The BDP-S4500 is third in Sony’s Blu-ray player pecking order behind the top-end BDP-S6500 and BDP-S5500, the latter earning glowing praise in our recent review. It lacks the headline features found on the top two models, such as Wi-Fi, 4K upscaling and screen mirroring, but that’s reflected in the deck’s tempting £85 price tag – a good way of saving cash if you don’t need these fancy features.
The BDP-S4500 shares the same understated design as the BDP-S5500. Sony has eschewed the angular ‘Sense of Quartz’ look from last year for a simpler black box affair, jazzed up by a mosaic of glossy, hairline and matte panels. It’s a basic look but works well, although inevitably the bodywork has the light, plasticky feel common among budget decks.
Like most budget players at this price the BDP-S4500 is remarkably compact, measuring just 230mm wide. The thinking here is that decks like these don’t necessarily reside in a living room AV rack – many people plonk them in bedrooms or playrooms where space is tight (plus it cuts down on packaging costs).
There’s more evidence of the deck’s affordable approach on the back with a limited range of connections – HDMI output, coaxial output and Ethernet.
The lack of built-in Wi-Fi means you’ll need to connect the Sony directly to your router (or Homeplug adapter) via LAN cable to take advantage of internet content and DLNA file streaming – quite an imposition when you’ve grown used to the convenience of a wireless connection. Other similarly-priced players like the Samsung BD-J5900 and LG BP550 offer built-in Wi-Fi.
Wi-Fi aside there’s a decent amount of features for the money, including a generous range of internet apps courtesy of Opera. You’ll find big-name services like BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Demand 5, BBC News, Sky News and YouTube, plus around thirty more. You don’t get ITV Player, All 4, Now TV or Spotify but even without them there’s plenty to get your teeth into.
With the deck rigged up to your router, you can also stream music, videos and photos from devices on your home network. Impressively, the deck will stream hi-res FLAC files over a network with no trouble – one of the benefits of connecting via Ethernet – as well as MP3, WMA and AAC. On the video side we were able to stream MKV, AVI, XviD, WMV and AVCHD. Supported files can also be played from flash drives connected to the front USB port.
Elsewhere the Sony supports 3D Blu-ray and Sony’s Triluminos colour boosting feature. There’s a built-in web browser too, but inevitably at this price you miss out on 4K upscaling and screen mirroring.
Select Quick Start mode in the setup menu and the deck boots up in less than a second. It consumes more power in standby than usual, but it’s a godsend if you hate delays. Operation is fast and intuitive too, making it one of the slickest and simplest Blu-ray players around.
The deck is also speedy when it comes to disc loading. Both The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Terminator Salvation took 30 seconds to start playing from an open tray, while The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies took 25 seconds.
As we discovered in our review of the BDP-S5500, Sony has introduced a terrific new onscreen interface that replaces the brilliant but dated Xross Media Bar. This is a brighter, friendlier home screen, using large square tiles and colourful logos.
The tiles are split into two sections – Featured Apps and My Apps. The latter puts all your favourite content within easy reach, including access to Media Servers, USB drives and Blu-ray discs. Adding apps is easy – just select the ‘+’ icon to bring up the full list and select the ones you want. To delete them, press the Options button and use the sidebar menu to remove the selected tile.
At the top of the screen are two options – All Apps (which displays the full range of web content) and Setup. Both of these menus are clearly laid out and easy to follow. The DLNA and USB playback menus hark back to the Xross Media Bar with folders and files arranged in columns. During playback, available metadata is laid over a jazzy backdrop, but there’s no cover art.
You can drag operation into the 21st century with Sony’s TV Side View smartphone app, which lets you control the player and view information about the content you’re watching. There’s YouTube and DLNA access, plus a TV EPG to peruse. It’s smartly presented and easy to use.
Luddites can stick with the stumpy physical remote, which sports tactile rubber buttons and a sensible layout. Backlighting is wishful thinking at this price but at least Sony has segregated and labelled the buttons clearly. A Netflix button is provided for those who simply don’t have time to navigate through the main menu.
Whether you’re watching a Blu-ray in 2D or 3D, the BDP-S4500 delivers excellent HD picture quality. It renders the intricate CG detail of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies with staggering depth and clarity, making the vivid scenery, characters and costumes punch from the screen.
Close ups of Erebor’s great stone statues are packed with texture and shading. When the great battle kicks off, the densely-packed groups of dwarves, elves and orcs look staggeringly crisp. It’s easy to pick out individual figures running about during Jackson’s trademark camera swoops.
This razor-sharp detail is backed up by subtle, natural colour reproduction. Pale skin tones look utterly convincing while the muted browns and greens bring a suitably earthy, organic quality to the New Zealand countryside.
Deep blacks and well-judged contrast lend satisfying solidity and cinematic lustre to the Sony’s pictures at all times. If the deck’s default balance doesn’t quite hit the spot, you can select one of two picture presets to account for differing amounts of ambient light – Brighter Room and Theatre Room – but we stuck with the Standard setting.
Upscaled DVD pictures are as good as we’d expect from a £85 player – solid, detailed and vibrant enough for enjoyable day-to-day viewing but with more mosquito noise and jaggies than you’d get from a high-end player.
The BDP-S4500 is an impressive Blu-ray deck in many respects, but it’s hard to recommend when the step-up BDP-S5500 is available for a mere £14 more and throws Super Wi-Fi and screen mirroring into the bargain. Similarly priced players like the Samsung BD-J5900 and LG BP550 also offer built-in Wi-Fi (the LG even gets you Now TV and Spotify access).
But if you have no need for Wi-Fi and want to save a few quid, then the BDP-S4500 is a terrific disc spinner. Its attractive new interface, fast operation, compact design and razor-sharp pictures are worth £85 of anyone’s hard-earned, but fans of smart content and file streaming should look elsewhere.
The BDP-S4500 is a decent budget deck with a slick operating system and superb pictures, but the lack of Wi-Fi leaves it lagging behind similarly priced rivals.