Sony took its sweet time in matching other major Blu-ray Disc player makers on the media-streaming front — not surprising, given the company’s history of doing things its own way. Things eventually changed late last year, when Sony introduced its BDP-N460, a Blu-ray Disc player that could stream movies from Netflix and tap other sources of non-discbased entertainment, such as YouTube, Amazon Video on Demand, and Slacker — a service that recently displaced Pandora as my go-to source for Internet radio. Now, just a few months after the BDP-N460’s arrival, Sony has rolled out the BDP-S570, another network-friendly player that brings several design refinements as well as some features missing from its predecessor, such as built-in Wi-Fi networking and flash memory for BD-Live applications.
One notable feature found on the BDP-S570 is Gracenote database access. When connected to a home network — Wi-Fi or otherwise — Gracenote enriches the viewing/listening experience by letting the player download disc cover art and movie info (for DVDs and Blu-ray Discs) and artist/album/track (for CDs). Unlike previous standalone Sony BD players, the BDP-S570 can also play high-rez SACDs. If you’re an audiophile who happens to own a few of those, you’ll be interested to know that, along with internally decoding the SACD DSD signal to multichannel PCM for output via HDMI, Sony’s player can also pass it on in bitstream format to a DSD-friendly A/V receiver or preamp.
Perhaps the biggest newsflash on the BDPS570’ s feature front is that it’s 3D-ready: A firmware update scheduled for this summer will let you play 3D Blu-ray Discs and view them in that format on new, 3D-capable TVs. The Sony rep I spoke with said the player’s HDMI output is version 1.4 — although the company doesn’t label it as such, since it omits a few features offered in that version of the HDMI spec. (The new crop of 3D TVs and 3D-capable Blu-ray players coming out this year will feature HDMI 1.4 connections.) But he also went on to emphasize that the BDP-S570 will support full-rez, frame-sequential 1080p output from 3D discs once Sony’s firmware update gets installed.
Along with Netflix and YouTube, there are plenty of other Internet TV options to select from when you scroll to the Video column of the Sony’s cool onscreen Xross-Media Bar interface. Unfortunately, almost none are worth mentioning. (And some are downright freakish, including one that serves up 1970s TV shows like What’s Happening!! and Fantasy Island.) What is worth mentioning is the player’s solid basic feature set: The BDP-S570 is a profile 2.0 (BD-Live) model with built-in Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding.
The player’s uncluttered front panel has only four tiny control buttons: power on/off, disc tray open/close, stop, and play. Another front-panel feature is a USB port that accepts flash drives loaded with photos, videos, and music.
Sony’s compact remote is similarly uncluttered, offering up only the most essential controls. The company has also released a BD Remote iPhone/iPod touch app (available for free at the iTunes store) that provides two separate control screens: a gesture-based “simple remote” interface that lets you navigate menus by flicking your finger across the screen; and a “full remote” interface with virtual play, pause, forward/ rewind, and chapter-skip buttons. There’s no doubt that the player responds more quickly to commands via its regular IR remote. (A lag of a half-second or so occurs when using equivalent controls with the BD Remote app.) But when watching movies in a dim room, I found myself repeatedly reaching for my iPod touch rather than the player’s own remote with its lame, non-backlit keypad. BD Remote gets the thumbs-up!
To test the Sony, I first connected it to my TV via its HDMI and component-video outputs. The player has a Quick Start mode that guides you through A/V setup; alternatively, you can go straight to the Screen and Audio submenus to configure its video and sound settings. The selections here were straightforward. I left the Bluray 1080p/24 Output mode at the default Auto setting, which allows the player to automatically switch from 1080p/24 output for film-based programs (unlike many other Blu-ray players, the Sony can output a 1080p/24 signal with both Blu-ray Discs and DVDs) to 1080p/60 output for high-def content shot on video. Next, I set the HDMI audio output to PCM. Doing so allowed me to hear a “mix” of the original soundtrack and any secondary audio tracks on Bonus View discs offering that feature.
Getting the Sony configured to stream content over my Wi-Fi network was a snap. I just visited the Network/ Internet settings menu, selected Wireless setup, and commanded the player to scan the airwaves for my wireless router. Once it was found, I typed in my WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) key, and bingo — I was ready to stream me some What’s Happening!! (Oooh, the mouth on that Dee . . .)