The BDP-S480 is a cutting-edge 3D Blu-ray player from Sony. At around £140, it's about £40 cheaper than the step-up BDP-S580, but the only apparent difference between the two is that the higher-end model has integrated Wi-Fi.
The S480's arrival warrants some excitement. The brand's previous Sx70 range garnered plenty of praise, plus a pile of industry awards. Read on to find out why this year's model offers both more and less than its predecessor.
Demise of the component connection
Standing just 36mm tall and 199mm deep, the S480 won't eat up much space in your equipment rack. Some cosmetic changes have been made to last year's design -- the addition of a curved lip below the screen being the main one -- but the player doesn't look drastically different.
Rear-side connectivity includes a single HDMI output, component video, phono AV, a single coaxial digital audio output, Ethernet, and a USB port. There's another USB socket on the front.
It doesn't take long to discover that the component output has been hobbled for Blu-ray playback and is now unable to deliver high-definition footage. Video resolution is capped at 480i, and you can now actually get a better component signal from DVD, which is delivered at 576i.
On the plus side, it's good to see that Sony has upgraded the media-playback support on this year's Blu-ray decks. The S480 was able to stream MKVs from a network-attached storage drive across our test network, whereas previous Sony players have always ignored these files. The deck also plays back AVCHD and AVI files. It didn't care for MOVs, though. Audio-file compatibility covers MP3, AAC, WAV and WMA.
Once online, the deck's XrossMediaBar interface integrates with the Bravia Internet Video portal charmingly. The sheer amount of content on the portal is impressive, and there's a long list of service providers to trawl under the 'music' and 'video' tabs. BBC iPlayer and Demand 5 provide catch-up TV services, with YouTube, Dailymotion and Sony Entertainment Television the other notable diversions.
The deck also incorporates a Web browser. It lacks Flash support and is prone to crashing, but, if you need to get online quickly, it's a handy alternative to powering up your laptop.
Last year's Sony Blu-ray players provided the benchmark for disc-loading speeds. Unfortunately, this deck is slower than last year's fleet-footed BDP-S570.
The remastered Goldfinger serves up the 007 logo in 58 seconds -- down from 46 seconds or thereabouts last year. Lou Reed's Berlin (a simpler authoring job) takes 41 seconds to get to the menu screen -- 10 seconds slower than last year's model.
Despite the increased disc-load times, though, the BDP-S480 still ranks as one of the faster decks on the market.
What certainly hasn't declined is picture quality. Fed with high-quality discs like Tron: Legacy and Chico & Rita, this player rewards you with copious detail and a deliciously ripe colour palette.
The unit performs just as well with 3D Blu-rays. Unlike some of its rivals, there's no 2D-to-3D conversion feature.
The S480 is a very good DVD player too. The quality of deinterlacing and upscaling is great. The deck smoothes out diagonals and adds high-resolution texture to images so they look good on a large high-definition TV. That's an important point if you have a large DVD collection.
Sonically, this player reserves its best performance for the HDMI output. There's nothing special about the analogue output of the S480, which lacks the crispness and dynamics of the HDMI connection. Using the HDMI connection is also the only way to listen to multi-channel Super Audio CDs, which sound gorgeous. When fed a CD, the player will automatically look up the album on the Gracenote database, presenting album art on screen.
The S480 is not only a DLNA-compliant player, letting you stream files from your computer, for example, but also a 'DLNA renderer'. This means that you can send music and video files to the player from an app on your smart phone. A number of these so-called DLNA controller apps are being released for Apple and Android devices. In our experience, they're still rather flaky when it comes to file-format support, but potentially this could be a great feature.
The deck is compatible with Sony's new 'party streaming' multi-room audio mode. This allows the S480 to act either as the source of your multi-room tunes, or receive audio from another source on your network. With no other compatible products available for testing, we couldn't try this feature out, though.
The Sony BDP-S480 is a fine Blu-ray player, with more than enough charms to warrant a place on your shortlist. We love its Web features, Super Audio CD compatibility and improved file support. Its reduced disc-loading speed is odd, though, and the loss of high-definition video via component is irritating. Still, the S480's basic disc-playing talents remain consistently entertaining.
Edited by Charles Kloet