Using the BDP-S790 is a generally pleasant experience. The onscreen menu uses the Xross Media Bar layout (with intersecting axes) that Sony’s been using for years now and it’s as slick as ever, smoothly scrolling from option to option. Each app has its own thumbnail logo, which looks stylish.
The only downside is that the menu’s vertical bar is starting to creak under the weight of all the apps Sony has to offer, taking a good few seconds to scroll to the bottom of the video list. You could access them through the SEN instead but this takes longer to load up.
There are search tools, a Network section and a comprehensive settings menu where you can tweak all the key parameters. During playback the Options menu slides in from the right hand side of the screen and grants you quick access to key settings (which change according to what you’re playing) as well as info about the disc being played.
Here you’ll find a range of video presets – Direct, Brighter Room, Theatre Room, Auto – and two Custom modes that let you adjust the picture manually and save your settings (helpfully while the movie plays). Having two settings is ideal because you can configure one for daytime and one for night, for example. The adjustments on offer include contrast, brightness, colour and hue, plus noise reduction, Clear Black (which enhances dark areas of the picture), Contrast Remaster, Super Resolution (detail improvement), Texture Remaster (edge sharpener) and Smoothing, which sorts out colour banding.
The remote has been thoughtfully laid out, with a ring of frequently-used buttons surrounding the direction pad in the centre. Elsewhere the rubber buttons are satisfyingly clicky and clearly labelled, plus the layout isn’t cluttered in the slightest.
Like any player worth its salt these days, the S790 can be controlled over a network with an iOS or Android smartphone or tablet running Sony’s Media Remote app. As well as controlling the deck’s basic functions, the app also turns your device into a mouse for the web browser (which is recommended as it’s a pain to use with the other remote). You can swipe between menus, access info about the disc being played and even ‘throw’ web pages from your phone to your TV.
So the S790 is packed with features and easy to use, but how are its pictures? In a word, superb. Challenging Blu-ray discs like The Dark Knight Rises look fantastic, with lustrous contrast, deep blacks and expertly resolved shadow detail. That allows scenes like Batman’s run-in with Bane in the murky sewers look clear and sharp.
Outdoor scenes are dazzling. The aerial show-off shots of ‘Gotham’ are blessed with pin-sharp detail, cleanly defined edges and colours that look rich and natural. The Sony tracks movement smoothly and there are no artefacts whatsoever, including colour banding within large patches of colour. This results in smooth, gradual shading that reinforces the believability of the image.
Switch up to 3D and the BDP-S790 continues to impress, turning in a thoroughly absorbing performance with our trusty Avatar 3D disc. The jungle shots have a convincing sense of depth and distance, colours explode from the screen and detail remains emphatically sharp at all times – even when hordes of Na’vi are charging into battle.
Sadly we couldn’t test the deck’s 4K upscaling but it does a terrific job of converting DVDs to 1080p, with minimal noise and jaggies. Web content from the likes of BBC iPlayer and Demand 5 looks great if you accept a bit of gauziness as being par for the course when streaming web video.
It’s also a solid music player, particularly when spinning an SACD, with tight rhythms, lots of detail and smoothness across the spectrum. It lacks the panache of a dedicated CD player but that’s only to be expected from a deck designed to put pictures first.
Quite simply, the BDP-S790 is a brilliant Blu-ray player. Its top-drawer feature list (headlined by Sony’s generous range of internet apps and futureproofed 4K upscaling), its slim, living room friendly design and nigh-on flawless pictures make this one of the best Blu-ray players around, if not the cheapest.