The BDP-S790 is the top-shelf model from Sony's 2012 Blu-ray lineup. All of the other 2012 models have a new 2013 replacement, but the BDP-S790 ($249.99) will remain at the top of the line as the only Sony player to offer 4K (Ultra HD) upscaling. The player doesn't support playback of native 4K content like the recently announced Sony FMP-X1, but it can upconvert Blu-ray and DVD sources to a 4K resolution for display on a 4K TV or projector. Very few people own 4K/Ultra HD displays right now, but more are coming. In the meantime, the BDP-S790 is loaded with plenty of other features, including Sony's complete Web platform, built-in WiFi, 3D capability, and more.
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The BDP-S790 has a more stylish aesthetic than some of the lower-priced Sony players, with a brushed-metallic finish and touch-capacitance buttons along the top panel. The player's height (1.75 inches) and depth (7.5 inches) are pretty standard, but its 17-inch width is a bit longer than average. The player has solid build quality with a sturdy, slide-out disc tray and a respectably sized front-panel display. As for the connection panel, this is the only current Sony model to offer dual HDMI outputs, so you can send the signal to two displays at once or, with 3D content, use one output for video and one for audio (which is helpful if you own an AV receiver that does not support 3D pass-through). The back panel also sports a composite video output, but not component video. On the audio side, in addition to HDMI, you get optical and coaxial digital audio outputs and a stereo analog audio output. The player lacks multichannel analog audio outputs. The S790 has internal Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding (it decodes TrueHD to 5.1 and DTS-HD MA to 7.1), and it will also pass these formats in bitstream form over HDMI, for your AV receiver to decode. An Ethernet port is available for a wired network connection, and you get dual USB ports for media playback, BD-Live storage (there's no internal storage), or to attach a USB camera. This player offers Skype compatibility, but you have to purchase the USB camera separately if you want to use the video conferencing function. The BDP-S790 comes with the standard, non-backlit Sony BD remote and is also compatible with Sony's MediaRemote control app for iOS and Android devices.
Like the budget BDP-S185 we recently reviewed, the BDP-S790 uses Sony's well-known, easy-to-navigate XrossMediaBar menu. This player has a lot more options than the budget model, adding built-in WiFi, SACD playback, 3D playback with 2D-to-3D conversion, and DLNA media streaming. It supports Sony's HomeShare audio streaming and PARTY mode to simultaneously stream music to compatible devices around the home. It offers a greater amount of advanced picture adjustments; you can choose between Direct, Bright Room, Theater Room, Auto, and two Custom modes. Within the Custom modes, you can further select between preset picture modes and engage controls like Super Resolution, Texture Remaster, Smoothing, Contrast Remaster, various forms of noise reduction, and more. Like the BDP-S185, the BDP-S790 has a source-direct output mode that lets you output all video sources at their native resolution.
The BDP-S790 has all of the major Web-based services we look for, including Netflix, VUDU, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, CinemaNow, YouTube, and Pandora. It also offers access to Sony's Video and Music Unlimited services and a lot of other channels, like 3net (for 3D content), NHL GameCenter, Vimeo, Flixster, NPR, vTuner, and Lollapalooza Radio. A full Web browser is also available, as is the aforementioned Skype app. Because this player works with the MediaRemote control app, you have the option to use a virtual keyboard for faster text input and a touchpad slider for Web/menu navigation, as well as the ability to flick content between the TV and mobile device. I tested the player's DLNA media streaming with both a Samsung tablet and the PLEX software on my Mac, and I had no issues streaming content from either source. The S790 has good file support, including MKV, WMV9, AVCHD, Xvid (AVI), MP3, WMA9, AAC, and LPCM.
In terms of disc playback, I found the BDP-S790 to be a nice, reliable performer. Power-up and disc-loading speeds are fairly quick (on par with other recent players I've used), the player responds quickly to remote commands, and I experienced no stutters or hiccups during playback. Its disc-tray operations were very quiet. Unfortunately, I did not have a 4K TV or projector on hand, so I was unable to test the BDP-S790's upscaling in this regard. The only reason you would need 4K upconversion in this player is if you're dissatisfied with the quality of the 4K upconversion in the display itself. Given the high price tag of the first crop of 4K-capable displays, I would hope that the displays would offer better upconversion than a $250 Blu-ray player. But hey, it never hurts to have options, and that's exactly what you get if you purchase a 4K-upscaling Blu-ray player or AV receiver.
I did test other aspects of the BDP-S790's video processing. The player does a good job of upscaling 480i DVD sources to 1080p, producing a well-detailed image. The S790 passed all of the film-based 480i/1080i deinterlacing tests I threw its way; both with test signals and real-world demos, the player kept jaggies, moir�, and other artifacts to a minimum. Video-based content didn't fare quite as well in either the 480i or 1080i realm; the S790 created a fair amount of jaggies in real-world video-based signals. If you own an external scaler, receiver, or TV that has better overall processing, you can use the BDP-S790's Original Resolution (source direct) mode and let the external device handle your scaling.
Read about the high points and low points of the Sony BDP-S790 on Page 2.