- Written by Chris Heinonen
- Published on 17 September 2012
Introduction to the Sony BDP-S790 Blu-ray Player
Earlier I looked at the Sony BDP-S590 Blu-ray player and found that apart from a bug in the RGB decoding (fixed in the BDP-S590 as of July 21, 2012) the player performed very well. Higher up the line, Sony has the BDP-S790 Blu-ray player that adds a few more specialized features. Dual HDMI outputs, a faster processor for a more responsive interface and load times, far more image adjustments and tweaks, and 4K output are all available on the S790.
Given that the S590 was already very good and there isn't much to be improved on the Blu-ray playback side of things, most of my interest in the S790 focused on the additional features available and how they worked for DVD and streaming playback, as well and what the image enhancements did for Blu-ray playback.
- Design: Blu-ray Player
- Streaming Support: Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, VUDU, HuluPlus, Flickster, Pandora, YouTube, and Dozens More
- Connections: Dual HDMI 1.4a, Composite Video, Optical Audio, Coaxial Audio, LR RCA Audio, USB Front and Rear, Ethernet
- Dimensions: 1.8" H x 17" W x 7.8" D
- Weight: 3.3 Pounds
- MSRP: $250 USD
- Secrets Tags: Blu-Ray, Sony, Video
Design and Setup of the Sony BDP-S790 Blu-ray Player
The key difference in the S790 and the S590 from the exterior is the presence of two HDMI outputs. While overkill for many users, for those that want to keep the HDMI signal perfect it is incredibly useful. There is also the ability to send 4K upscaled video over one of these outputs, but as I have no 4K display to test with, I can't comment on how this performs at all. It is worth noting that 4K over HDMI is limited to 24p at this moment, so you can't upscale anything beyond film content and keep the frame rate the same, or upscale 3D.
Touch-sensitive buttons grace the top of the case making them invisible when not powered on. The remote is similar to their previous Blu-ray remotes, though there is the dedicated Netflix button on there that wasn't before. The interface also remains the same from every other Sony Blu-ray player the past few years, so anyone that has used one of those or a PS3 will have no issues navigating it at all.
One additional feature added into the BDP-S790 is the ability to output all content at its native resolution. For those using an external scalar this is a big deal, as you avoid virtually all image processing before the scalar, leading to the best possible image. The dual HDMI outputs also help here as you can send the audio over one output to your processor or receiver, and send the video straight to the scalar. Typically you'd have to spend more on a player to get this feature, so it is nice to see it on a player that sells for close to $250.
The only feature really missing from the BDP-S790 that I can see wanting is a multichannel audio output. At this point most people have a processor or receiver that can process HDMI audio, but those that need multichannel analog outputs will need to look elsewhere.
The Sony BDP-S790 Blu-ray Player In Use
I did throw the BDP-S790 on our HDMI Test Bench before using it to make sure I picked the optimal colorspace for it, and went with YCbCr 4:4:4 and utilized Direct mode for the image. More details on all the picture modes, and the color space performance, can be found in the Bench Test section.
Blu-ray titles looked as good as expected, with no issues or artifacts encountered at all. Load times were nice and fast, likely helped by the faster processor in the BDP-S790, making those days of 2-3 minute load times on some titles a distant memory. One unfortunate title that arrived during testing was the Criterion Collection release of Being John Malkovich. A fantastic film is presented here with a transfer that leaves a lot to be desired. The images is somewhat soft, full of noise, not perfectly steady, and overall a general disappointment. It gave me a chance to try out the image adjustments available on the BDP-S790 for lower quality content and see what they could do.
Using the different noise reduction options there was a vast improvement in image noise in the opening scene compared to the Direct mode. There was a bit of fine detail being lost as well, though not as much as I expected. The transfer was still poor quality for a Blu-ray disc, but the poor quality was less distracting than with the constant noise from the bad transfer. Even using the most demanding test patterns I could put up, the noise reduction options did a fantastic job of distinguishing between actual compression noise and real content. When used on content with lots of noise you could see a very slight loss in detail, but nothing major, and it was hard to tell any difference. As a video purist I would likely leave them off by default, but I can see where many people might leave them on all the time as the negative behavior exhibited by them is minimal. Here you can see examples of a test pattern using Direct mode, and then Custom mode with super resolution and other enhancements enabled with many artifacts now being visible.
DVD performance was also very nice on the BDP-S790. The image processing that did a good job with poor Blu-ray transfers also did a good job of helping to clean up DVDs when scaled up to 1080p resolution. Simple test patterns like motion wedges looked sharp and detailed and were still free of extra edge enhancement or other common artifacts. The only recent device that had done as well with the DVD scaling was the Lumagen Radiance, and that's a completely different type of product. Animated kids films looked wonderful scaled up with hand drawn lines and colors coming across well without halos or other artifacts. I wouldn't mistake it for a Blu-ray, but I also wouldn't be disappointed to have to watch them. For those with a large DVD library, the better scaling is certainly a feature to look for.
Streaming from Netflix offered one nice feature enhancement with Kids Mode being available. Having not had a player with the Netflix kids interface before, being able to easily browse every Curious George and Busytown episode was very useful with my son. The one thing I wish Sony did allow with Netflix was to use the image options, but you can't bring up the menu to select your custom modes so I assume it uses Direct or Auto. I noticed aliasing when streaming animation a couple times, so having access to those settings would be nice. Beyond the addition of Netflix Kids, I didn't notice a difference with streaming content compared to the BDP-S590, which means it did a very nice job as well.
I really don't have much to complain about with the BDP-S790 when I used it. Being able to use the advanced video processing on Netflix would have been nice, and perhaps I'd make a couple changes to the exterior so it was easier to see the buttons but these are pretty minor. Overall the BDP-S790 player was fantastic in use.
The Sony BDP-S790 Blu-ray Player On The Bench
After reviewing the Sony BDP-S590 and finding it had an issue with RGB output, my first question was if the S790 would suffer from the same issues as well. As of August 3rd it has been fixed and the firmware update available to you will allow you to have much better RGB output than before, as you can see in the chart.
Adjusting the Contrast Remaster or Clear Black settings led to more issues as well, as they skew the values at the top or bottom of the spectrum from their targets. I am a fan of the noise reduction features for those titles that look less than stellar, but the Super Resolution just added edge enhancement and noise for the appearance of a sharper image, while the Texture Remapping didn't do much in my testing of it. The difference scene modes beyond Standard were also widely inaccurate, though you can look at the test data for the BDP-S590 that we already published to see examples of what they can do.
Aside from the noise reduction features, most adjustments mimic the controls already available in your display, but as they work differently, using them in the display can provide the same benefits, but without the downsides that accompany doing them inside of a Blu-ray player.
On our Blu-ray and DVD Benchmark, the Sony proved to be very good for the most part. On the Mixed Wedge test, which moves between film and video content quickly, the recovery time was very fast, but there was artifacting in the wedges that shouldn't have been there causing a fail. Similarly on WHQL 3-2 Wedge Chapter PF True the issue is that there was artifacting inside of the wedge itself, even if there was a correct lock onto the cadence. On everything else the Sony breezed through, and while mixed flags are not common, they are still there on some material. The responsiveness of the player was top notch, and the scaling quality on the WHQL wedges that passed correctly was superb.
Load times were also quite good on the player. For basic discs like The Fifth Element, you see the same time as the Sony BDP-S590 since there is no BD-J involved at all. With Toy Story 3, which is much heavier in BD-J content, you are shaving 13 seconds off the load time. While 13 seconds isn't much now, as titles add more and more BD-J, the faster processing of the dual core processor will start to pay even more dividends.
So provided you stick to Direct mode, the Sony BDP-S790 will put out a very accurate image, and does a fantastic job with older DVD content as well.
Conclusions about the Sony BDP-S790 Blu-ray Player
The Sony BDP-S790 does a good job of being a high-end player at an affordable price. Dual HDMI outputs, Original Resolution mode, and multiple video settings are available to work well in any system, and there is the 4K scaling if you have a display that can take advantage of that in the future. Speed and playback were superb, and DVDs looked better than from almost any other device. Combined with very complete online content, it's a pretty well done player overall.
For many the BDP-S590 might be enough as the features added on the BDP-S790 are more for people with certain requirements. However if you want a Blu-ray player that is very fast, great at image processing, then the BDP-S790 is a very good Blu-ray player for you.