The Sony BDP-S570 is one of a new breed of game-changing Blu-ray players. Standing just 46mm high, it may be a mere sliver of a thing, but it offers a level of functionality that'll have early Blu-ray adopters spitting feathers. £200 or less gets you jaw-on-the-floor picture quality, 3D Blu-ray and Super Audio CD compatibility, BBC iPlayer on board, Internet TV and DLNA media streaming. But, there are caveats…
Solving the 3D connection conundrumIf you intend to use the BDP-S570 as part of a home cinema, you'll need an AV receiver with HDMI v1.4 connectivity. Hook it up to a legacy non v1.4 AVR and you won't be able to route 3D through it. We tried to coax Ice Age 3 through a non-HDMI 1.4 Pioneer AVR and the Sony player was having none of it. It steadfastly maintained it wasn't connected to a 3D display and only offered access to the 2D version of the movie. Consequently, you'll be forced to run HDMI direct to your 3D TV and, in the process, lose the ability to listen to high-resolution DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD soundtracks.
In every other respect, connections are standard. In addition to the single HDMI, the BDP-S570 has component and stereo audio outputs, optical and coaxial digital audio and Ethernet. The player also has two USB slots, one on the rear panel and another on the front fascia for media playback. Unlike some of the lesser players in the Sony range, there's 1GB of flash memory on board. This means there's no need to use one of the USB slots as a repository for BD-Live shenanigans.
Mr Sony says keep your media local
If you access your sound and vision files from USB, the player offers sterling support. It recognised and played its way through all the required suffixes in our test folder (AVI, DivX, MKV, MPEG-4, MP3 and AAC.). It even acknowledged and played SRT subtitle files, always a sign of good breeding. When you try and access the same content across your home network, however, its attitude nosedives. The player can't see hi-def MKVs, and turns its nose up at those arty subtitles so readily embraced by USB.
Jump from your own network to Sony's IPTV garden and there's a bewildering amount of content to admire. Sony's Bravia Internet Video (BIV) portal is fast becoming an attraction of theme-park-like magnitude. Thankfully, getting the deck online is a snap. If you don't have a handy Ethernet connection, there's integrated Wi-Fi.
Online offerings include (deep breath): BBC iPlayer, Sony Entertainment Television, the FIFA World Cup collection, Eurosport, YouTube, Blip TV, Dailymotion, Lovefilm, Singing Fool, pod and videocasts -- plus some German news stuff of no consequence. The player's XrossMediaBar (XMB) strains under the weight of so much Internet telly.
The headline attraction here is the BBC catch-up service. Venture beyond, however, and the user experience warps a little. Dailymotion is a curious alternative to YouTube, stuffed with slightly pervy TV clips and paranormal videos. But you can't really tell that from Sony's front end. The user interface follows Sony's standard BIV grid format, and shows a handful of thumbnails with the invitation to 'Click here to see all 36,426 items'. Frankly, even if you had several spare lifetimes, you'd never make it through a list of 36,426 items. There is a rudimentary search option, but it doesn't get you very far.
The Sony Entertainment Television network has a variety of free streaming TV shows, along with an innovation it calls 'minisodes'. These are five-minute edits of longer productions. Back in the day, feature films used to be cut to shreds to sell on small 8mm cine film reels -- this is similar. You can view truncated episodes from Rescue Me, Different Strokes, I Dream of Jeannie and Mad about You. We opted for the 'highlights' version of Jeannie (freshly colourised). The experience was like dozing off in front of the TV and then waking up slightly confused when the end credits roll, unable to fully recall what you've just watched.
Recognising how difficult all this content is to navigate, the BDP-S570 offers a separate search app, which allows you to do a keyword trawl. We recommend just typing random things into the search bar and seeing what comes up.
3D compatibility is the Blu-icing on this player cake
In 3D guise, the S570 is perfectly well behaved. We auditioned it with a selection of 3D screens (Panasonic, Samsung and Sony) and found no incompatibilities or quirks. With standard Blu-ray discs, it squeezes hi-def detail onto screen with ruthless efficiency. Image quality is not quite as accomplished as last year's BDP-S760, which utilised the high-performance video chipset from the brand's top-range BDP-S5000ES model, but it comes close -- and the improved feature specification outweighs any niggles.
The BDP-S570 is also a reassuringly good DVD spinner. Standard definition is upscaled (rather well) to 1080p over HDMI, meaning those with smaller screen sizes are unlikely to feel a need to immediately repurchase their disc collections.
Audiophiles will appreciate that fact that the deck can play Super Audio CDs. It can decode to PCM, or stream DSD if you have a Sony AV receiver that accepts DSD over HDMI. The precision and clarity of David Bowie's Heathen, a marvellous multi-channel mix on SACD, is thrilling on the S570. The beautiful sound design, with clean crisp vocals and bouncing bass, makes you wish they still released real records on the format rather than beardy chin-scratching nonsense.
CD playback pales a little in comparison, but is good enough when delivered via the digital outputs. The player will pull album art from Gracenote when you load a disc, which is a neat touch. That said, it doesn't do this when fed SACDs.
Blu-ray disc loading times are fast. Lou Reed's Berlin (from Artificial Eye) went from tray loading to menu screen in 30 seconds, and the remastered Goldfinger (Fox Home Entertainment) served up the 007 logo in 46 seconds.
We think the Sony BDP-S570 is insanely good value for money. Its feature specification is generous and its overall disc-spinning performance fabulous. Throw in BBC iPlayer and the sprawling smorgasbord that is the Bravia Internet Video portal and you have a formidable home entertainment machine.
Edited by Emma Bayly