Given the commotion of the past week -- what with Warner effectivelyand all -- it's probably time to consider buying a Blu-ray player. Sony has perhaps the largest selection of players, and the BDPS500B is its new "high end" model.
Not content with the current fad of piano black fascias, Sony has gone one better and released one which could only called "piano blue". The front panel is controlled by a button on top of the player, and it slides down to reveal transport buttons and the disk tray. It's all fairly dignified, even if it does ape the construction of the Panasonic DMP-BD10.
Build quality is fairly sturdy as you'd expect, and for the audiophiles amongst you the audio terminals are gold plated for better electrical transfer. As you'd expect these incorporate component, HDMI, composite, 5.1 analogue, and a stereo out.
The remote is also one of the better ones we've seen from the company -- it's solid, logically laid out, and stylish with the direction pad mimicking the player's fascia.
The S500 is part of a new generation of players featuring a native HD audio output -- which can be decoded by a compatible receiver. Though it lacks full DTS compatibility (the best it can muster is DTS-HD High Resolution and not Master Audio) it will output Dolby TrueHD. If you have a device such as the Onkyo TX-SR605 or Sony's own DA5300ES then you can potentially experience sound which betters that of your local cinema.
One feature that perplexed us by its absence was the lack of SACD playback. Sure, for 95 per cent of people this isn't an essential option, but for Sony to jettison the format it created -- on its premium player -- is a concern. Has Sony given up on SACD? Perhaps it wants to concentrate on a Blu-ray Disc Audio format?
Though seemingly less important due to the rise of the iPod, the ability for a disk-player to be a creditable CD spinner is still an important consideration. We put Nick Cave's gorgeously produced Red Right Hand through its paces and found the Sony had a good ear for the Seeds' gothic pop. Stereo focus was excellent, and all but the bass was meticulously controlled -- the low end did show a propensity to be a little bloomy.
But what this Blu-ray player does best should be play Blu-rays right? We took advantage of the S500's ability to output a Dolby True HD stream, and when we plonked Spiderman 3 on the tray we found the audio to be revelatory. Feeding the native signal straight into thereceiver we were greeted with one of the most seamless surround experiences we'd ever had. When Spidey swung across the New York skyscape the effects moved smoothly between the front and rear speakers with a tight focus. Switching to the onboard decoder wasn't as effective, but it was still able to generate a genuinely exciting cinema experience.
It was disappointing to note, then, that the player's Blu-ray performance wasn't even a match for the PlayStation 3's. While the machine did a creditable job of replaying DVDs and removing noise from our King Kong test disk, it also did this at the expense of some detail.
But it was in the replay of HD disks where the problems started. Though colour saturation and black levels were excellent for a player at this price, there was a distinct tendency for noise. Mission Impossible III has some fairly grainy sequences, and the "exploding bridge" scene is one of the most testing for any player. Unfortunately, the Sony was unable to distinguish between digital noise and film grain, which made for a relatively chaotic picture.
With the price of theseemingly stuck at AU$1399, the Sony BDPS500B is now one of the cheapest premium HD players available. It boasts a sturdy build and features you won't see on other players. Sound is fantastic, and DVDs are great, but it's a pity Blu-ray performance isn't up to snuff. We'd opt for the instead.