The Sony BDP-S5000ES is a premium Blu-ray player, which features impressive build quality and audio performance, but if video is what you crave there are cheaper options.
It took a while, but the Blu-ray market is starting to now resemble the DVD player market in that there are now players at both the budget and premium ends of the spectrum. With models like the BDP-S350 and now the S5000ES, Sony has both sides covered. But with Blu-ray players so cheap, is there any need for an AU$1700 player?
If there's one constant in hi-fi, it's that "heavy" equals "awesome". And in this way, the S5000ES rivals most receivers by weighing in at a hefty 10.2kg. To give you an idea, this is twice as heavy as the PlayStation 3. But weight is nothing without mind-boggling size, and there the Sony also struggles to wriggle into the space that a full-blown receiver would occupy.
It unmistakably has the Sony look, with the scalloped front and subtle brushed aluminium, but infinitely more attractive than the shiny plastic baubles that the company has produced in the past. One glance tells you this component means business. There are a minimum of controls on the face of the unit, which is in keeping with the stark aesthetics, but we would have liked Fast Forward/Rewind and Menu buttons for the times when we are sitting in front of the player and don't want to excavate the couch for the remote.
The only vague disappointment for such a luxury machine is the bog-standard Sony remote. That's not to say it's not easy to use, because it is, but we'd like to see the company try something different.
Specs-wise, the S5000ES is up-to-date with both decoding and pass-through for all of the HD audio standards including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, and support for the final "final" Blu-ray standard: BD-Live. To assist with the last component the player comes with a 1GB Micro Vault, which lives in the little USB port in the back. Unfortunately, the port can't be used for anything else apart from storing BD-Live data, which is a shame as the machine can read MP3s and photos. And no, despite the fact that the player also has an Ethernet port, the only way you can consume these media types is via a burnt CD/DVD. What a missed trick! Especially when many Bravias are now DLNA compatible.
The player features a number of optional image processing features in this machine over its budget models: the first is called the "HD Reality Enhancer", and the second is "Super Bit Mapping". The HD Reality Enhancer works over and above the usual noise reduction options (it's also made available on the S5000ES) by adding "Enhance" which offers edge enhancement, "Smoothing" which "smooths gradation on flat parts of the picture", and "FGR" which reduces film grain. This last part seems to be a duplication of the Mosquito Noise Reduction (MNR), which is also about reducing grain in the picture.
Connectivity is in keeping with a device of this type with an HDMI port, a component output, composite, and the endangered S-Video offered on the vision side. For audio, the Sony offers a choice of optical and coaxial digital, in addition to a 7.1 analog output (handy for users of older receivers — especially as we found the on-board DAC to be of a high quality) and a stereo output.
The BDP-S5000ES features a "fast mode", which can increase the start-up time on some discs — the trade-off being that power consumption increases, and the fan remains running. However, we never had any problems with noise when the player was on, off or in "fast mode".
Looking at the "playable media" column we're going to presume that Sony has given up on SACD — at least in this country. If it's not on its premium disc player then the format probably won't be coming back. In fact, we had a look through Sony's current Australian catalogue and there is only a single CD/SACD multi-disc player left on its books.
There are two reasons you'd buy a player like this: a) you'd like better video quality and b) you'd like your movies and music to sound better too. Our current favourite movie spinner, the PlayStation 3 is a top-notch video player, but not the first thing we'd turn to for listening to music on. Can the BDPS5000ES do both things well?
No matter what you think of 10,000 BC, it is a gorgeous-looking movie, and on the S5000ES it is simply stunning. Edges are sharp, colours eye popping, and the contrast greater than the pyramids themselves. Movement was also well-handled with no unwanted artefacts, and a lack of banding in areas of colour in our King Kong DVD. The Matrix on DVD also looked magnificent, and was able to paint the green hue of the Matrix world with subtlety and not the poster-paint palette of most players.
The Sony performed well in our synthetic tests — only faltering in the mosquito noise test. This tendency also showed itself during the Mission Impossible 3 Blu-ray disc, where in some instances the player was only able to uncover extra layers of noise instead of detail. But this is a notoriously grainy transfer. We're not big fans of extraneous noise reduction functions like HD Reality Enhancer as, like the 100Hz features, they can sometimes create more problems than they fix. Though we didn't specifically test it, the HD Reality Enhancer and MNR may have fixed some of the mosquito noise.
Personally, we don't subscribe to the theory that "all HD decoders sound the same". We think that you can hear a difference between letting your Blu-ray player decode a Dolby TrueHD stream and the receiver, and that a better quality Digital-Analog Converter (DAC) will naturally do a better job. Sure, there's a lot more information in a HD stream than a normal Dolby one, but shouldn't this mean that it's more complicated to decode and therefore easier to mess up? To this end we definitely heard a difference between the on-board DAC of the Sony BDP-S5000ES and that of its stablemate, the STRDA5400ES receiver. With a movie like Spider-Man 3 in the tray we found that S5000ES was better at integrating the rear channels into the soundfield than the receiver. On the other hand, the STRDA5400ES had a more forceful sound, and the streetscape chase sequence had more impact and force via the receiver. The final explosion that fells the Green Goblin was more visceral as a result. Which one was "better" is a matter of preference, though we did like the subtlety of the Blu-ray player's sound.
When we reviewed the STRDA5400ES receiver, it impressed us with its abilities as a stereo amplifier. Imagine our joy, then, when we found that this Blu-ray player was even better with music! With the Nick Cave classic Red Right Hand on rotation we found it had a more propulsive bass line and a better stereo spread than the STRDA5400ES. It was more atmospheric and symphonic — completely appropriate given the majestic sweep of the material. The difference in sound wasn't as marked with something more intimate, and Ben Harper's Widow of a Living Man was only marginally better resolved.
One of the tests we perform when examining a new Blu-ray player is how quickly it can load discs — particularly today's multimedia-intensive ones. We were interested in testing the player with the fast mode on and off, and funnily enough there wasn't much difference. Loading the Java-heavy Vantage Point, we found the Sony managed a decent one minute 13 seconds. With fast mode disabled, the Sony still beat the slowcoach Pioneer LX71 by almost 30 seconds with a score of one minute 26 seconds.
On one final note, we did have some problems with the player refusing to playback a Blu-ray disc with a couple of fingerprints on it. We removed them and all was fine, but we wonder if the player would have problems with damaged discs.
All in all, we like the Sony BDP-S5000ES quite a lot. It's classy to look at, use and watch. While it may miss the big features like network streaming, it does have some little touches that make you think "hmm, that's cool". Such as when you press stop it fades the picture out to the Home menu instead of being jarring. And depending on how much development time the company put in the player, it is also able to be updated and improved upon thanks to that little Ethernet port.