Sony BDP-S490 review
The BDP-S490 is inexpensive, but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in features. It's ready for 3D playback, has the same Smart TV features as Sony's TVs and is fully DLNA compatible, which means you can stream videos and music from network storage or a PC.
With curved edges and a brushed metal finish, the BDP-S490 looks sleek and modern. Aside from the disc tray and flap covering the single USB port, there's nothing on the front of the unit to detract from the minimalist design until you turn it on, when a single-line white LCD display is revealed. The four buttons across the top surface – Power, Play, Stop and Eject – give you the minimum level of control, with the majority saved for the compact remote.
Sony has simplified the system around the back too, with a minimal selection of ports and outputs. There's a single HDMI output and composite outputs for connecting to an AV amplifier or directly to a TV. You have the choice of analogue RCA, digital optical and S/PDIF audio outputs, so you'll be able to connect it to an older AV amplifier that doesn't support HDMI. There's also a Fast Ethernet port and a second USB port that’s intended for temporary BD-Live storage or an optional wireless dongle (UWABR100 USB, £64 from www.amazon.co.uk).
There are a number of reasons to connect the player to your network. It supports DLNA, as mentioned, and can search the Gracenote media database every time you insert a disc, downloading artwork, genre and cast details for films or track names for music. You can also access Sony Entertainment Network (SEN), Sony's comprehensive online portal.
Sony's XMB interface hasn't changed in years and it's starting to show its age
Virtually identical to the version found on Sony's current smart TV line-up, SEN gives you access to both the Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited services, which contain hundreds of films distributed by Sony Pictures and artists on Sony's music label. TV show episodes and films can be rented for around £3, or bought for £15 if you choose the high definition versions (standard definition downloads cost less), while you can subscribe to the Music Unlimited service to stream as many songs as you like for £10 per month. Both services have plenty of big name titles on board, and SEN also has LoveFilm and Netflix portals.
Catch-up TV from BBC iPlayer and Demand 5, news from Sky and Eurosport, online video from YouTube and Daily Motion and a dedicated 3D content channel will also ensure you don't run out of content if you manage to exhaust your Blu-ray collection. With a redesigned interface that should feel familiar to anyone who's used the Windows 8 Start screen, we were able to navigate quickly between apps and find the videos we most wanted to watch.
It's an improvement over the XMB interface found on the main menu. Sony has been using the same design since it introduced it with the PlayStation 3, and although it's easy to understand it can be tricky to find all your content; if you aren't meticulous with file names you'll spend a long time flicking through lists.
This problem persists when playing your own files, either locally through a USB flash drive or over the network. Folders filled with files can take time to navigate, especially as the system doesn't generate thumbnails until after you've played a clip. At least file format support was decent, letting us play MP4, MKV, WMVHD and Xvid files.