Sony BDP-S790 Blu-ray 3D Player


Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value

Price: $250 At A Glance: Elegant design • Plethora of streaming options • Fast startup and loading of Blu-ray Discs

Sony single-handedly won the format war with its timely release of the PlayStation 3. Up until the PS3 hit the market in November 2006, HD DVD was beginning to gain the upper hand with disc and player sales. But the vaunted game station changed the marketplace virtually overnight and signaled the beginning of the end for the red-laser format. Fast-forward almost six years, and the PS3 is still the most-owned Blu-ray player on the market, although the standalone units have closed the performance gap and in some cases, surpassed the powerful game system.

A couple of years ago, Sony offered eight different models of standalone units for sale, but its 2012 offering isn’t as vast. The company has a portable model (BDP-SX910), one that includes Google TV (NSZ-GT1, reviewed March 2011), and four console models—two with 3D and two without. While many of the players share a lot of the same features, the BDP-S790 sits at the top of the heap in price ($250) and offers the most bang for your buck, with a dual-core processor, Skype support with optional camera/microphone purchase ($150), 4K upscaling (not tested), and 2D-to-3D conversion.

Elegant Design
The BDP-S790 isn’t built like a tank, but it’s very classy and looks great in the equipment rack. All of the controls on the chassis are soft-touch buttons that light up once the player is plugged in. These are located on the top front of the unit and include On/Standby on the left-hand side; Open/Close, Play, and Stop are on the right. The front panel includes the disc tray, a small LCD display, and a hidden USB jack.

The rear panel includes a non-detachable power cord, dual HDMI 1.4 outputs, coaxial and TosLink digital audio outputs, composite video and stereo audio, Control S jack, USB input, and Ethernet port. If you don’t have Ethernet connected to your equipment rack, there’s built-in 802.11 w/g/n Wi-Fi so you can utilize the network capabilities built into the player.

With the inclusion of dual HDMI outputs, those with legacy audio products that don’t support 3D passthrough can still enjoy 3D and high-resolution sound. Just connect one HDMI port to your AVR and the other directly to your 3D display. If you don’t own an HDMI-capable AVR, the unit can’t output component video or multichannel analog audio, so it may be time to upgrade your rig to get the full enjoyment Blu-ray has to offer.

As with virtually all Blu-ray players on the market, the Sony can internally decode Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks and send them via HDMI as PCM. You can also send out the raw bitstream, which loses the PiP secondary audio as well as the clicks and beeps in Blu-ray Disc menus. If you’re into BD-Live content, the player doesn’t include the 1 gigabyte of memory that’s needed, but you can add your own using one of the two USB ports.

Setup and User Interface
The BDP-S790 uses the XMB (XrossMediaBar) user interface found in the PS3 and other Sony products. The Home screen includes six icons—Setup, Photo, Music, Video, Network, and Sony Entertainment Network—and subheadings under each with various options. While the XMB interface is very intuitive, the way it’s organized can make it a pain to navigate. For example, the player offers a plethora of streaming options, but scrolling to the bottom of the list takes a lot of time and clicks. Fortunately, the most-used services appear toward the top, so this may not be an issue for the majority of users.

When you first start up the player, a quick setup greets you and selects the menu language, video connection method (HDMI), and whether you want to enable the quick boot-up option that draws slightly more power when the player isn’t on but gets you to the Home screen much faster (I chose to enable this feature—call me impatient).

Custom configuration options are available under the Setup tab in the XMB. These include setting the aspect ratio for 4:3 DVDs (either fixed or stretched), forcing 24p output on Blu-ray Discs (default is Auto), and configuring the audio output for bitstream or PCM (confusingly labeled as BD Audio Mix Settings). There’s also a Network Update option that will ping Sony’s Website for a firmware upgrade. It took me less than 5 minutes to get the player upgraded with the latest firmware.

The remote is what you’d expect for $250 and isn’t backlit. Fortunately, the layout is pretty easy to get used to, and the most-used buttons are congregated around the center of the remote. One neat feature for Netflix users is a Netflix-specific button (red, of course) that will launch the service without having to venture through the XMB. Sony also offers a free remote app that has a full QWERTY keyboard.

Media Streaming
The BDP-S790 has the biggest variety of streaming services—50 in total—I’ve seen in a Blu-ray player. In addition to Netflix, you’ll find Amazon VOD (including free streaming for Prime members), Hulu Plus, Vudu, Flixster, CinemaNow, NHL Network, YouTube, and a host of other providers—some more useful than others. On the audio side you’ll find Pandora and Slacker, and for you social media addicts, there’s Facebook and Skype. If you aren’t a fan of using a screen-based keyboard, the BDP-S790 supports a wired or wireless USB keyboard plugged into the front USB jack.

COMPANY INFO
Sony
(877) 865-7669
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COMMENTS
nkrgovic's picture

Will it stream 4K if available? I understand it would upscale if the display supports it, but can it stream native 4K ?

David Vaughn's picture
Since there's no native 4K content to stream, that was something I couldn't test (nor do I have a 4K display to see the content). Frankly, 4K screening is WAY in the future (if it ever happens at all).
momarty's picture

David,

How did the sound from the unit's two channel analog output compare to that of your oppo reference when playing cd and sacd? And thanks for the review.

David Vaughn's picture
The Oppo BDP-93 sounds better than the Sony. Furthermore, the BDP-95 sounds MUCH better, but it's also nearly 5x the cost.
wppvos's picture

David,

how is the drive noise in your review unit? I received mine Saturday but it seems quite high pitched in comparison with my previous player(s), especially in the first chapters of a movie. Curious to hear your findings.

David Vaughn's picture
I just checked my notes and didn't see any reference to drive noise in them. I sit about 8 feet away from my rack, so it would have to be really loud for me to hear it from that far away. Can you actually hear it when a movie is playing or just when you first put in the disc?
RSVM5's picture

Thanks for the review. I have a PS3 as my primary movie player. I was wondering how it holds up to the S790 and in general how much would i have to spend to get a better picture than the PS3.
I have a Panny ST30. I recently watched on BD "The Grey" and "Chimpanzee". The former looked grainy at times especially during the night scenes. The latter looked really good - maybe the best I've seen on this setup.

David Vaughn's picture
The PS3 is still an outstanding Blu-ray player. As to the movies you referenced, I've seen them both and what you witnessed is in the encodes and not due to anything wrong with your setup. If you're happy with the PS3 then there's no reason to upgrade, in my opinion.
utopianemo's picture

Excellent review. I would say, however, that the PS3 didn't single-handedly win the format war with the PS3. It certainly helped the format, but as I recall the death blow to HD-DVD was Warner Bros' declaration that they were going Blu-Ray exclusive. If my memory serves me correctly, Toshiba's announcement that they were calling it quits with HD-DVD came very soon after Warner's surprise announcement.

David Vaughn's picture
As someone who was in the thick of the format war, I can tell you the PS3 turned the tide towards Blu-ray. The initial player offerings from Samsung and Pioneer sucked and were WAY overpriced for what they delivered. When the PS3 was finally released, it put millions of players on the market that were Blu-ray capable and the sales of software shot through the roof from that point on and Toshiba was playing catch-up. When the finally lowered the prices of their players I thought they had a fighting chance to survive, but then they ran out of stock and their momentum was killed in late 2007...it was only a matter of time until they would be gone. So while I agree that the PS3 wasn't the only reason Blu-ray won, I would give it 90% of the credit :)
Jim Simon's picture

As the saying goes, the devil is in the details, and my current Sony BDP-S590 gets a few critical details wrong. I'm wondering if any of them have been corrected with the 790?

For starters, the disk never, ever stops spinning. The only way to get it to stop on the 590 is to eject it and remove it from the drive. As I watch a lot of TV on Blu-ray and DVD, spreading out the episodes over several days, this is impractical. I want the disk to stop spinning when I hit stop. Period. Does the 790 correct this, or does the disk continue to spin in perpetuity?

There is a blue progress bar that pops up along the bottom with streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, and takes (for me) an interminable amount of time to go away. Yes, I can make it go away quicker by hitting the Display button on the remote, but that quickly becomes tedious. I want the option to turn off the automatic display of that progress bar, so that I only see it if I cal it up manually by hitting the remote's Display button. It should NEVER pop up on its own for any reason whatsoever. Does it still with the 790?

Streaming services like Amazon and Netflix offer a good deal of content in 5.1 surround sound, but my 590 downconverts it all to stereo, I can only get 5.1 from disk. I want full 5.1 surround from streaming services as well, and it should be available via HDMI, Toslink and Coaxial. Does the 790 offer this?

When playing back my music files from USB, there is a slight delay when moving from one song to the next. This interruption takes the listener out of the music on certain albums that normally play continuous, such as live concert CDs or some Pink Floyd albums. Does the 790 offer smooth, uninterrupted playback of music files from USB, with no interruption between songs?

The largest reason I want to upgrade is I need to play back files larger than 4GB. The 590 is limited to FAT32 USB thumb drives. I understand the 790 can finally accept NTFS formatted USB and hard drives. Is this so?

The 590 currently shuts off after 30 minutes, forcing me to 'reconnect' to my home network with a new power up cycle. I'd prefer the device stays on until I shut it off. Has Sony corrected this with the 790?

DecoLingo's picture

A quick note on FAT32 and the 4GB limit. In reality, there is no 4GB limit in FAT32 -- it's entirely possible to format a much larger drive with this filesystem.

The limitation is a false one that Microsoft put into the Windows formatter. If you obtain a third-party formatting program (there are many freeware/shareware offerings), it will easily format to larger than 4GB with FAT32. I work for a company that makes a wide range of USB storage products, and I can assure you this is possible.

Whether or not the 590 (or another player) will play nice with a larger drive is a different story. If I had one, I'd test it for you, but you'll likely have to do this yourself.

M.Hamiid's picture

How the sound of Sony BDP-S790 compare to Arcam 137 when playing movies ?

And thank you very much David.

Ericbaum's picture

Hi i spent a fat $wad years ago on a sony BDP-S1. i only use it for BD (not surprising), my question is do the newer players give much higher video quality? (for both BD and DVD)
I use the analog output for audio as I long ago sold my surround processor simply because the stereo quality of my main amp is so much better than what i had as a center and surround amp (it degrades most movies relative to what i get in stereo, and ASR -the brand of my amp-does not make a mono amp (nor could i afford it if they did!)
I have a VUDU BOX that i turned on for about a half hour recently and then shut it off- streaming is not really for me- but it would be great to have a chrome browser on my projector to actually surf the net -NOT thru an APP. - it appears that having it all in one is still not really available- please help

kent harrison's picture

Nice bluray player with great streaming,but sony made it so cheap,i mean the construction of it,the audio and video is outstanding the price i got for i can't complain.

CLU's picture

Excellent blog! Do you have any recommendations for aspiring writers I am planning to start my own blog soon in spite of this Im a tiny lost on the whole thing. Would you recommend starting with a free platform such as WordPress or choose a paid option There are so many options out there that I am totally confused . Any ideas Thanks!CLU

BobCat1950's picture

I am debating whether to purchase this player... I like to watch programs from the network websites (CBS, ABC, NBC, PBS) and also use ESPN3 from AT&T. Will the Sony BDP-S790 allow me to do this instead of hooking up my laptop to my TV via HDMI? Or is the internet web browser on the s790 limited?
Currently i have a Samsung BD-C5500/XAA that hates to play BD... it freezes after a time playing Blu Rays and i would like something better and more reliable.

thanks

Marie Pinkley's picture

Great article David. For those who live outside US like me, you can access Netflix, Hulu and similar media stations on your BD Player by using UnoTelly or similar tools.

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