would imagine.

For anyone accustomed to the Sony Playstation 3, the Playstation Portable, or their newer line of Bravia televisions, the menu system will look quite familiar. I appreciate what Sony has done with their media devices, employing what has come to be known as the CrossMediaBar; or XMB for short. This interface is also found on many other Sony products, and is highly intuitive and easy to use. The major headings are aligned horizontally across the screen, with submenus crossing vertically. The major headings are much like the PS3, and include setup, photos, music, video, internet, and one called Qriocity. I continued preparing the player for use by choosing the “settings” heading.

I configured the network settings for the player so I could enjoy all the available options for Internet content. As I mentioned earlier, the BDP-S570 includes both wired and wireless network connectivity. For WiFi, it supports all flavors of 802.11, including a, b, g, and n, which is what I used. Once you select wireless, it enables the WiFi radio and begins the configuration wizard. The player supports WiFi Protected Setup (WPS), which is found in many wireless routers and makes WLAN setup as easy as pushing a button. If you do not use this feature, you can, of course, configure everything manually. I do not use WPS, so I continued through the wizard. I entered my wireless network name, or SSID, and then had to select what type of security my network uses. The BDP-S570 supports open network (no security), WEP, WPA/WPA2-PSK with TKIP encryption, and WPA2-PSK with AES encryption. If choose one of the security protocols, as I did with WPA2-PSK, you are then prompted to enter your network key.

This is as good a time as any to detail the input method found on this player, since wireless network keys can be long. Data entry still uses a remote control, but they have made it quicker to enter data. Instead of an on-screen keyboard that you have to use a cursor to navigate, Sony has made it more like entering a text message from a standard cell phone using the numeric pad. They have four distinct character layouts mapped to the numeric pad on the remote, which displays on the screen, making it much quicker and less tedious than I have come to expect.

Internet Content

The BDP-S570 is marketed as an Internet connected device, and it certainly is. They market this capability under the label “Bravia Internet Video”, matching the name of their lineup of HDTVs. There is a wide range of audio and video content available through this player’s XMB system, some of which is obscure, and some of which is more widely known. For audio, Sony has included Slacker, Pandora, and NPR. Slacker and Pandora are two of the most popular internet streaming radio providers. They have a similar feature set in that you can provide either service with a song or artist, and it will begin to tailor that “station” to music it believes you will like, taking feedback from you as songs are chosen. You must use the Sony website to connect your accounts from these services to your player, and once you do, all of your saved stations are available.

In the Slacker application, you’re first presented with a list of categories, as well as your favorites, appearing in the form of folders. Once you choose a folder, you are presented with stations that are subcategories of the main folder. For example, if you select the “jazz” folder, you would see channels like “smooth jazz” or “classic jazz”. Once the channel starts playing, you get the name of the track, artist, and album, and a nice informational area about the artist. You will also see the album art, scrub bar, and transport controls. In addition, it will tell you what song is coming next. A press of the “option” button on the remote brings up the ability to ban the song or artist, or make it a favorite. All of this is very similar to the various Slacker Personal Radio applications you would find on the various mobile devices as well as their web application. Of course the beauty of this is that your account is kept in sync across all devices, so if you add a channel on your computer or play a new channel on your phone, the appropriate information is updated in the application on the BDP-S570.

The Pandora application is almost exactly the same in look and operation. While a track is playing, the “option” button allows you to give a song a thumbs up or thumbs down, allows you to bookmark the song or artist, and of course, has the option “Why this song?”. That is one of the hallmarks of Pandora and its technology of being able to analyze the music you like and provide like-sounding music (the Music Genome project…as they call it). Again, all of your channels are synced with your account, and stay up to date across devices.

The NPR application is much like a podcast aggregator. It takes the content that NPR has already put in that format and makes them easily available on screen to select. If you press the “option” button on the remote, you are able to search as well. This is very nice if you want to quickly find that latest episode of All Things Considered, for example.

The video menu houses about 25 different choices, most of which I will not cover here, but some of the more noteworthy ones included are Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Wired, and blip.tv. As a Netflix subscriber, I was looking forward to comparing the interface on the BDP-S570 to those found on the Xbox 360, Sony Playstation 3, and the Nintendo Wii. In short, it is not as good as any of those. There is no ability to search the Netflix streaming library and add movies to your Instant Queue on the fly. In fact, the application is no more than an Instant Queue viewer. This isn’t that big a deal, as you can easily build your queue elsewhere, but if you are the kind of person that likes to browse around with your remote control on the couch, then this is a bit limiting. The good part here is that it fully supports the HD streams available from Netflix, and clearly indicates whether a given show or movie is available in that format. In addition, playback is smooth and quick to start once you select your movie or show.

The YouTube application is a nice and easy way to browse their gigantic collection of uploaded videos. It can work as a basic search engine for the site, or, if you wish to log in to your YouTube account, will additionally access all of your saved favorites, subscriptions, and bookmarks. The video here is not bad, but of course, as it is user generated content, much of it is not of the highest quality, and therefore does not always scale well. Still, it is nice to be able to access that huge library of content right on your television with this application.

As I mentioned previously, there is a choice called Qriocity, which is Sony’s Video on Demand service. Much like their Playstation Store, you can “rent” both SD and HD videos for $3.99 and $5.99 respectively (though if you have this player I can’t imagine why you would want to rent an SD version of a film if there is an HD version available). This is on par with what you would pay for the same content on Xbox Live or iTunes. Browsing through the available titles, I found it nice that you are not limited to Columbia’s catalog; rather, all of the major studios are there. You can see a current list of available titles on the Qriocity website: www.qriocity.com/movies.html.

The video content available through Bravia Internet Video is extensive, to be sure, but there is no ability to add your own podcast feeds or video sources here. It is a “walled garden”, tying you to whatever Sony sees fit to place in the XMB. However, that is reported to have changed to some degree with the July firmware update. Among the improvements included will be the ability to access all of the media on your network via the DLNA standard. This will instantly add even more value to the BDP-S570, making it more of a “media hub” type of device rather than a classic disc player. The only other thing that I thought was frustrating with the Internet enabled content was that each time you power on the player it has to reconnect and authenticate before you can begin using any of the features. It certainly would be nice if it cached this information for some period of time.

Local Content

As great as the connected content is, most people will still buy this as a Blu-ray disc player first, so it is important its feature set and performance here are good. I loaded up a few of my favorite scenes to test it out. Historically, high definition players have always taken orders of magnitude longer to start up then a simple DVD player, because they are basically computers that are booting up. The player does boot up considerably faster than any previous disc player I have tested. Also on the speed front, I found that the BDP-S570 loaded Blu-ray discs considerably faster than most standalone Blu-ray players I have tested. I started out with the extended edition of Dan Brown’s second book-to-film adaptation, Angels & Demons. It took roughly 22 seconds from hitting play on the XMB screen until I first saw the Sony Pictures opening screen play – not fantastic, but still not bad overall. A bigger contributing factor to any perceived “slow” startup is that many of the Blu-ray discs I have used launch promotional material rather than going straight to the main menu. This harkens back to the early days of DVD, when this happened on a lot of discs as well.


In Use

Once playing, however, the BDP-S570 was a great performer in my testing. One of the first things I noticed after starting up the film was that the player is extremely quiet. Of course, any Blu-ray player is quiet compared to the PS3, which I am used to, but even so, I could not hear any motors or fans whirring during the movie. The video was smooth and glitch free. There are plenty of dark scenes in Angels & Demons, and I didn’t feel like the player had any problem with shadow detail or contrast. Likewise, the DTS-HD Master Audio track came through beautifully. In the scene where Robert Langdon and Vittoria Vetra are searching the first chapel, you hear a bird flutter by from the rear left channel. I was particularly taken aback by this simple effect because the detail and clarity was so crisp that it sounded ultra-realistic. The Hans Zimmer score sounded magnificent as well.

Speaking of high resolution audio, I had a somewhat difficult time figuring out whether the BDP-S570 could output those tracks as bitstream over HDMI or whether it down-converted them to PCM. There is no easily identifiable menu item that says “bitstream” or “PCM”. So, feeling somewhat ashamed of myself, I consulted the manual and instantly found that the menu item is titled “BD Audio Mix” and the choices are “on” or “off”. When set to “off” the audio is not down-mixed, and thus, the full DTS-HD Master Audio or Dolby TrueHD signal is output through HDMI, allowing your capable receiver to perform the decoding.

Next, I watched Capitalism: A Love Story, Michael Moore’s latest documentary taking on big business. Whether you agree with Moore’s point of view or not, his films are pretty entertaining in the way they present his argument. In this film, there is a lot of archival film and video clips. I was really able to tell the difference in quality between the two. If preserved properly, film ages much better than video, and it was night and day here due to the clarity of the high resolution transfer.

One complaint I had about the player is that when you stop a Blu-ray disc and return to the Home screen, it does not pick back up where you left off. This can be extremely frustrating, especially if you accidentally hit the stop button. I am not sure if this is a disc or player limitation, but I did see this behavior with more than one disc. It seems to me that this is a step backwards from how DVDs are typically handled by almost every DVD player.

One question many buyers will start asking this year is whether the Blu-ray player is capable of 3D playback, as this seems all the rage these days. The current software on the BDP-S570 does not allow for this functionality, however, it will be added with the aforementioned firmware update, literally bringing a whole new dimension to the product (yes, I had to fit that in). Having demoed 3D HDTV in the store, I was actually pleasantly surprised by how good it looks. Sure, it is sort of a novelty right now, but as more and more theatrical releases are done in 3D, and the Blu-ray library of these 3D titles expands, it will be very nice to have a setup that is capable of 3D playback. I think Sony has added substantial value to this product by providing this free update.

In addition to being able to play Blu-ray discs and standard DVDs, the BDP-S570 also plays Super Audio CDs. Admittedly, the number of consumers that own SACDs makes up a small fraction of the market, so it is great to see that Sony is still actively supporting it. The BDP-S570 can output the bitstream DSD multichannel audio over HDMI to a compatible receiver, which is how I configured it. This is an improvement over both my SCD-CE775 changer (which didn’t have a digital output for the high resolution audio track) as well as my Sony Playstation 3, which converts the audio to PCM before sending it via HDMI to my receiver (technically this method can have the same overall fidelity, but it is nice to let my receiver take on the task of decoding the DSD stream). Of course, the high fidelity of the sound was evident. I tested with my two favorite SACDs, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, and the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out, both multichannel discs. They are as wonderful as ever. The mixture of music and sound effects of Pink Floyd enveloped me with the feeling of a superbly engineered recording. And of course, every time I hear the super-high fidelity of Time Out I feel like I am actually right in the studio with the band.

The BDP-S570 can also play music, videos, and display pictures that are stored on a USB mass storage device, such as a flash drive or hard drive. There are, of course, some limitations with regards to the codecs/formats that are supported, but you can obtain that compatibility information on page 33 of the manual (http://www.docs.sony.com/release/BDPS570.pdf).

Remote Control

The remote control that ships with the BDP-S570 is of standard fare. It’s comfortable in the hand and has a decent button layout. This remote should include backlit (or at least glow-in-the-dark) keys and it doesn’t’ but the main navigation buttons are at least identifiable in the dark. In addition to your typical functions, there is a home button between the navigation keys and the transport keys. This is a useful key as it will take you to the XMB menu from any current task. This makes it very simple to get from, say, music listening to watching a Netflix film without pressing a lot of keystrokes. Still, as I have said in past reviews, the source component remotes are becoming more Spartan as universal remotes become more prevalent. It just doesn’t pay to make the stock remotes overly complex.

However, for those of you with iPod Touches, iPhones, or even iPads (which statistically should be a good portion of this readership) there is an even cooler alternative. Sony has developed an iPhone OS application, freely available in the Apple App Store, dubbed “BD Remote”. As you no doubt have inferred from the title, this application turns your iDevice into a fully functional remote control for the BDP-S570, provided that the player and iDevice are on the same network. At first, I figured that this functionality would be, to some degree, a gimmick to help differentiate and sell more players (who wouldn’t think it is cool to use your phone to control your Blu-ray player?). Still, it had me intrigued and excited to try it out.

I must say, I was pretty impressed with the BD Remote application. There are two control methods in the application. First, there is what they call the “simple remote”, which is really just a touchpad that allows you to navigate intuitively with swipes and taps. You swipe in a direction to move the through the menus on screen, and you tap anywhere on the screen to input a “select” action.

Then, there is what they call the “Full Remote” which is a full representation of the buttons on the physical remote control. They are broken down into different pages to which you get by swiping left and right. The controls are separated into these pages in a very logical way, including transport controls, numeric keys, directional keys, and the color keys.

That would be a pretty decent offering on its own, but Sony also added a page called “Disc Info” which is pretty neat. Remember, the BDP-S570 already has the ability to pull down information on a Blu-ray, DVD, or CD from Gracenote. This page in the application simply pulls that information directly to the iDevice. So, for a film, you can see the cover art, basic film information, synopsis, and some cast and crew information. Furthermore, you can actually tap these listings and it links you to a YouTube search of that person. While this is a pretty nice feature, it would be a lot better if it linked to the IMDB or something like that rather than YouTube. Perhaps in future versions of the application, they could add the ability to customize the search engine (hint, hint Sony…).

Accordingly, for a CD, you get the album information, cover art, and track listing, and can again tap on any of these things to get that YouTube search.

All in all, I ended up realizing that this is far from a gimmick feature that you would use for a short time and then get bored with it. Instead, Sony has created a fabulous application that I hope continues to develop. The control mechanism on the iDevice is great, and as a side benefit, it eliminates the problem of not having a backlit remote. In addition, being able to quickly pull up the cast of a film while it plays in front of you is great when you get that “I know I have seen that girl in a film before…” itch. This turned out to be one of my favorite things about this player.


On the Bench

Sony’s BDP-S570 had excellent performance across the board on the Secrets Blu-ray Benchmark ranking it up there with some of the best performers we’ve seen such as the OPPO BDP83 and the recently reviewed Cambridge Azur 650BD. Measurements were taken at 1080i from the component analog outputs using our Tektronix Oscilloscope. Core performance was excellent with the player gliding through our tests for both Y/C delay and pixel cropping. Everything was in perfect alignment on both the HDMI and component side and, a full HD image was displayed without any cropped pixels. The BDP-S570 was measured to have a white level of 101 IRE which is within our +/- 2 IRE tolerance range, and gets it a passing score for the test. While the player did pass a below black signal using the HDMI outputs, I was unable to make the player display below black using the component analog outputs. As you can see from the graph, the frequency response of the BDP-S570 was very even with a minor dip into the higher frequencies. This translates to excellent picture quality with very slight softness in finer detail when viewed using component analog video cables. The BDP-S570 did not exhibit the chroma upsampling error on any of our tests.

Standard DVD Performance

The BDP-S570 was an outstanding performer in our standard deinterlacing tests with the player passing all but one of our tests with flying colors. While the player passed all of the basic film cadences tests, it, like many other recent Blu-ray players we have reviewed, had some hiccups when handling material that is alternating between standard film-style flags and video-style flags and artifacting was witnessed. The BDP-S570 had excellent results with our high detail tests using both the Super Speedway and Gladiator clips. The player locked on to the patterns quickly and displayed an image with excellent detail. We can keep our fingers crossed for Sony to provide a firmware update for the mixed flag issue it exhibited.

On video based material the BDP-S570 also had solid performance. The player is motion adaptive and was able to pass all of our 2:2 cadence tests. Recovery time on the BDP-S570 from switching between film and video modes could stand to be quicker but was just fast enough to get a passing score on our test.

HD Performance

The BDP-S570 had very good performance in the HD section of the benchmark. For starters, the BDP-S570 is able to do a proper 1080i/p conversion in both 2:2 and 3:2 cadences which means that it can play this material, which is often seen on documentary and concert footage, with high detail and free from artifacts. The BDP-S570 is motion adaptive and passed our edge adaptive diagonal filtering tests showing that it could reconstruct an image and display edges that were free from jaggies. The BDP-S570 has a basic set of noise reduction features including Frame Noise Reduction, Block Noise Reduction, and Mosquito Noise reduction. I found that the FNR feature worked well and had a significant impact on reducing random noise but the BNR and MNR features didn’t perform as well. Furthermore, with this player having internet enabled features, noise reduction features which address upscaled compression artifacts become more important. Since, the BDP-S570 wasn’t able to adequately reduce the noise inherent with these types of images it only received a borderline score on our noise reduction tests for only being able to successfully deal with random noise. Finally, the BDP-S570 was able to pass both the banding test as well as produce a full 1920x1080 image without cropping any pixels.

The BDP-S570 had very good performance on the usability section of the benchmark. The player operated briskly and was responsive from the remote and had an excellent layer change clocked in at just over a half a second.


Conclusion

So we return to the original question of whether this player deservedly commands a marginal premium for its feature set. I say the answer is a resounding YES. For the price, you get a quick, high-quality, Blu-ray player that has excellent deinterlacing performance and also has a huge amount of additional features. There is something here for everyone, whether you are a Netflix subscriber, a Slacker Personal Radio user, or even someone who just wants a player for Blu-ray disc playback and/or standard DVD playback.

Even more importantly, this player was just fun to use. How many products do I actually come away from saying that? Even some of the best performing gear I have reviewed hasn’t actually been enjoyable to use. That is not the case here. And, with the addition of DLNA support and 3D Blu-ray playback from the recent firmware update, BDP-S570 owners will basically be getting an upgraded player for no additional charge. Now if that doesn’t make the player worth the price, I don’t know what would.