That said, this disc does take a while to load, but once it does it's most definitely worth the wait. The S500's picture quality is phenomenal, delivering some of the most pristine 1080p/24 images we've laid eyes on. When spinning Spider-Man 3, the deck's picture prowess is evident right from the first few frames - the deep blacks, vivid colour reproduction and ultra-sharp detail handling give the image an irresistible three-dimensionality that draws you right into the action. Outdoor scenes look the best, particularly the broad daylight battle between Sandman and Spider-Man through the streets of New York. And during the scene in which Flint Marko first forms into Sandman, the sweeping grains of sand are so flawlessly reproduced that it emphasises just how unconvincing those CGI effects really are.
These magnificent pictures are accompanied by barnstorming audio playback. We delved into the uncompressed PCM 5.1 soundtrack on the Spider-Man 3 disc from the 5.1-channel analogue outputs and marvelled in the crisply voiced rear effects, strident dialogue reproduction and foundation-rumbling bass level. We can't fault the quality of CD playback either, which sounds slick and well-balanced - though the presence of 5.1-analogue output only serves to remind us how sweet SACD playback would have been.
The BDP-S500 is an exceptionally talented Blu-ray player, delivering the sort of gob-smacking picture and sound quality that movie buffs go nuts for. And barring the disappointing omission of DTS HD Master Audio support and SACD playback, the feature list is pretty good as Profile 1.0 players go.
But that last line is the big problem. There's no escaping the fact that this player will be outdated within months, unable to play the interactive Blu-ray features found on Profile 1.1 compliant discs. The sensible thing would be to wait for the next generation of players to come through or opt for a PS3, but if patience isn't one of your virtues, or you simply don't care about interactive extras, then you could do a lot worse than the BDP-S500.