At first glance, the Sony BDP-S570 Blu-ray player seems perfect: It costs a reasonable $225 (as of May 10, 2010). It prepares discs for playing in record time. It incorporates a video search engine and plays Internet video from a multitude of sites. It’s 3D-ready (via upgrade). And it lets you send everything to your HDTV in the source’s original format. But when we assessed the BDP-S570’s image quality against that of other Blu-ray players we’ve tested, our enthusiasm evaporated.
Though the player handled detailed, color-rich images quite well, it struggled when presented with our black-and-white film and when given less detail to work with.
The BDP-S570 earned marks of Very Good almost across the board on our image-dense test films Cars (a computer-animated movie) and The Searchers (a VistaVision classic, with a negative twice the size of standard movie film). In Cars, color saturation was superb. Two scenes from The Searchers (chapters 4 and 20) looked sharper when played on the BDP-S570 than when played on our reference PlayStation 3; chapter 20 also had a better sense of dimension on the BDP-S570.
Our two test Blu-ray discs of movies filmed in standard 35mm—Phantom of the Opera (chapter 3) and Mission: Impossible III (chapter 7)—looked fine but unexceptional, only slightly improving on the PS3’s image quality.
But the BDP-S570 really disappointed our judges when we tested it with the black-and-white opening of our Good Night and Good Luck Blu-ray disc, and again on our two DVD tests. Though it produced a slightly better grayscale than the PS3 did, the BDP-S570’s black-and-white images looked flat and dull. And our tests using DVDs of Return of the King (chapter 22) and Phantom of the Opera (again chapter 3) looked soft, with flat, uninteresting colors. If you buy the BDP-S570, you might want give the job of DVD upconversion to your HDTV instead of to your player.
All Blu-ray players have an output resolution setting. If you set it to 1080p, it upconverts your DVDs to that resolution. If you set it to 480p, it downconverts the Blu-ray discs to that resolution. But the BDP-S570’s Original Resolution option sends everything to the television without converting it. So if your HDTV does a better job of converting than the BDP-S570 does (and that’s not a very tall order), let the TV do it.
The options for Original Resolution and other adjustments reside on a standard Sony crossbar-style menu; but some of the menu’s onscreen explanations—such as “Set the conversion method for video or film material”—are unhelpful, and the manual doesn’t help much either. Press the remote’s Display button while watching a movie, and you get a nice information screen that lists the original resolution, audio details, the chapter number, and the elapsed and total time, but not the time remaining.
The worst onscreen experience associated with the BDP-S570 occurs when you attempt to enter text (such as search text or a Wi-Fi password) into the player. Entering text with a remote control is always a pain, but Sony’s menus and remote made the operation particularly unattractive and difficult.
The small, unexceptional remote control is neither backlit nor programmable. Nevertheless, the buttons, though small, are well placed and easy to find by touch once you’ve learned them.
If you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, you can download a free program that will transform it into a remote for the BDP-S570. The idea is nifty, and the screen is attractive and easier to see in the dark than the regular remote. Both the iPhone and the BDP-S570 must be on your network for this arrangement to work.
Whether you use Wi-Fi or ethernet to link the BDP-S570 to that network, the player offers a cornucopia of video options. You can view Internet video from Amazon Video on Demand, Netflix, YouTube, and a raft of obscure sites devoted to specific topics.
To access Netflix via the BDP-S570, you’ll need a Netflix account and a SonyStyle account. The latter account is free, but it’s an annoying hoop to have to jump through. As with any such device that offers Netflix, you must log on to Netflix and pick your entertainment on a computer before you can watch it on TV. Using ethernet rather than Wi-Fi improves the streaming image quality.
When you launch a YouTube video on the BDP-S570, it appears in a very small onscreen frame, but you can switch to a full-screen view by pressing the remote’s Enter button. By YouTube standards, the full-screen video looks pretty good.
A unique search tool lets you find videos across these services—excluding Amazon, Netflix, and YouTube.
While watching a Blu-ray disc or DVD, you can bring up Internet-based information about the movie to your HDTV or to your iPhone. But the information isn’t especially helpful; for instance, it gives the date the disc was released, not the original movie.
One more network-based feature is promised, but hasn’t yet materialized: DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance). Sony promises that you’ll be able to enjoy media from your computer, over your network, via a firmware update later this year.
But with a USB storage device such as a flash drive, you can enjoy photos, music, and videos now. The BDP-S570 views only .jpg images, but it plays .mp3, .wma, .wav, and .m4a audio files along with a large selection of video formats. It doesn’t give you a way to play music while watching a slideshow.
The BDP-S570 comes with two USB ports: a back one for BD-Live storage, and a front one for multimedia. Physically, it’s a nicely designed machine; the buttons are easy to see and press, and they provide tactile feedback.
As for updates, well, the term “3D ready” would be more accurately rendered as “not yet ready for 3D.” At some point later this year, according to Sony, a firmware update will make the BDP-S570 compatible with the new 3D Blu-ray specification. You’ll need a 3D-capable HDTV and special glasses to take advantage of it, however.
One strong point is the player’s responsiveness. It started playing the Independence Day Blu-ray disc in a record 26 seconds. To put that in context, the next-fastest player, the LG BD370 ( ), completed its start-up in 34 seconds, and most units we’ve tested take more than a minute.
Macworld’s buying advice
I found lots to like in the Sony BDP-S570. But its mixed-bag image quality and a few poorly designed features prevent it from being a winner.
[Lincoln Spector is a contributing editor to PC World.]