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Sony BDP-N460 review: Sony BDP-N460

Sony BDP-N460

Matthew_Moskovciak.jpg
Matthew Moskovciak
Matthew_Moskovciak.jpg

Matthew Moskovciak

Senior Associate Editor / Reviews - Home theater

Covering home audio and video, Matthew Moskovciak helps CNET readers find the best sights and sounds for their home theaters. E-mail Matthew or follow him on Twitter @cnetmoskovciak.

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10 min read

OVR
7.4

Sony BDP-N460

The Good

Excellent image quality on Blu-ray movies; streams Netflix, Amazon Video On-Demand, YouTube, Slacker, and NPR; relatively inexpensive given its suite of streaming features; Profile 2.0 compatible; onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.

The Bad

No built-in Wi-Fi; lacks onboard storage for BD-Live; no eject button on the remote; many Internet content channels feature outdated content.

The Bottom Line

The Sony BDP-N460's attractive mix of Blu-ray performance, relatively low price, and streaming media options--including Netflix--make it a solid midrange pick, despite some missing features.

Sony may be the "face" of Blu-ray, but the company's standalone Blu-ray players have been a step behind those of Panasonic, LG, and Samsung, which featured extensive streaming media functionality early in 2009. The Sony BDP-N460 is Sony's attempt at catch-up, released just a month before the holiday season and Netflix-enabled a few weeks afterward. Yes, the BDP-N460 is overdue, but it's largely worth the wait, with a suite of streaming services (Netflix, Amazon Video On-Demand, YouTube, Slacker, and NPR) that challenges the media-rich LG BD390 at a substantially lower price. The BDP-N460 can't compete with the BD390 when it comes to hardware features, though; it's missing built-in Wi-Fi, onboard storage, multichannel analog outputs and media streaming over your home network. The PS3 Slim is also available for about a hundred dollars more, which is worth it if you want a high-def gaming console and media streamer. Still, the BDP-N460 offers a compelling combination of streaming functionality and solid Blu-ray playback at a more affordable price, making is a strong choice for buyers on a budget.

Design
The BDP-N460 nearly copies the design of Sony's entry-level BDP-S360. The majority of the front panel is made of glossy black plastic. It has a sleek look, without a visible disc tray and only two buttons on the far right that are slightly raised. The front panel automatically flips down when you hit eject, revealing the disc tray. The "hidden" disc tray helps the BDP-N460 keep a sleek look--and it's less clunky than the Samsung BD-P1600's flipdown design--but we wonder how smoothly the mechanism will work two years down the road.


There's not much on the front panel, except a USB port and a couple playback buttons.

The LCD display is on the small side, although still readable from seven feet back. Thankfully it can be dimmed or turned off completely, although there's no way to dim the light above the Blu-ray logo. The front panel design is rounded out by a handy USB port in the far right bottom corner for quick hookups.


The recessed USB makes it difficult to fit some larger USB thumbdrives.

We usually don't have much to say about the design of a Blu-ray player's back panel, but the BDP-N460's unusual USB port is worth pointing out. The port is recessed into the unit, surrounded by black plastic, and the small opening won't accommodate some of the fatter USB thumbdrives you might have lying around.

The included remote has a great layout and simple design, except it lacks an open/close button for the disc tray. Not having an eject button is a pet peeve of ours, and if you're used to popping open the disc tray before you get off the couch to change discs, you'll find it as frustrating as we did. Of course, you can always opt for a quality universal remote to get around this issue, as the BDP-N460 is capable of receiving an open/close IR command.

User interface and streaming media services
The BDP-N460 uses an XMB-based interface, similar to what's used on the PS3. The main categories are Setup, Photo, Music, Video and Network. It's not completely straightforward; we expected streaming media services to be under Network, for example, but instead they were categorized by their media type. (The Network category apparently is only used to activate some streaming features.) We also would have liked to have seen a simple icon for "Watch Movie" for tech neophytes; instead you have to click on the user-unfriendly phrase "BD-ROM."

We usually don't go into detail on Netflix streaming when we review Blu-ray players, since the interface is usually the same across devices, but Netflix on the BDP-N460 is somewhat different. Instead of large movie covers arranged horizontally, five of which are visible at once, the BDP-N460 displays 18 small movie covers at a time. In most cases this is a plus, as it's easier to quickly cycle through your instant queue, especially if you have a lot of titles in there. On the other hand, sometimes the movie covers are just too small. "Broken Flowers" wasn't legible from our seven foot seating distance on a 50-inch TV--we didn't know what movie it was until the cursor was over it and the movie titled displayed below.

Sony's Netflix interface also handles fast-forward and rewind differently. Other devices typically show still thumbnail images indicating where you are in the movie, but the BDP-N460 just has a scrub bar at the bottom with no thumbnails, which makes it hard to find your favorite scene. We also noticed that the overall streaming video quality seemed to be slightly worse than we're used to seeing. We saw more "jerky" playback than we're used to seeing on other players; normally we find all Netflix-enabled devices have about the same video quality. That being said, it's always difficult to isolate whether the problems are due to network inconsistency or due to the player.

While we don't find most of YouTube's content to be "couch-friendly," it's worth pointing out that YouTube does have some premium movies and TV shows. However, when we streamed "Supersize Me," the image quality left a lot to be desired, even on a documentary where image quality isn't a primary concern. "Wallace & Gromit" looked a little better, but still it's only borderline watchable on a TV-size screen. One big plus is we found that aspect ratio was typically handled correctly, which gives it a leg up over the integrated YouTube service on the competing Panasonic DMP-BD60 and LG BD390.

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.

Features
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.

Blu-ray performance
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
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.

OVR
7.4

Sony BDP-N460

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 8
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