The Sony BDP-N460's attractive mix of Blu-ray performance, relatively low price, and streaming media options--including Netflix--make it a solid midrange pick, despite some missing features.
Sony may be the "face" of Blu-ray, but the company's standalone Blu-ray players have been a step behind those of Panasonic, LG, and Samsung, which featured extensive streaming media functionality early in 2009.
The Sony BDP-N460 is Sony's attempt at catch-up, released just a month before the holiday season and Netflix-enabled a few weeks afterward. Yes, the BDP-N460 is overdue, but it's largely worth the wait. It has a suite of streaming services (Netflix, Amazon Video on Demand, YouTube, Slacker, and NPR) that challenges the media-rich LG BD390 at a substantially lower price.
The BDP-N460 can't compete with the BD390 when it comes to hardware features, though; it's missing built-in Wi-Fi, onboard storage, multichannel analog outputs and media streaming over your home network. The PS3 Slim is also available for about a hundred dollars more, which is worth it if you want a high-definition gaming console and media streamer.
Still, the BDP-N460 offers a compelling combination of streaming functionality and solid Blu-ray playback at a more affordable price, making is a strong choice for buyers on a budget.
The BDP-N460 nearly copies the design of Sony's entry-level BDP-S360. The majority of the front panel is made of glossy black plastic. It has a sleek look, without a visible disc tray and only two buttons on the far right that are slightly raised. The front panel automatically flips down when you hit eject, revealing the disc tray. The "hidden" disc tray helps the BDP-N460 keep a sleek look--and it's less clunky than the Samsung BD-P1600's flip-down design--but we wonder how smoothly the mechanism will work two years down the road.
We've been harsh on Sony in the past for being slow to add streaming media services to Blu-ray players--and for doing it poorly with the Sony Bravia Video Internet Link--but the BDP-N460 is a large step in the right direction. Yes, many of the included content partners are lame, but Netflix, Amazon Video on Demand, YouTube, Slacker, and NPR are all valuable additions.
While we don't find most of YouTube's content to be "couch-friendly," it's worth pointing out that YouTube does have some premium movies and TV shows. However, when we streamed "Super Size Me," the image quality left a lot to be desired, even on a documentary where image quality isn't a primary concern. "Wallace & Gromit" looked a little better, but still it's only borderline watchable on a TV-size screen. One big plus is we found that aspect ratio was typically handled correctly, which gives it a leg up over the integrated YouTube service on the competing Panasonic DMP-BD60 and LG BD390.
We usually don't go into detail on Netflix streaming when we review Blu-ray players, since the interface is usually the same across devices, but Netflix on the BDP-N460 is somewhat different. Instead of large movie covers arranged horizontally, five of which are visible at once, the BDP-N460 displays 18 small movie covers at a time. In most cases this is a plus, as it's easier to quickly cycle through your instant queue, especially if you have a lot of titles in there. On the other hand, sometimes the movie covers are just too small. "Broken Flowers" wasn't legible from our seven foot seating distance on a 50-inch TV--we didn't know what movie it was until the cursor was over it and the movie titled displayed below.
The BDP-N460 has onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio Essential. That means it can decode those soundtrack formats so they can be played back on almost every HDMI-capable AV receiver. Bit stream output is also supported, if you'd rather the decoding be done in your AV receiver.
The BDP-N460's connectivity is standard for its price. The main connection is the HDMI output that can handle both 1080p video and high-resolution multichannel audio. Analog video is supported with a component video output--which can output Blu-ray Discs at 1080i and DVDs at 480p--plus a standard-definition composite video output. There are both optical and coaxial digital audio outputs, which can do multichannel audio, but not at the full resolution of Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. Analog audio is only supported by the stereo analog output. Rounding out the back panel connectivity is the aforementioned Ethernet port and the recessed USB port.
We usually don't have much to say about the design of a Blu-ray player's back panel, but the BDP-N460's unusual USB port is worth pointing out. The port is recessed into the unit, surrounded by black plastic, and the small opening won't accommodate some of the fatter USB thumbdrives you might have lying around.
The included remote has a great layout and simple design, except it lacks an open/close button for the disc tray. Not having an eject button is a pet peeve of ours, and if you're used to popping open the disc tray before you get off the couch to change discs, you'll find it as frustrating as we did. Of course, you can always opt for a quality universal remote to get around this issue, as the BDP-N460 is capable of receiving an open-close IR command.