No matter how you feel about Sony, it's hard to deny that the company has a knack for product design. The Sony BDP-S590 ($140 street price) falls right in line with that tradition, as it's the only Blu-ray player I've seen this year that actually looks attractive, while most competitors are little more than a utilitarian black box. And the BDP-S590 isn't all just for show, with a healthy set of features including built-in Wi-Fi, 3D compatibility, and a suite of streaming apps that includes Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant, Pandora, and Vudu.
Sony may be the only company that still cares about how its Blu-ray players look. The top of the player has an attractive textured look, and the case tapers down toward the bottom, avoiding the typical "black box" look that most players have.
Sony's back panel is well-populated with ports, especially now that many Blu-ray players offer only the most meager connectivity options. All the standard ports like HDMI and Ethernet are included, but the BDP-S590 also offers both types of digital audio outputs (optical and coaxial), as well as a standard analog AV output. Sony also includes another USB port on the back (in addition to the one on the front), which is nice if you don't like a USB cable hanging off the front of your player.
The remote is a good one, too. It's a simple design, with a centrally located directional pad and playback buttons underneath. Even better are dedicated buttons for both Netflix and Sony Entertainment Network, the latter being Sony's portal of its streaming-media services. Like most Blu-ray players these days, you can control it with a smartphone app, but it's not that useful since the normal remote (or a quality universal remote) works better.
At first glance, the BDP-S590's user interface looks a lot like the one on last year's BDP-S580, which had a lot of shortcomings. Thankfully Sony has made some significant improvements; the main user interface still uses the XMB-inspired layout, but the Netflix app no longer uses Sony's subpar proprietary interface.
Confusingly, Sony does actually have its own streaming-media interface, Sony Entertainment Network, which is essentially another way to view the company's streaming-media offerings, along with content from Sony's Content stores (Sony Video Unlimited and Sony Music Unlimited). It's actually a more straightforward layout for streaming-media content, although I have a feeling most people will never find it, since it sounds more like a grouping of Sony's services, rather than all of the apps available on the player. And if I owned the BDP-S590, I'd probably always sift through the XMB interface, rather than waiting for another screen to load
Sony supports quite a few worthwhile niche services that nobody else has, like Crackle, Moshcam, NPR, and Berliner Philharmoniker. (As well as tons of less worthwhile niche services, like SingingFool, NewsLook, and uStudio.)