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Sony BDP-S550 review: Sony BDP-S550

Sony BDP-S550

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.

6 min read

Editors' note (March 30, 2009): The rating of this player has been changed since its initial publication to reflect changes in the marketplace.

6.6

Sony BDP-S550

The Good

Excellent image quality on Blu-ray Discs; Profile 2.0 compliant; onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, plus bit-stream output; 7.1 analog-audio outputs; 1GB USB drive included in box.

The Bad

PlayStation 3 may still offer a better value for some buyers; competing players offer more features or lower prices.

The Bottom Line

The Sony BDP-S550 offers excellent image quality and a solid feature set, but only consider it if you need the multichannel analog outputs.

Sony has made standalone Blu-ray players since the format's inception, but they've always been overshadowed by the company's game console, the PlayStation 3. In many ways, the Sony BDP-S550 is the company's first standalone that might be a smarter buy than the PS3 for nongamers. The BDP-S550 is Profile 2.0 compliant, has onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, and it has 7.1 analog outputs for those with older receivers. Not only that, but its image quality compares with other top-tier players and the list price is a reasonable $400. Unlike in the past, you're not sacrificing much in terms of movie watching by going with Sony's standalone instead of its game console.

That being said, we think most buyers will be more interested in the alternatives to the BDP-S550. For example, the Panasonic DMP-BD35 offers most of the same functionality minus the analog outputs for less money, and the Samsung BD-P2550 offers 7.1 outputs, HQV video processing, plus Netflix and Pandora streaming for the same price. If you don't need analog outputs or DTS-HD Master Audio decoding, the entry-level Sony BDP-S350 is a solid choice, too. Finally, anyone interested in high-def gaming would be wise to consider the PS3, which in many ways is still the best Blu-ray player on the market and sells for $400. The BDP-S550 is a very good Blu-ray player with no major flaws--just make sure it offers the right mix of features, performance, and value for your home theater.

Design
The BDP-S550 is a sharp-looking Blu-ray player. Like its entry-level cousin, the BDP-S550 is a few inches shallower than most Blu-ray players on the market, coming in at 8.75 inches deep. From straight-on, the design is pretty basic. In the center of the unit is the disc tray, which is concealed by an automatic flip-down door. Just to the right of the center is the LCD display, which is a little on the small side, and further right are a few playback controls, although no chapter/forward buttons. Two additional buttons--power and disc open/close--are angled on the top of the unit, which makes them a little inconvenient, especially if you have other gear stacked on top of the BDP-S550. We really did appreciate the finish that covers the BDP-S550, which manages to keep a little gloss without looking tacky like many of its competitors.

The included remote is pretty good. The center of it is dominated by a directional pad, which is surrounded by important buttons such as menu, options, and home. Toward the bottom are separate rockers for volume and channel changing, for those who want to use the remote to control their TVs, as well. We generally liked the layout, and there's enough button differentiation to navigate by feel in a darkened home theater.


The USB port is actually built into the unit, which makes it impossible for some USB drives to connect.

Like the BDP-S350, the BDP-S550 has a deeply recessed USB port on the rear of the unit. It's a bit of a design flaw because the opening for the port means that many standard USB drives just won't fit. However, Sony does include a slim 1GB USB drive with the BDP-S550 that fits perfectly, so that deep port shouldn't be a problem.

Features
The BDP-S550 is Profile 2.0 compliant, which means it's capable of accessing Internet-enabled features (often referred to as "BD-Live" features) available on some movies, such as Transformers and Walk Hard. To access the features, you'll need to have the BDP-S550 connected to the Internet via Ethernet and the included USB flash drive inserted. Of course, we'd still prefer these players to have built-in memory, but including a USB drive is a good compromise.


The tiny included USB drive lets you access BD-Live features, if your BDP-S550 is connected via Ethernet.

Soundtrack support is comprehensive on the Sony BDP-S550. It has onboard decoding for all high-resolution soundtrack formats, including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, so you don't need a new receiver to take advantage of the improved audio quality. The player can also output high-resolution soundtracks in bit-stream format, so you can opt to let your AV receiver handle the decoding duties itself. There should be absolutely no sound-quality difference between the receiver decoding the soundtracks or the Blu-ray player doing so--and we've never heard any difference ourselves--but some people just like to see their receiver's "Dolby TrueHD" indicator light up.


The Sony BDP-S550 has every type of jack you need.

Connectivity is excellent on the Sony BDP-S550. The HDMI output is the most important connection, capable of outputting high-def video up to 1080p resolution, as well as high-resolution multichannel audio. There's also a component-video output, which can output Blu-ray Discs at 1080i and DVDs at 480p, along with legacy composite-video and S-Video connections. Audio connections also include both optical and coaxial digital-audio outputs, and those with older receivers will also be pleased to see 7.1 analog-audio outputs. There's also an Ethernet port in the back (but no Wi-Fi), which can be used for firmware updates and downloading content for BD-Live-enabled Discs.

Blu-ray performance
For our Blu-ray tests, we compared the BDP-S550 to several standalone Blu-ray players, including the Samsung BD-P2550 and Panasonic DMP-BD35. We started off by looking at test patterns from Silicon Optix's HQV test suite, with each player connected to the Samsung PN50A650.

First we looked at the Film Resolution Loss Test, and the BDP-S550 handled the shifting test pattern perfectly, showing all the detail without any image instability. It also did a good job on the second part of the test, showing no moire as the camera slowly pans across the empty Raymond James Stadium. Next up were a few video-based test patterns, which we consider less important because few Blu-ray Discs are video-based. While the BDP-S550 showed all the detail on the Video Resolution Loss Test, there was a strobe-like flickering in the most detailed part of the test pattern. It did better, however, on the next two jaggies tests, clearly rendering both a rotating white line and three shifting lines.

Next, we looked at some actual program material, and we started with a few discs we know often give Blu-ray players problems. First up was the beginning of chapter 8 from Mission Impossible: III and the BDP-S550 looked great, with the stairs in the background free from the moire that we often see on lesser players. Chapter 16 also looked good; the trimming on the limo was jaggy-free as it approaches Tom Cruise. We switched over to Ghost Rider and the BDP-S550 continued to perform strongly; the grille of the RV was smoothly rendered as the camera panned away at the very end of chapter 6. We also looked at Tony Bennett: An American Classic--which is video-based and mastered at 1080i--and the BDP-S550 again proved its mettle, performing as well as the DMP-BD35, PS3, and Samsung BD-P2550. Overall, the BDP-S550 has excellent image quality, comparable with other top performers.

We also tested disc-loading speed and the BDP-S550 had average performance. Mission Impossible: III loaded in 25 seconds with the player on, and in 34 seconds with the player off, which is a little bit slower than the DMP-BD55. Movies with BD-Java menus took considerably longer, with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest loading in one minute and 50 seconds, and Spiderman 3 loading in 1 minute and 40 seconds.

DVD performance
Home theater fans still have sizable DVD collections, so we put the BDP-S550 through our DVD testing suite. First up was Silicon Optix's HQV test disc on DVD.

On a resolution test pattern, the BDP-S550 displayed the full resolution DVD is capable of, although we did see some image instability in parts of the picture. Next up were a couple jaggies tests and the Sony passed them with ease, with very few jaggies on both a rotating white line and three shifting lines. The BD-PS550 also handled the difficult 2:3 pulldown test; there was no moire in the grandstands as the race car drove by. Finally, CNN-like scrolling text was jaggy-free, along with vertically scrolling credits. Overall the BDP-S500 performed well with test patterns.

We also looked at the some program material. We started with the introduction to Star Trek: Insurrection, and the BDP-S550 showed off its 2:3 pulldown prowess by smoothly rendering the curved lines of the bridge railings and boat hulls. We switched over to Seabiscuit, and the BDP-S550 held its own again, showing relatively few jaggies on the difficult opening sequence. We were able to flip back and forth between the Samsung BD-P2550 to get a direct comparison and while we generally favored the image quality of the BD-P2550, only videophiles will notice the minor differences.

6.6

Sony BDP-S550

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 7
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