Blu-ray Players

Sony BDP-S570 Universal Blu-ray Player

ARTICLE INDEX

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.