Sony BDP-S5000ES Blu-ray Player

Among Sony's vast array of audio/video products, a select few carry the Elevated Standard (ES) designation, which indicates the company's top-flight—and top-price—models. There are two Blu-ray player in this elite club, including the flagship BDP-S5000ES, which lists for the extravagant sum of $2000. Now that some Blu-ray players have achieved mass-market status for a tenth of that and many more can be had for $400 to $500, can Sony hope to sell many of these? Do you really get what you pay for? Let's find out...

With the BDP-S5000ES, Sony certainly didn't skimp on build quality. The body has a very sophisticated look and feel, with a machined front face and gold-plated reinforced connectors on the back. All connectors have a solid feel—they aren't the cheap stamped variety found on most budget players. The connectors include a 7.1-channel analog output plus a separate 2-channel analog output. On the digital side, there are TosLink and coaxial digital-audio outputs and, of course, an HDMI 1.3a output. The player also provides component, composite, and S-video outputs.

The disc tray has a solid feel and is coated for disc protection. Small LEDs indicate the current playback, and large buttons facilitate basic operations, including play, pause, and stop. My only real complaint is the operation of the tray. It opens when you press the Eject button, but it doesn't close when you press Play. I typically place a disc on the tray and press Play to start the loading process, but this player's tray only responds to the Eject button. It's not a big deal, but this may be the first player I've ever used that does this. I found it slightly annoying.

The BDP-S5000ES is BD-Live-compliant, so it includes an Ethernet connection for Internet connectivity. To meet the hardware spec's 1-gigabyte local-storage requirement, Sony includes a memory port and a 1GB Sony Micro Vault flash drive with the player. The memory port only works with Micro Vault drives, so if you wish to bump up your BD-Live storage capacity, you must stick with Sony. At press time, Sony's website listed a 2GB Micro Vault at $20 and a 4GB drive at $30. This is far more expensive than generic USB thumb drives, and I'm hard pressed to see how this approach benefits the user.

DVD was introduced before progressive displays were the norm, and the format went through the growing pains of progressive-scan playback and then upconversion. How well a player performed in these areas varied considerably from model to model. Higher-end models typically did a far better job by incorporating the newest video-processing chips.

We're seeing a similar situation with Blu-ray. If you've been reading our reviews, you know there are players at $400 and below that offer excellent performance with 1080p/24 Blu-ray. They also provide outstanding video processing with Blu-ray and standard DVDs, often with premium processor chips. With these things in mind, I think manufacturers need to start taking a closer look at the features they put into their flagship products. Manufacturers are delivering features that used to be considered premium but may not be anymore.

In the flagship designs I've seen so far, one of the surprises for me is the lack of innovation in connectivity. The BDP-S5000ES retails for $2000, which is nearly seven times more expensive than Sony's standard Blu-ray players and nearly five times more than the popular PlayStation 3. At this price point, why did Sony forego features like WiFi connectivity? I don't know many people who have an Internet connection near their A/V rack, but I do know a lot of people with WiFi. This is a standard feature on the PS3, and it's one of my favorite things about that platform. At $2000, I don't think it's too much to ask from any manufacturer.

As far as core BD functionality goes, the BDP-S5000ES is fully loaded. It includes Bonus View PIP and BD-Live as well as onboard decoding of all the lossless audio codecs to multichannel PCM or 7.1-channel analog. The player can also output the advanced audio codecs as bitstreams if you want to leave the decoding to your AVR or surround processor.

There's been a lot of buzz about the preferred method for audio decoding. Since my processor features advanced audio decoding, I put it to the test with a couple of Blu-ray discs. When I switched between decoding in my processor and the player's internal decoding to PCM, I didn't notice any sonic differences in playback levels or dynamics.

However, I did find other benefits when I let the player do the decoding. The most obvious was its ability to mix the secondary audio into the soundtrack with picture-in-picture features on Bonus View titles. You also get to hear the menu sounds.

Another advantage that some users may not know about pertains to Dynamic Range Control (DRC). Some discs are improperly mastered and include metadata flags that engage the DRC filters in some surround processors and AVRs. This was the case with several Paramount Blu-ray titles, including Iron Man. For proper playback with a bitstream output, I had to manually turn off the DRC in my surround processor every time I played this disc. When I set up the Sony to decode to PCM, I disabled DRC during setup, and it never turned on again.

The BDP-S5000ES did a fine job with BD-Live playback. I tested it with several Sony and Universal titles and didn't experience any glitches. You can update the player's firmware directly from the Internet (if you have it connected to your broadband access point) by entering the Setup menu or setting the player to randomly poll the update website, in which case it will tell you if there is a firmware update available. This is a nice touch. It's another feature that the PS3 has boasted for some time, and I'm pleased to see that Sony has incorporated it into a dedicated player.

Video Testing
At this point, I suspected that the BDP-S5000ES would incorporate a name-brand video-processing chipset, and I was eager to test the player to confirm this. The BDP-S350 was Sony's first Blu-ray player to include HD deinterlacing, although it was limited to 3:2-based material.

Unfortunately, the BDP-S5000ES takes a step backward in this department—it didn't pass our 3:2 or 2:2 deinterlacing tests. This is surprising at this price point, since there are a number of lower-cost players that have no problems with these tests. There are only a few 1080i-encoded Blu-ray discs out there, but it's still important for a player to offer the right video processing to maximize video performance with all discs. Considering the fact that Sony Music releases the majority of 1080i content on the Blu-ray market, it's even more baffling that this player doesn't offer premium-quality video processing.

The BDP-S5000ES did pass our HD motion-adaptive test, which reveals a player's ability to deal with content captured at 1080i. Most of the Blu-ray players on the market support AVCHD material that is recorded from personal camcorders. These HD cameras typically capture video as 1080i, which requires proper motion-adaptive deinterlacing for the best quality playback on a 1080p display. The BDP-S5000ES did a great job of it in our tests.

The player's HD decoder also did a great job resolving full 1080p resolution (luma and chroma) from the Blu-ray format. Sony claims that this player upsamples the chroma information, but I didn't see any significant effect from the enhancement. In addition, I didn't see any reduction of artifacts with animated titles that are known to have banding, such as Monster House and the Pixar Short Films Collection.