If you're buying a Blu-ray player in 2011, you're probably as interested in streaming-media services as you are in Blu-ray. The BDP-S580 is a tantalizing option for a streaming-media fan, packing in more services (including Netflix, Amazon Instant, and Hulu Plus) than any of its competitors. It also has built-in Wi-Fi and an excellent smartphone application you can use to search Netflix and other streaming-media services--no competitor provides this option for searching inside Netflix.
Yet we can't recommend the BDP-S580 without a few caveats. Unlike other Blu-ray players, the BDP-S580 has its own custom user interface for each streaming-media service, and these aren't as good as the other players' interfaces. And Sony's main XMB interface can be tedious to use, especially when scrolling through all of the numerous streaming services. Since most buyers generally stick to just a couple of major services, competing units like the Panasonic DMP-BDT210 and LG BD670 that offer better navigation may be preferable. But if you want all of the niche services that Sony offers and don't mind putting in the effort, the BDP-S580 is a solid option.
In terms of looks the BDP-S580 is our favorite 2011 model so far. Like most Blu-ray players it sports a glossy black front panel, with a minimalist aesthetic and no large buttons on the front. Instead the buttons are tiny nubs along the bottom edge, which we liked ourselves--although some users might prefer full-size buttons. There's a handy USB port on the front panel in addition to the one on the back.
The included remote is pretty good. It's relatively minimalist, with a lot of space devoted to the central directional pad and the playback buttons below. The only thing missing is a direct button for Netflix (which can be found on Samsung and Panasonic Blu-ray remotes, as well as many Sony TV remotes) or other streaming-media services.
The BDP-S580 can also be controlled by Sony's Media Remote app, available for both iOS and Android. It's the best remote app we've seen for a Blu-ray player so far, entirely because you're able to use your phone to type in searches of streaming-media services, a function that isn't offered by any of its competitors yet. If you've got a smartphone, the ability to use search using your phone makes up for some of the deficiencies in the player's user interface.
The BDP-S580 has a modified version of the Sony XMB interface, which will be familiar to users of the PlayStation 3, PSP, and other Sony home theater products. While we're fans of the interface on the PS3, it doesn't work quite as well on a standalone Blu-ray player.
One problem is the sheer number of services Sony offers. While we appreciate that Sony included lots of high-quality names like Netflix, Amazon Instant, and Vudu, many of the others (Singingfool, Flixster) seem more like filler. Even worse, Vudu is buried in with these other niche services, making it really difficult to find.
The user interfaces of the individual apps are mediocre too. As mentioned above, rather than give each app its own interface, Sony tries to creates a more unified look for all the services. Unfortunately, the result is less than ideal. The cover art in the Netflix and Amazon Instant interfaces is smallish and can be difficult to read while you're leaning back on the couch, especially on smaller TVs. And though the layout has improved significantly via firmware updates over the last couple months, it still lags behind the user interfaces of competitors like Panasonic and LG.
Overall, we definitely prefer the simple approach to streaming-media services offered by Panasonic and LG over Sony's. Check out ourfor more information and comparisons of the content portals offered on Panasonic, Samsung, and LG Blu-ray players.
|Key Blu-ray features|
|3D Blu-ray||Yes||Onboard memory||No|
The Sony BDP-S580 has a few premium features (built-in Wi-Fi, 3D Blu-ray support, smartphone control), but it doesn't have 2D-to-3D conversion or onboard memory. We wouldn't worry about missing either of those. In our opinion, 2D-to-3D conversion is little more than a gimmick, and onboard memory is only used for BD-Live features, which we never find ourselves using.
Like most players in its price class, the BDP-S580 is DLNA-compatible, which means you can stream digital media files over your home network using a DLNA server or off a connected USB drive. Supported file types include MKV, Xvid, JPEG, and MP3 (a full list of supported file types is available on page 30 of the user manual (PDF). While we were successfully able to play back our suite of test files, digital media files have tons of variation in how they're encoded, so your results may differ. If digital media playback is important to you, we'd recommend looking through user opinions on CNET and elsewhere to see how a player performs in real-world scenarios.
|Other: Qriosity, Crackle, Slacker, NPR, Berliner Philharmoniker, Gracenote|
Sony's content portal, Bravia Internet Video, is absolutely jam-packed with services. Even beyond the services listed above, Sony has a ton of niche video services that it supports, from Wired to Dr. Oz.