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Blu-ray and your iPhone: Not quite there yet

CNET takes a hands-on look at the Sony BDP-S570's iPhone app, finding it to be an interesting idea that lacks in real-world usability.

The Sony BDP-S570 iPhone app
The Sony BDP-S570 Blu-ray player can be controlled by an iPhone app, but the implementation isn't quite there yet. Matthew Moskovciak/CNET

Last week we posted a full review of the Sony BDP-S570, the first Blu-ray player we've reviewed with the option to be controlled via an iPhone app over Wi-Fi. When we first heard of the iPhone functionality at CES 2010, we were intrigued by the idea; now that we've had significant hands-on time, we can say that the current implementation doesn't quite hit the mark, but we hope Sony continues to refine Blu-ray/iPhone functionality.

After you've downloaded the free "BD Remote" app, it needs to be configured by putting both the iPhone and BDP-S570 into "registration mode," similar to syncing a Bluetooth device. Once you've got it up and running, the app boots into the "simple remote" mode (pictured above), which lets you swipe right or left to move the cursor on the screen, and tap to confirm. It's actually a little counterintuitive, at least in "iPhone logic," since usually you swipe your finger from right to left to move to rightward on the iPhone; the same action causes the cursor to move leftward with the "BD Remote" app. There's also a slight bit of lag between your action and the menu on the TV responding; we didn't feel like it has any advantage over using the standard included remote.

Screenshot of "Full Remote" mode
Without tactile buttons, you'll need to look at the iPhone to use the remote. Matthew Moskovciak/CNET

Switching to "full remote" mode is more promising, but still ultimately not worth it. Here, the app recreates portions of the remote, such as the playback controls or number buttons, on a separate screen. The problem here lies with the touch-screen interface; you need to look at the screen to press the right button, then back at your TV to see the actual onscreen menu. The advantage of being able to navigate buttons by feel on a standard remote becomes very obvious after playing with it for a while.

The best feature is the ability to use the iPhone touch keyboard to enter text when utilizing the BDP-S570's YouTube or Amazon VOD functionality, for example. This actually works quite well, but since we'd rather use the standard remote for any other navigation, we'd probably be able to use the onscreen keyboard with a normal remote in the same time it would take us to whip out an iPhone, load the app, and type in a search term.

The BD Remote app also has the ability to display related movie information, including cast info and a synopsis. Clicking on a person's name will bring up a YouTube search with related videos. It's a somewhat interesting feature, but the BDP-S570's built-in Gracenote functionality does much of the same thing. No need to reach for the iPhone.

Ultimately, we couldn't see ourselves using the iPhone app much in its current form, but we still think the idea has potential. Our main suggestion would be to try and duplicate the Blu-ray player's menu on the iPhone screen, which would eliminate the need to keep looking from one screen to the other.