The BDP-S500 is Sony's top-end Blu-ray deck, and is the bigger brother of the BDP-S300. While we were impressed by the S300's picture quality, the lack of key features made the sub-£300 price tag seem like a false economy.
However, the BDP-S500 adds many of these missing features, including Dolby True HD and DTS HD decoding. The external design is also vastly superior to the S300, thanks mainly to the inclusion of a motorised front panel that elegantly glides down when you press open/close. The casing is also bigger, presumably to give all that high-end circuitry inside room to breathe, but despite its chunky dimensions the deck still looks classy in an understated kind of way.
The rear panel is well equipped without going overboard. Video output duties are handled by the HDMI v1.3, component, S-video and composite sockets, though anyone using the composite socket to view hi-def discs needs their head examined. On the audio side you'll find optical and coaxial digital audio outputs and 5.1-channel analogue outputs, which allow those without an HDMI-equipped receiver to enjoy decoded HD audio soundtracks, as well as Dolby Digital and DTS.
But if you've snapped up a receiver with HDMI input and the relevant decoding capabilities, then you can transfer True HD, Dolby Digital Plus and DTS HD bitstreams or up to eight channels of linear PCM via the deck's HDMI output. It doesn't support DTS HD Master Audio however, so audiophiles who want to access these hi-res soundtracks (found mainly on Fox releases) will be left disappointed.
The digital connection also outputs video in resolutions of 720p, 1080i and 1080p, and the player will upscale DVDs to any of these formats. When playing Blu-ray discs encoded in 1080p/24, it will output them in their native frame rate, so if you have a TV with the relevant processing mode then you can view movies in the same way they were shot for the cinema. If not, then the deck also provides 1080p/60 output.