The BDP-S500 is Sony's current flagship Blu-ray player, although there is an S550 model due in the autumn that will offer lots more functionality for a similar price.
With Sony's very own PlayStation 3 and other companies' Blu-ray players boasting better specs and costing less than the S500's £500 price tag, the S500 is going to have its work cut out for it. Does it meet the challenge head-on or cower in a high-definition corner?
Why is it so big? That was the first thing we wondered about when we saw the BDP-S500. The Sony is much taller than most of the other players we've seen recently, reaching a height of nearly 100mm. This extra height really makes the player look old fashioned, and reminds us of the first generation of HD DVD and Blu-ray players.
One of the reasons it's slightly larger than Blu-ray players from Panasonic and the now redundant HD DVD players from Toshiba is its motorised front tray. From what we can tell, this is Sony attempting to justify the massive asking price of the player by adding bells and whistles. Aside from it being cool, we're unsure of the motorised tray's purpose. We forsee it being just another thing to go wrong.
There's a lot happening to the rear of the machine; most of it is good. There are plenty of output choices, mostly geared towards audio. The S500 has analogue 5.1 outputs, as well as coaxial digital and optical digital audio outputs. There is also, as you would expect, HDMI out and analogue HD support via component video connectors.
The machine responds dutifuly to commands from the remote, which is well built. The buttons are all in logical places, so therein does not lie the problem.
Let's hit the ground running with some momentum from audio codec support. The Sony can decode the vast majority of current audio found on Blu-ray discs, including Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby TrueHD. It can also handle uncompressed PCM audio, and DTS-HD High Resolution.
It cannot, however, decode or pass via HDMI the top-of-the-range DTS-HD Master Audio. The relationship between the BDP-S500 and PS3 now becomes more like that of a second cousin twice removed, what with the PS3's ability to handle DTS-HD MA. We're disappointed that Sony couldn't keep this support in the immediate family.
Comparisons with the PS3 are inevitable. The PS3 offers so much in terms of Blu-ray functionality, not only for less than most other Blu-ray machines on the market, but also for a fraction of the price of this player. Primarily, there's no support for either profile 1.1 or profile 2.0 on the BDP-S500. For something that costs £500, that's unforgivable.
Of course, Sony heavily subsidises the PS3 on the understanding that it will make a fortune selling games. What puzzles us slightly is that as one of the key companies behind Blu-ray, it will also make a killing out of licensing technology and selling its own movies. If it takes a loss and regains it on games for the PS3, why doesn't that same logic apply to movies? We're scratching our heads.
Enough of the family affairs -- back to what the BDP-S500 does do. It's a 1080p player with support for 24p playback. It has HDMI 1.3 support and Sony's x.v.Colour technology for deeper, richer tones. C'est tout.