For a long time, Sony’s been struggling with a good problem to have regarding their standalone Blu-ray decks. It doesn’t matter if their quality strong, the reaction time decent, and the supplemental specifics pleasing to the eye, they always have to combat price-wise against the company’s “flagship” player, the Playstation 3. On most occasions, their standalone decks of a comparable quality (such as the BDP-S560, reviewed here) were, on a good day, the same price as their game-playing iteration, a unit that’s become a reference machine for the likes of The Criterion Collection and others.
However, with the whittled-down cost of Blu-ray technology, they’ve finally been able to nail down a wireless, attractive until with their BDP-S570 that’s a good $50 below the PS3’s $300 list price. With wireless connectivity on-board, a sleek style makeover, snappy loading timeframes and respectable audiovisual performance, including 24p upscaling for DVDs and support for online stream services such as Netflix, Sony might’ve finally concocted a healthy Blu-ray alternative — one that easily bests their previous 5-series model. Yes, it’s 3D ready as well for when the technology’s ready, but that’s just part of the puzzle.
Out of the Box
If a pair of eyes will be looking at the S570 that have seen the thickness and width of other Blu-ray decks, they’ll be taken slightly aback at the compressed size of this high-functioning unit. It barely sits a foot and a half deep at 17 inches, while offering a bit of a slack-jaw inducing height at 1.81 inches tall. Sure, the likes of Samsung’s ultra thin BD-P4600 are more shocking with their size, but the ability to cram this high-function player into a compact, glossy design impresses to a noteworthy extent. In comparison, this unit sits roughly a full inch shallower from front to back and about a half an inch shorter than JVC’s XV-BP1, an able-bodied and size-conscious unit on its own. Gone are the flip-open tray and wonky buttons from the S560, replaced by a front panel that’s sturdy, unwavering, and void of any blue coloring. But it’d be wise to have a polishing cloth ready if lights are in proximity, as the black glossy finish is prone both to dust pick-up and fingerprints.
To the front, attractive minimalist design takes the helm. The short stature calls for a more edgy motif to make it grab the user’s eye, complimented here by a thin silver trim that rides along a small jetting “shelf” at the bottom that holds very, very small buttons for stopping, playing, pausing, powering down and the rest of the standard functions. These buttons feel almost like thinner, hard Tic-Tacs or another small mint, which are pointed but on the stiff side. A very soft LED timer arrives on the right-hand side, rendered in delicate but readable blue typography that’s adjustable to even darker levels within the menus. For a little extra ambience and, maybe in some lighting, assistance in seeing the buttons, a thin light strip appears directly in the center of the unit that glows an agreeably tame white color – whose brightness can also be toggled along with the time display. A USB 2.0 port also adorns the right of the panel.
On the rear of the S570, there’s very little to get excited about. We’ve got out standard ports for plug-and-play usage, with the HDMI out taking charge as the preferred connection method. Component RGB jacks are available, along with coaxial and optical outputs to match for audio, as well as a LAN cable port for non-wireless Internet usage. The only nice earmark we’ve got on the rear panel is a port for a USB connection, so the user can connect a storage device to the back without cluttering up the front continuously. It’s worth noting, however, the power cable isn’t a standard A/C output port, instead carrying a permanent connection that cannot be unplugged or replaced. That’s a little frustrating for installation folks and those who’d prefer easier plug-and-play experience, or for those that, say, have a power wiring issue and need to switch out cables.
Though Sony has implemented a new model of remote between the S560 and the S570, jumping from a RMT-B104A to a RMT-B107A, there’s almost no difference between the two devices. Both are flimsy tack-on designs that work, mind you, and are user friendly – just very inexpensively handled. The B107A, however, has one key feature that the 104A lacked, and that’s an EJECT button. The “Theater” button has been scooped up and moved to a new location, but other than that it’s the same unit; therefore, the comments annotated in the review for the S560’s remote carry over here. Essentially, it’s a lighter, flimsier version of Sony’s Playstation 3 Bluetooth remote, carrying the same rotary navigation functions, color-coded buttons, and TV control as before.
Sony carries over their precision with their XMB navigation from the S560 to the S570, only this time they’ve given the interface a bit more polish. The experience is largely the same, in that it’s a stripped-down version of the PS3’s framework, but the font type and the speed and grace in movement from one item to the next have been tightened. Other than that, the setup process will feel very similar if you’ve tangoed with Sony’s previous 5-series model. Options still include Network Update, Screen Settings, Audio Settings, BD/DVD Viewing Settings, Parental Control Settings, Music Settings, System Settings, Network Settings, Easy Setup and Resetting. Most of these are self-explanatory, but we’ll address a few of the fine points in each.
An “Easy Setup” function allows for a step-by-step rundown of each necessary element in getting the player up and running from the get-go. It asks us to select a Language, choose a connection type (HDMI / Component / Video), then to shape up the Internet Connection aspects of the player – allowing an internet connection, choosing either Auto or Manual diagnostics, etc. Rounding things out, it also asks us whether we’d like to increase boot-up time by leaving the player on, which increases power consumption. This option was left “OFF” for the majority of this review, and the player still performed swimmingly.
For Audio and Video tweaking, aside from a few rudimentary features, there’s not a whole lot to really work with here. Under Screen Settings, alterations are made available to adjust screen type and the way the material is presented (original vs. stretched) to slightly deeper elements like hard-wiring 24p and Deep Color (x.v) output settings. Under Audio, the options are available to either decode or automatically stream audio via HDMI, to adjust the BD Audio Mix Setting to allow for sound output during BD-Live deatures, DTS / Dolby Digital mixing options, Downmix functionality, and tailoring Audio DRC (Dynamic Range Compression.
Network Settings controls the frequency and diagnostics in allowing the S570 to interact with the Internet, but it also adds an option for registering a BD Remote device. Let’s start with Internet Setup. Selecting Internet Settings opens up a page to either View Network Status, if you’ve already registered a connection, or to run through Wired / Wireless Setup. Wireless setup allows the user to scan the area for signals, identify a WPS link, or manually set everything up. Scanning works quickly and effectively, easily picking up the signal near this review player within a matter or 2-3 seconds. It then takes us through the standard connection and passkey items; it’s worth noting, since it’s not explicitly stated in the manual, that hopping to the small “abc” button at the low point of the passkey entry allows for numerical and CAPITAL letter type to be accessed. That’s intuitive for Playstation 3 users, but might prove to be vague for others.
Also, if you’re either an iPhone or an iPod Touch user, you can download an app entitled “BD Remote” to control the S570 (and other Sony Blu-ray players from this year) on the mobile device. A video for the app online showcases the ease of connection and use, and it’s a valid look at how the app works. Registering the device, which takes two button clocks on each device, enables the phone to be used as either an intuitive swipe-controlled remote or a standard button-push remote. It also can communicate with the Gracenote technology on-board with the player to obtain disc information, such as actor and director information and Blu-ray release date. Sadly, it doesn’t offer a chapter or episode listing, something what would’ve been helpful for the Battlestar Galactica series of episodes. Though the “Simple Remote” swiping mechanic on BD Remote has some issues registering movement to a fluid degree, the “Full Remote” – which has scaling pages just like the iPhone’s app layout – gets everything down pat.
Both versatility and dense supplements have always been a forte with Sony’s wireless Blu-ray devices, but a few of them have been only merely satisfactory in the audiovisual department – slogging behind the Playstation 3 in quality. That stops with the BDP-S570, which offers an equivalent, if not slightly more refined, high-definition experience than its stalwart gaming machine. Rendering 24p detail with a well-pitched flow, tightening detail, slathering on an onslaught of robust audio and improving reaction time when either idle or paused, it’s a very sharp-performing device. Speed with loading comes extremely close to that of JVC’s XV-BP1, loading discs at a minutely slower rate but sporting a quicker drive open reaction time — around 2 seconds, where the XV-BP1 flips open in about three. The player supports internal decoding of Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio tracks, as well as supporting raw bitstream communication to an applicable receiver.
First, the player underwent tests with Spears and Munsil’s Hand-Forged Audio and Video fine-tuning disc, which started the experience off on a positive note. Scaling through the black level PLUGE tests showcased a firm competence with rendering all levels of dark and light contrast, growing faintly hazy at the upper quadrants but still defined – which becomes slightly questionable when a black and white film is screened later on. Turning attention to the Clipping test showcased that the player had no problems in fleshing out either the white or RGB quadrants, showing that no color crush occurs across the board. Where an actual issue arises is with the Jaggies Deinterlacing test, which shows an odd blocking anomaly as a white bar passes across interval black and white bars. Though that’s a little on the off-putting side, the rest of the tests showcase that this player is suitably sharp, highly palette-capable, and competent in the spectrum of contrast presentation.
First film in the machine, Lionsgate’s 2.35:1 Blu-ray of The Spierig Brothers’ vampire picture Daybreakers, offers a brisk level of high-definition allure through stylishly grotesque photography and a smattering of plush color palettes. The S570 stayed step-for-step with the shifts in shade, from sterile blues and grays to radiantly baked yellows and golden hues, while also maintaining precise control over densely fluctuating contrast levels. Rich blacks in the AVC encode showcase the inky properties of the player’s grasp on stark contrast, offering indelibly creepy images with plenty of density. Then, when a splash of blood entered into the picture, the depth of the harsh reds was spot-on preserved. Audio arrives in a thunderous DTS HD Master Audio that really rocks a room, conveying billowing fire, projectile weapons, and, well, some of the grotesque sounds that wiggle in a picture like this, and they all crisply pour from Sony’s player with crisp mid-range shots and throaty bass resonance.
On the more delicate side of things, Fox’s AVC 1.78:1 encode of The Fantastic Mr. Fox – Wes Anderson’s stop-motion adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book – grapples more subtle elements like the slight twitches in hair and the graceful movement of either a train or a helicopter in a horizon. It’s an autumn-colored picture with a lot of very dense detail, and Fox’s Blu-ray offered an insatiably detailed experience in Sony’s S570. It’s here where some of the subtle differences can be seen between this player and the PS3, where the S570 takes a few baby-steps forward in detail when rendering wheat in a field, the texture in a newspaper, and the tweed fabric in Mr. Fox’s jacket. Also, the DTS HD Master Audio’s echo-laden, atmospheric dialogue and music sounds a hare’s breath richer and more focused in the S570.
Fleshing out interpretations on its capacity to handle grayscale material, Criterion’s copy of Wings of Desire found its way into the S570 – and it finally revealed a point where it fell a little behind against its Playstation 3 brethren. The overall balance between middle-range grays and crisp whites were aptly handled in Sony’s standalone deck, but the black levels were noticeably less stable and grainier – most notable during the first library walkthrough sequence, around chapter three. They leaned more grayish and less cinematically refined, which also detracted from their dimensionality. Still, this is after looking at the image with profuse comparisons in mind, which reflects about a 10% discrepancy in black level stability. Audio, however, sounded lush and radiant through the DTS HD Master Audio track.
Rounding things out, Universal’s presentation of Battlestar Galactica’s third season tests the player’s capability to handle more complex visual content. As many know who have delved into the series, the visualization of Syfy’s series can flounder between razor-sharp sequences and murky ones with flickering contrast. Sony’s S570 preserves the detailed scenes with profuse detail and the grainy ones with accurate fogginess, though the grain structure seems minutely behind how it looks on the Playstation 3. Audio, however, is beat-for-beat just as thunderous, crisp, and intense as on the other player, carrying a minor amount of extra breadth in subtle bass elements – like the punches in the episode “Unfinished Business”.
BD-Live and BD-Java operate just as expected on Sony’s standalone deck, which is Profile 2.0 compliant. The Java-based Blu-ray content flowed the way it should in both The Criterion Collection’s subtle menu design and during the U-Control functionality on the Battlestar Galactica discs. To access audio, one must still exit out of the program and toggle the BD Audio Mix Setting to “Off” in order to incorporate sound – whether it be clicks in menus of the actual vocals in a picture-in-picture feature — with them. Thankfully, Sony have elected to offer 1GB of on-board BD-Live storage, so it’s not necessary to hook up a USB cable to the unit.
As to be expected, the BDP-S570 is a Region A-locked machine, as tested by our ever-defeated Region B-locked copy of The Fountain. Along with that, Sony’s player also doesn’t hold the capacity to present PAL-encoded special features, as tested by Tartan UK’s presentation of I’m a Cyborg.
One of the features that this S570 is touting is the capability for 3D Playback, but this cannot be tested as of this writing. Why? Two reason: one, the firmware update that incorporates the 3D playback isn’t ready for download and integration as of yet. Sony states that this bundle of lovely will be coming sometime in Summer of 2010, but that point hasn’t arrived as of yet. Secondly, there are currently no pieces of media to really try this capability out. Indications are all pointing towards Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs arriving as one of the first titles, likely around the time when the firmware update – and the equipment to render the tech – are ready to go. Fear not, though, because plans are already in the pipes for extra-dimensional versions of many fan favorites, such as Avatar. However, this isn’t a facet that’s able to be tested right now.
Sony’s BDP-S570 also packs a punch while upconverting standard-definition DVDs, along with one very nice surprise. Along with being an ample 1080p upscaling machine, the deck supports also 24p conversion for DVDs – and the results are exciting, though nothing as high of quality as the upscaling in Pioneer’s BDP-320 or Oppo’s BDP-83. Popping in The Descent 2, an extremely dark and textured horror film, offered richness in contrast, flickers of color, and overall cinematic quality that impresses with its attenuated focus. Along with that, it also presents a powerhouse legacy Dolby Digital 5.1 track that thundered through the caverns and allowed subtiel sound effects to remain highly audible. The grunts that occur while climbing and the slight rattling of sediment underneath the climbers’ feet all slyly trickled through the speakers, throttling the bass track to distinct degrees.
For comparison’s sake, the standard-definition disc of The Fantastic Mr. Fox – included with the Blu-ray – also found its way into the player. Naturally, the colors weren’t as vivid and the details were murkier; however, the aptitude that the S570 upscaled the disc to near-HD levels were noteworthy on several levels. The hair within Mr. Fox’s coat held onto details to rather strong degrees, the warmth of the palette came closer than expected to the Blu-ray’s rendering, and the range of motion through the 24p flow credibly presented the material. On top of that, the player also managed to grapple the spacious nature of the music and line delivery much like the Blu-ray.
Sony’s player is a Region 1-locked machine, as tested by a Region 3 copy of Memories of Murder, and does not play PAL-encoded DVDs.
Media, Streaming, SACD, CD
After the player’s been rigged up for wired / wireless internet access, it’s expected for one or two of the streaming capabilities to show up underneath the Music and Audio functions – Pandora Internet Radio for Music, Netflix, YouTube and Amazon for Video. However, a slew of other options become available once you connect, and they’re … well, excessive, and undeletable. Registering for the individual services, however, can be pretty simple; to activate Netflix, you just need to go to SonyStyle, register the device, then enter an activation code to get the ball rolling. It’s similar to that process with Amazon’s download service as well.
Here’s a rundown of everything that pops up:
•VIDEO: Qriocity Video on Demand, Michael Jackson, Blip.tv, Crackle, Dr. Oz, FEARnet, Wired, epicurious, Concierge.com, Style.com, Digital Cinema Concert Series, MyPlay Music Network, Inside Sony Pictures, FordModels, DailyMotion, Howcast.com, On Networks, GolfLink, Livestrong.com, eHow.com, VideoDetective, Singing Fool, Podcasts, and Videocast.com.
•AUDIO: Berliner Philharmoniker, Slacker, Pandora Internet Radio, and National Public Radio.
Two USB 2.0 ports are offered on the deck, one on the front and another to the rear, and both are fully capable of reading photos, videos, and music files from storage devices. Each function appears where it should in the XMB, opening up a USB access link underneath each function for the desired file type. A standard photo slideshow function pops up under the Photos option, rendering photographs in decent enough quality for a home media deck – though unable to really be organized, even though time was spent offering transition effects between shots. MP3sand Videos are like-minded; the quality of mp3s, whether by memory stick or by disc media (supports most DVD-R/W and CD-R/W functions), rings true and with a polished balance within the player’s streamlined yet attractive interface.
To round out the tests on the unit, the player had one of its little “hidden” (read: unadvertised) earmarks tested: SACD playback, along with standard CD playback. An option from the Audio section allows the user to pick which layer from the SACD they wish to play, which includes the full-resolution layer. Select tracks were plucked from the 2L – The Nordic Sound audiophile discs, both the Blu-ray and the SACD disc, namely Tracks 1 (Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 4 In D Major Kv 218), 4 (Åm: Vere Meininga), and 5 (Crux Fidelis). Naturally, the crispness and clarity from the Blu-ray disc’s assortment of high-definition masters trumped its lower-resolution counterpart, but the clarity resonated true and stable with the SACD and CD layer. The flutter of violins, the gentle plucks of the harp, and the velvety, deep projection of the Gregorian chants hit strong balances with the listening sessions.
Sleek Design, Tight Performance for both Blu-ray and DVD, Extremely Quick, Wireless
From the second Sony’s BDP-S570 is pulled from the packaging, it’s obvious that this’ll be a different beast than the company previous entry in the 5-series. The bulky, ho-hum aesthetic from this model’s predecessor has been dropped for a sleek, stylish look – one that compresses a full-ranged Blu-ray player into a smaller design. But don’t let the size fool you, as the player also packs a hearty punch in the performance arena. Blu-ray performance hits high-notes with visual rendering much in the same ways as its gaming console counterpart, sliding in a few step-ups in detail here and there, while also bolstering both raw and decoded high-resolution soundtracks home. BD-Live and BD-Java load properly, while tapping into 1GB of internal storage for this very purpose. The S570 also handles itself in quick fashion, boasting load times that come close – not matching, but close – to that of the PS3 and JVC’s lightning quick XV-BP1. Along those same lines, the S570 also treats DVDs like they’re a little slice of royalty by offering them in finely-upscaled images that flow at 24p. Furthermore, this deck also arrives with on-board wireless internet communication that supports streaming via Pandora, Netflix, and Amazon (among others).
Aesthetic Gathers Dust and Fingerprints, Annoying Buttons, Rickety Tray, No PAL conversion
For the price, it’s somewhat difficult to come up with too many notches against the BDP-S570. The only real points are aesthetic and/or operational hiccups. Though the glossy look on the front of the unit is attractice, keeping that way requires having a cloth handy to wipe it down. Buttons on the front of the unit seem like they’ll hold up, but they’re a little small and discreet – even if they do add to the overall minimalist look of the player. Also, the disc tray itself seems standard and a little rigid, with a front panel that wobbles. Operations wise, it’s worth noting that the player seems to struggle a bit with harsher, grainier Blu-ray sources, while the depth on contrast isn’t quite as deep as with other players. Also, the unit itself doesn’t come equipped with an internal PAL converter, so any region-free PAL discs and PAL-encoded special features on Blu-rays will not be accessible here.
At $250 list price, Sony’s BDP-S570 doesn’t really let on to the fact that it’s on the lower side of the price range. Under its attractive hood revs the engine of a proficient high-definition vehicle, rendering audiovisual elements as well as others in the approximate range – especially Sony’s Playstation 3. Wireless connectivity, 24p playback for DVDs, online streaming of several popular services, and an overall penchant for doing everything quickly hallmark this player. Is the quality as razor sharp as models of a higher dollar figure? Not quite, but the substance behind its punch easily earns respect for this price range. For those looking out for a wireless budget Blu-ray player, and don’t wish to hop into the gaming console market, then you’re looking at a comparable deck for roughly $50 less – even more so through the right channels.