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Sony BDP-S5100 3D Blu-ray Disc Player with Super Wi-Fi review: Sony's Blu-ray player is one of the best

The Sony BDP-S5100 3D Blu-ray Disc Player with Super Wi-Fi offers a wealth of services and very good image quality for the money.

Ty_Pendlebury.jpg
Ty Pendlebury
Ty_Pendlebury.jpg
Ty Pendlebury Editor

Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.

6 min read

While not the last disc format that will ever be made -- 4K Blu-ray is almost here -- the humble 1080p Blu-ray is probably the last you'll actually need. Now is a good time to buy a player if you don't already have one: the hardware is cheap and retailers practically give away movies older than six months. A good Blu-ray player costs only a little more than an Apple TV these days and being able to play discs is a definite plus if you still have a large media collection.

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7.4

Sony BDP-S5100 3D Blu-ray Disc Player with Super Wi-Fi

The Good

The <b>Sony BDP-S5100 3D Blu-ray Disc Player with Super Wi-Fi</b> is a compact powerhouse with a wide variety of streaming services; image quality is mostly excellent, even with streaming content; good upscaling of DVDs.

The Bad

The disk drawer seems flimsy; DLNA streaming isn't as slick as you get from some competitors; 3:2 pull-down performance isn't as smooth as on the Panasonic BDT230; Super Wi-Fi didn't provide better streaming in our tests; no analog outputs.

The Bottom Line

The Sony BDP-S5100 Blu-ray player offers a wealth of services and very good image quality for the money.

Sony's BDP-S5100 offers high-quality disc playback in addition to excellent streaming via a decent selection of apps, including Netflix, Amazon Instant, and Pandora. Its DLNA implementation is less impressive -- no DivX for example -- so it's not a great choice for people who download lots of content. But with a good price and an easy-to-use interface, this is one of the best players in an increasingly shrinking market.

Design
Last year Sony premiered a trapezoidal look to its Blu-ray players that is now used by both Sony and Panasonic. The geometry doesn't end with the front of the player, as the top has a gemlike plastic cover that looks unusual and makes it tough to stack other components on the player. Of course, it means you also still have access to the top-mounted playback controls, which are, thankfully, hard buttons and not the capacitive controls of the previous model. Touch-sensitive buttons might look cool, but they are easily activated by accident.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The BDP-S5100 is small for a Blu-ray player at only 14.1 inches wide, 1.69 inches high, and a shallow 7.8 inches deep. No more drop-down panel for the current crop of media devices, and the Sony just features a simple door. However, the disc drive door is flimsy and held on by what might as well be bent paper clips. Considering this is one of the only two things you'll touch on a regular basis -- the disc tray and the eject button -- the poor build quality here is disappointing.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Sony has clung to its XMB interface for use on most of its gadgets since the release of the PlayStation 3 in 2006, and only this year did the company swap to vertically scrolling menus for its TVs. Sony keeps the flame flickering though in the BDP-S5100 with the XMB (XrossMediaBar). It mimics the look of previous Blu-ray players with a horizontal menu and vertically assorted apps. If you've used a PS3 before you'll know whether or not this is your cup of tea.

The remote control is compact and has most of the shortcuts you need, including a dedicated Netflix button. It's pretty easy to use, though it's not backlit, and the "display" button is a little hard to find.

Features
Though many Blu-ray players, including this Sony, support 3D playback, it's no longer a major marketing point. Instead, Sony is highlighting the player's networking capabilities with a feature it calls "Super Wi-Fi," which supposedly offers a "stronger, faster wireless connection." Curiously, it's not affiliated with the forthcoming wireless standard of the same name.

The video-streaming services on offer here are quite broad, with Netflix, Amazon Instant, Hulu Plus and Vudu all accounted for. Audio is a little more restricted with just Pandora, Slacker, and TuneIn (Internet radio), and Sony's own SEN.

Sarah Tew/CNET

In the past year, the number of processors in a home theater gadget has become important for marketers, and if you're one of the few people taking notice, the BDP-S5100 has a dual-core processor. While this will probably have little effect on playback, you may expect faster loading times for discs and streaming services, plus faster animations in the operating system.

If you're still in possession of a CRT television or a flat-screen older than six years then a 2013 Blu-ray player is not for you. Most players have now jettisoned analog outputs, opting for digital-only ports. On the rear of the device you'll find a 3D-compliant HDMI port, and optical digital, USB, and Ethernet ports.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The player is DLNA-compliant and supports most formats but importantly not DivX. If you're a fan of SACD, the 5100 will output DSD natively via the HDMI output. Unfortunately, it isn't able to play back DSD downloads, despite Sony's newfound enthusiasm for the DSD format.

Screenshot by Ty Pendlebury/CNET

The player has an onboard browser that is controlled via the remote (yech!) or with the TV SideView app (above). Sadly, the browser doesn't support Flash.

Performance
For the last few years even the cheapest Blu-ray players have had high-level playback capability and there has been little to separate many of them. The Sony performs similarly to its competitors in both synthetic and real-world tests. Only in the film tests in our synthetic HQV test suite did it suffer from any aberrations. The test consists of a slow pan past a football stadium and in both the 2:2 and 3:2 pull-down sections the Sony exhibited more moire than the Panasonic DMP-BDT230, and a little bit of judder in the 3:2 pull-down test. While there was some processing happening neither test could be considered smooth, so it had to be marked as a fail.

While the Panasonic did have a strange problem with one of the Chroma patterns in which it initially failed but on restart it worked, the Sony passed the first time. In real terms this means the Sony is unlikely to exhibit combing on red colors during playback, but this is more a problem for analog connections -- something this player doesn't have anyway.

But those minor failures on synthetic tests just didn't show up much when we looked at actual program material. While there was some "shimmering" in the horizontal lines that form the stairs in the cocktail party scene from "Mission: Impossible 3," the image held and didn't revert to moire. DVD upconversion was also a highlight, with no issues in the "Star Trek: Insurrection" opening scene. The camera moves around a rural setting and on inferior players the images can revert to moire as well, but not here.

Getting back to the aforementioned "Super Wi-Fi": is there anything to it beyond the gimmicky name? I tested it against the Panasonic and found that they were about as super as each other -- "super friends" if you will. I tested the players in a couple of different network environments and found that the wired and wireless connections operated at very similar speed, just managing Netflix's recommended 7Mbps for HD content on the browser-based speed test SpeedOf.Me.

By comparison our wired Panasonic VT60 TV got an average of 19Mbps on the same broadband connection. The reason for the discrepancy could be down to the difference in the implementation of the onboard browsers and the amount of bandwidth the device assigns them. Switching to more real-world tests, the image quality of the Sony BDP-S5100 was perfectly acceptable on our "Lost" TV show test, with no sign of MPEG blocking or softness.

The DLNA client on the Sony isn't great for playing music thanks to its lack of playlist capabilities -- you can only play one thing at a time with no browsing in between. For example, if you are playing an album, hitting the back key to browse your collection immediately stops what's playing -- annoying. The lack of DivX may also be a limiting factor for people with large video collections.

Conclusion
While there is very little to differentiate most Blu-ray players, there were some subtle differences between the Panasonic and Sony players. For me, the reason to buy the S5100 is that the user interface is easier to use and there are no ads. While the Sony doesn't offer the ultimate in picture or build quality, it's a solid all-rounder and arguably a better deal than a Roku 3 if you still depend on disc playback.

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7.4

Sony BDP-S5100 3D Blu-ray Disc Player with Super Wi-Fi

Score Breakdown

Design 7Ecosystem 7Features 7Performance 7Value 8
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