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Sony BDP-S590 review: Sony BDP-S590

Sony BDP-S590

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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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7 min read

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 BDP-S590
7.3

Sony BDP-S590

The Good

The <b>Sony BDP-S590</b> has built-in Wi-Fi, 3D compatibility, and an ample suite of streaming-media services, including Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant, Pandora, and Vudu. It's also the sleekest Blu-ray player I've seen this year, with a well-designed remote that includes a dedicated Netflix button. The BDP-S590 is also one of the better players for playing back digital media files like MKV, DivX, and Xvid.

The Bad

Sony's user interface isn't as intuitive as those from some competitors, especially the interfaces for Amazon Instant and Hulu Plus. It's also relatively slow at loading discs, taking almost twice as long as some competitors.

The Bottom Line

The Sony BDP-S590 is a great-looking Blu-ray player with built-in Wi-Fi, 3D compatibility, and tons of streaming-media apps, but it's slow to load discs and has some user interface quirks.

Its flaws only become apparent after you move past its fancy looks and spec sheet. It's relatively slow to load discs (sometimes nearly twice as slow as competitors) and its user interface still lags behind the competition, especially for Amazon Instant and Hulu Plus. On the other hand, it is better than most players at playing back digital video files, like MKV and DivX. The Sony BDP-S590 wouldn't be my first choice for a Blu-ray player (that would be the Panasonic DMP-BDT220), but it definitely has its charms, especially its sleek look and its facility with digital video files.

Design: Finally, a handsome Blu-ray player
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. There's a standard disc-tray on the left, with the front-panel display, buttons, and USB port on the right. If you care about how your Blu-ray player looks in your home theater cabinet, the BDP-S590 is your best bet.

Sony BDP-S590
It's a rarity in 2012: a Blu-ray player that actually looks good.

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.

User interface: A tale of two interfaces
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.

Sony BDP-S590's main user interface
The BDP-S590 uses Sony's traditional XMB-style user interface.

Sony BDP-S590's Netflix interface
Sony's Netflix interface finally looks the same as on other Blu-ray players.

Even with the improvements, though, Sony's Blu-ray interface still feels a step behind competitors. The XMB layout isn't a great choice for organizing all the streaming-video services, which just appear in a long list where you can only view a few options at a time. And while the Netflix interface has been updated, Hulu Plus and Amazon both use Sony-specific layouts that don't maximize screen real estate. That's a shame when Sony's other Blu-ray player, the PS3, has a new, excellent Amazon Instant interface. On the upside, Sony is unique among all Blu-ray players in letting you access most streaming-media services right from the main menu, without needing to access another interface, like Panasonic's Viera Connect or Samsung's Smart Hub.

Sony BDP-S590's Sony Entertainment Network user interface
The Sony Entertainment Network portal gives you a different way to view the streaming-media services.

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.

In the end, the BDP-S590's interface won't bother techies, but it might not be a great choice for the less technically inclined. And if you're considering the BDP-S590 because you want Amazon Instant or Hulu Plus access, I'd definitely consider a competitor with a better interface.

Features: Loaded with apps
The Sony BDP-S590 has all of the major features covered: built-in Wi-Fi, 3D Blu-ray support, and a full suite of streaming-media services.

Sony BDP-S590's streaming-media services

Sony's selection of apps is but there are some surprising omissions. On the video side, the BDP-S590 has all of the major services, including Amazon Instant and Hulu Plus, but surprisingly there's no MLB.TV support, which is available on all of its major competitors. Similarly, while there's support for Pandora, Slacker, and Facebook, it's missing an Internet radio app (like vTuner) or a photo-sharing app like Picasa or Flickr. On the flipside, 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.)

Sony BDP-S590 back panel
Sony offers more ports than most, including both optical and coaxial digital audio outputs.

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 drive hanging off the front of your player.

The BDP-S590 can play back a variety of digital media files over its USB port and over your home network using DLNA. I tested a mishmash of digital video and audio files, with surprisingly positive results. MKV, DivX, and Xvid files played back perfectly, and were surprisingly quick to load. A ripped DVD (from TS video and audio folders, doesn't work with ISO) did play, although there was a very noticeable skip when going from one TS file to the next.

On the other hand, it's only a barebones digital music player, without cover art or browsing options beyond your own folder structure. I generally consider Blu-ray players to be mediocre local-media streamers at best, so if you're a heavy torrenter or digital music streamer, you're better off with a more specialized device. But the BDP-S590 handled digital video files surprisingly well, so it's worth weighing that as a factor if you're choosing between two competing players.

Sony BDP-S590's web browser
This is what Yahoo.com looks like on the BDP-S590's Web browser. You'll never use it.

Rounding out the features list is 2D-to-3D conversion, but I've never seen that functionality work well, so I wouldn't put much stock in it. There's no onboard memory, but most manufacturers are omitting that feature, too. That's fine by me, as it was only needed for the (nearly useless) BD-Java features. There's also a Web browser; it's so slow and pages render so poorly that you'll never use it.

Performance: On the slow side
Performance may be the most important criteria for HDTVs and speakers, but it's almost irrelevant when it comes to choosing a Blu-ray player. Last year, we found that all major manufacturers' Blu-ray players had nearly identical image quality.

I still put the BDP-S590 through its paces to check Blu-ray image quality, DVD image quality, disc-loading speed, and Netflix image quality. Blu-ray and DVD image quality were unsurprisingly excellent, as you'll find on any modern Blu-ray player. Netflix streaming quality was also great, looking as good with HD content as any other player.

The BDP-S590 (like all recent Blu-ray players) loads movies considerably faster than the Sony PlayStation 3, but it's somewhat slower than other 2012 standalone Blu-ray players. That's largely because of its lousy disc-loading speeds, taking nearly twice as long to load a movie with a simple menu, like "M:I:III." The BDP-S590 is relatively speedy with loading Netflix and general navigation tasks, but if you plan on watching a lot of Blu-ray movies, you'll need some patience.

If you want all the testing details, check out CNET's 2012 comprehensive Blu-ray chart, but the main takeaway is that Blu-ray player performance just isn't that important as a distinguishing feature. You're better off picking a player based on which model has the features you want and is easiest to use.

What about Sony's other Blu-ray players?
The BDP-S590 is the midrange model in Sony's lineup, but the company also offers two other models this year.

BDP-S390 ($130 list): Wi-Fi + streaming apps
BDP-S590 ($150 list): Wi-Fi + streaming apps + 3D (reviewed here)
BDP-S790 ($250 list): Wi-Fi + streaming apps + 3D + dual HDMI outputs + 4K upscaling + Skype (with optional camera)

I haven't tested the Sony BDP-S390 yet, but it's likely the better buy overall for most people. For most buyers, who don't have 3DTVs, 3D Blu-rays, or interest in the format, 3D isn't an essential feature. (At the time of publication, you'd save about $11 at Amazon if you opted for the BDP-S390 over the BDP-S590.)

Conclusion: Best-looking Blu-ray player, but not the best
The Sony BDP-S590 is a good all-around Blu-ray player and definitely worth considering if you put high value on aesthetics or the ability to play back digital video files. Otherwise, most buyers should take a long look at my Editors' Choice for Blu-ray players, the Panasonic DMP-BDT220, which has a better user interface and is faster to load movies.

Sony BDP-S590
7.3

Sony BDP-S590

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 7
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