It's not often that a Blu-ray player stands out from the competition solely on appearances, but that’s certainly the case with the Sony BDP-S5100. It's has a unique design that demands to be on show and not tucked away in a television cabinet. However, underneath the gorgeous exterior are plenty of features that make it more than just a pretty face.
The sharp, angular pattern that decorates the top of the player uses triangles to catch the light, and the tinted glossy finish is very pretty. Apart from the four buttons on the right-hand side, which let you eject, play discs, stop discs or power off the player, there's nothing to detract from the design. At the front, the mirror-finish hides a single-line LCD display that sits to right of the mechanical disc tray.
The back is similarly clean, with just a few connection ports. There's a HDMI port, a coaxial audio output, a Fast Ethernet port and a single USB port, but not much else. There's another USB port at the front of the player, too, which is hidden beneath a plastic flap. Wi-Fi is built into the BDP-S5100, so you shouldn’t have a problem getting online wirelessly or by cable.
Once connected, you'll be able to stream multimedia files from any DLNA-compatible device such as a PC or NAS box. We had no trouble playing our MKV, MOV, MP4 or XviD test files, although the player refused to recognise native DivX video.
It also lets you stream on-demand films from Netflix and LoveFilm, as well as Sony's SEN Video service, or catch up on missed TV from BBC iPlayer and Demand 5. Currently, you can’t watch ITV Player or 4OD, which is a shame. You can, however, watch web videos on YouTube and DailyMotion, and there's a simple Facebook client and web browser too. However, using the remote control to navigate them is fiddly, and entering text with the on-screen keyboard is slow. Sadly, we had difficulty using a USB mouse and keyboard with the BDP-S5100, and many of the sets we tried refused to work.
You can use the old PlayStation-syled XMB interface ...
... or the new, slicker SEN interface (Sony loves its acronyms)
The BDP-S5100 gives you two choices of interface, the traditional Cross Media Bar (XMB) layout or the new SEN interface. XMB is beginning to look a little dated, particularly when sat alongside the likes of Samsung or LG's 2013 Blu-ray players. It's fine for most tasks, but having to scroll through a long list to find a particular file or service can be tiresome. SEN, meanwhile, has a much more sofa-friendly layout, with large icons that are easy to browse through. Sadly, you can’t choose to have one or the other. The user interface starts off in XMB mode and you must press a hotkey on the remote control to switch to the SEN interface. Overall, the SEN interface feels fairly responsive, but image-heavy pages such as the SEN home screen take a while to load over Wi-Fi, even on our fast internet connection.
Discs load in fairly quick time, although it's not the fastest player we've seen. Most discs started in around 15-20 seconds, although the time taken varies from disc to disc. Compared to our reference player, the DP-S5100 produced vivid pictures that tend to favour the cooler end of the spectrum. Although colours could hardly be called inaccurate, the clouds in one scene looked slightly sepia instead of the orangey-red we expected to see. As there’s no manual colour control, you may need to adjust your TV's colour management system to achieve a truly accurate picture. Otherwise, images looked sharp and film-grain was preserved, with no unwanted motion artefacts.
Image quality was good, though you might want to tweak the colours on your TV
Upscaled DVDs displayed a similar colour discrepancy from our reference player, and standard definition pictures were about average when displayed on a Full HD screen due to the lack if image sharpening functions.
As the BDP-S5100 is a mid-range player, there's not a lot of flexibility when it comes to tweaking image quality. The settings menus aren't entirely barren, but there's much less choice than with Sony's more expensive players, or Panasonic's incredibly customisable range of Blu-ray players. You get a choice between Standard, Bright Room and Theatre picture modes, along with block noise and mosquito noise reduction filters, but that's it. Bright Room increases picture brightness while Theatre emphasises darker tones, but you're better off configuring your TV rather than the player, as those settings don't apply to video-on-demand content.
The noise reduction toggles are only really useful for DVD playback, as the film grain found on many Blu-rays creates a shimmering effect as it tries to clear up what it considers unwanted noise when set to the highest noise reduction setting.
At £140, the BDP-S5100 is a reasonably priced Blu-ray player with plenty of features. It doesn't have much in the way of user-customisable settings and the list of online services could be larger, but it looks great and is easy to use. However, the Samsung BD-F5500 is much cheaper and has almost all the same features. We think the Samsung BD-F5500 is the better buy.