Sony also offers choice titles from the company's movie studio for streaming, and our review sample allowed us to stream "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" before it was out on Blu-ray or DVD for free. (Without the promotion, the rental costs $25!). Image quality was excellent on this stream, on par with the best streams we've seen from Amazon and Netflix. Sony also had three free movies available at the time of review ("Ghostbusters," "Muppets in Space," and "Steamboy"). It's a nice treat, but we wouldn't count on this being a consistent source of content.
The BDP-N460 also includes video content from a wide variety of lesser-known Internet sources, such as blip.tv, Crackle, FEARnet, and Wired. The number of channels is impressive, but the user experience is not, as much of the content is outdated or underwhelming. For example, we loaded up the Diggnation channel on blip.tv, only to find it didn't have any recent episodes. Even the available episodes of a little-known show like "Under the Tuscan Gun" aren't up-to-date; more recent content is available on the actual blip.tv site. After sifting through several of these channels, it wound up feeling more like clutter than content.
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.
Like virtually all 2009 Blu-ray players, the BDP-N460 is Profile 2.0-compatible, which means it can access playback BD-Live features available on some Blu-ray movies. Unfortunately there's no onboard storage, so you'll need to connect a USB thumbdrive to download any of the BD-Live content.
An Internet connection is needed to access BD-Live features, and the BDP-N460 is equipped with only an Ethernet port to do so--there's no Wi-Fi. While it's understandable at this price point, the lack of wireless access is a big hurdle to using Internet-enabled features when most people don't have Ethernet in their living room. Sony suggests pairing the BDP-N460 with the Linksys WET-610N Wireless Ethernet Bridge, and claims the BDP-N460 has built-in software to make it easy to setup. We didn't have the chance to test the BDP-N460 with the Linksys WET-610N, but in our experience wireless bridges can be a little tricky to setup.
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. Those looking to play DVDs with legacy DTS formats, like DTS 96/24, ES, ES Matrix, and Neo:6, are out of luck, as DTS-HD Master Audio Essential lacks the necessary decoders.
The BDP-N460's connectivity is standard for this 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-rays at 1080i and DVDs at 480p--plus a standard-def 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.
There is much less variation in the performance of Blu-ray players than we've seen in DVD players. When set to 1080p at 24 frames per second (1080p/24), we notice essentially identical performance between players. However, when players are set to 1080p at 60 frames per second (1080p/60)--which has wider support among TVs than 1080p/24, we do notice a difference in performance, although still less than with DVD players. We tested the BDP-N460 in 1080p/60, connected to the Samsung PN50B860 via HDMI. Our reference Blu-ray player, the Oppo BDP-83, was used for comparisons.
We started off with the HQV test suite on Blu-ray. We started off with the most important test, the Film Resolution Test, and the BDP-N460 put out a pristine image, with full 1080p resolution and free of moire we see on lesser players. We followed up with a series of video-based jaggies tests, and again the BDP-N460 performed well, showing no excess jaggies on test patterns with a rotating white line or three pivoting white lines. The BDP-N460 also had no problem with the final Video Resolution Test, displaying the test pattern without any artifacts.
We also looked at test patterns from the Qdeo Blu-ray test disc. The Qdeo disc has several test patterns with different film cadences, which tests how well the Blu-ray player will handle uncommon program material, like anime. We haven't used this disc on many Blu-ray players so far--so it's more difficult to do comparisons--but the BDP-N460 did well compared to the Samsung BD-P3600 and Philips BDP7310. It didn't handle quite as many test patterns as the Oppo BDP-83, but that's to be expected given the price difference.
Finally, we looked at actual program material, using some clips we've found to be troublesome for some Blu-ray players. The BDP-N460 showed no signs of letting up, acing both test sequences from "Mission Impossible: III", including the stairs at the beginning of chapter 8. Next up was the end of chapter 6 in "Ghost Rider" and the BDP-N460 performed well, with no moire visible in the grille of the RV as the camera pulls away. Last up was the intro to Diana Krall's segment in "Tony Bennett: American Classic" and the BDP-N460 continued to chug along, showing none of the jaggies we see on cheaper players. In all, the image quality of the BDP-N460 was right up there with the other premium Blu-ray players we've tested.
Disc-loading speeds can still be a pain on many Blu-ray players, but the Sony BDP-N460 is relatively quick. It performed well on movies with complex menu systems; we were able to get to the main movie of "Pirates of the Caribbean" in a minute and 23 seconds, which puts it at just three seconds slower than the Oppo BDP-83. On "Spider-Man 3," we got to the movie in a minute and seven seconds, just eight seconds slower than the Oppo. It's not as fast as the competition on loading standard movies like "Mission Impossible: III"--it comes in nearly 8 seconds slower than a speed demon like the LG BD390--but since those movies load relatively quickly to begin with, we didn't find it to be an issue.
DVD performance is more varied on Blu-ray players, and since there are still many, many more movies available on DVD than Blu-ray, we put the BDP-N460 through our full DVD testing suite. We began with test patterns from the HQV test suite on DVD. The initial resolution pattern looked crisp and detailed, with no image instability. Next up were a pair of video-based jaggies tests and we were surprised to see the BDP-N460 pass both of these with only minimal jaggies. The BDP-N460 also didn't have any problems with the 2:3 pulldown test, as there was no moire visible in the grandstands as the racecar sped by.
We switched over to program material, with "Star Trek: Insurrection" up first. The introduction sequence is a great test of accurate 2:3 pulldown, and the BDP-N460 didn't have any major issues, with both the curved railings and boat hulls looking smooth. We also looked at the full opening to "Seabiscuit," which often gives even high-end players problems. We definitely saw some minor crawlies and jaggies here, but overall none of the major issues that plague entry-level Blu-ray players. Sure, when we flipped between the Oppo BDP-83 and the BDP-N460, the BDP-83 won hands-down, but we didn't see any particularly egregious artifacts on the BDP-N460. Unless you're very picky about your DVD playback, the BDP-N460 should be good enough.