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 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 competitors yet. If you've got a smartphone, being able to 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.