7/05/2011

Sony BDP-S560 1080p Blu-ray Disc Player Review

Sony BDP-S560 1080p Blu-ray Disc Player
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There seems to be a lack of reviews online for the new Sony 560 and Panasonic 80 Blu-ray players. So I purchased both of these Blu-ray players from Amazon, mainly becuase I wanted to do a critical, side by side comparison of all features and the audio and video quality. It wasn't a professional test-based comparison, just flipping back and forth between these players and my Samsung BD-UP5000 Blu-ray/HD DVD player on my Sony 52" Bravia LCD and studying the image with a critical eye. (I got 3 copies of the Braveheart Blu-ray to do this). Here's what I discovered:

Video Quality: Pretty much a dead tie. Both players had rich, dark blacks. Video noise (smoothness) of the pictures was so close that I couldn't tell which I was watching most of the time. Sharpness was the same. Both pictures had good "3D pop". I wouldn't be surprised if both players used the same chipset. (By the way, the Samsung uses the Reon HQV chip, and while it looked a bit "smoother" by comparison, a tiny bit of the sharpness and detail shown on the Sony and Panasonic was missing on the Samsung. Also the Samsung has a very slight cyan cast to the blacks and the overall picture.)

Audio Quality: I think the Panasonic wins here, but only by a slim margin. Panasonic touts this player as a "high clarity audio" Blu-ray player and it does sound sweet through my Onkyo TS-SR805 receiver, on my Paradigm Monitor 11 speakers. Again, this conclusion is based only on the DolbyHD sountrack on the Braveheart Blu-ray. I'm going to do more serious listening, but I think the Panasonic will still prove better, audio-wise, with any source material.

Audio Formats: Both of these players will Bitstream or PCM output the new HD audio formats. This means that if your receiver doesn't decode them, the player will. Or vice-versa. Some people say pre-amps/receivers do a better job at decoding than BD players do, but I guess that depends on your gear. The Panasonic DMP-BD80 sure sounds good, and I couldn't hear a decoding difference between it or my receiver. With the Sony, I think the receiver may have sounded a touch better, but that might have been in my head.

Speed and Handling: No question about it, the Sony beats the Panasonic hands down. This new Panasonic is no faster than last year's model it replaced, the 55. Everything about the Panasonic is slow...load times, react times when buttons are pressed, or when skipping chapters. The Sony 560 is about the same as the PS3. Every cloud has a silver lining, and the Panasonic DOES give you time to make a cup of tea while your disc is loading!Another little thing about the Panasonic that I don't like is the size (width) of the disc tray...it's the same size or a hair bigger than the disc itself (instead of being smaller like most players) so it's very hard to grab the disc. This sounds like a little niggle, but try it and see. It will drive you nuts every time you try to remove a disc...you'll end up dropping them back onto the tray if you're not extremely careful.

Remote Controls: They're about the same...both very flimsy and cheaply made. Put a gun to my head and I'll say the Panasonic's remote is a little heavier and has larger buttons that are a little better laid out. The Sony 560 is drawing fire for this because it doesn't have an eject/drawer open button on the remote. This is a silly complaint...correct me if I'm wrong, but you almost have to be standing in front of the player to put a disc in or take a disc out anyway, right?!?!?! So what's the big deal about having to press the "open" button on the player? Serious remote-picky people have a Harmony remote anyway.

Other Convenience Features: Neither of these players has Netflix built in, I guess that's a big deal now. Unless they can steam full-quality 1080P (without pauses, subject to my ISP speed) I could care less about that. The reason I have 3 Blu-ray players is because I care about quality and I'm not too cheap to buy Blu-ray movies! The Panasonic has the Amazon/VieraCast and YouTube feature though. Again, I have no desire to see a rough, low-quality mpeg video shot by an idiot on a cell phone on my high def TV! Both of these players are BD 2.0 (BD Live) capable, but only the Sony has Wi-Fi built in. That's a nice feature because you don't have to run a CAT-5 cable from your router to your Blu-ray player. I think the 560 is the first stand alone BD player to have this (the PS3 had it all along). The Panasonic has 7.1 channel analog (RCA) audio outputs, important to people that have older receivers without HDMI. The Sony 560 dropped this feature that used to be on last year's 550 model. Most people have newer, HDMI capable receivers, so I see why they did it. (Sony also did it to make their step-up model, the BDPS1000ES seem more attractive. (That player is $699 and is basically a 560 with a handful of extra features added, like a headphone jack). The Panasonic has an SD card slot on the front, good if you want to view your pictures on your TV, and a USB jack. The Sony features two USB jacks, one on the front and one on the back.

Build Quality: About the same, maybe the Sony wins here by a hair. Both are smallish players, not very deep. The Sony is about 8/10's of an inch taller.

Conclusion: Overall I like the Sony better. It's wireless connectivity is a great feature, and Sony has a great history (with the PS3) of keeping the firmware updated, and this makes it easier. The Panasonic is a nice player, and has slightly better sound, but I'm sticking with the Sony. Anyone wanna buy a slightly used Panasonic DMP-BD80?

(By the way...I had no audio problems whatsoever with the Sony, like some other reviewers had. The Sony has a lot of audio output settings, and I still think some of them had them set wrong. That, or their other gear couldn't handle the output from the 560. I'm seeing a bunch of posts online recently about different TV's and receivers not being compatible or being able to handle certain audio signals, especially bitstream...if your gear doing the decoding doesn't have the "oomph" or processing power to decode it, it will choke and puke!)

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Product Description:
The Sony BDP-S560 Blu-ray Disc player delivers Full HD 1080/24p True Cinema video over HDMI and can upscale your standard DVDs to near HD quality . It also includes built-in wireless functionality (802.11N/G/B/A), allowing you to easily connect to the internet to download and stream BD-Live content such as additional scenes, shorts, trailers, movie-based games, and more. While compatible with most home wireless routers, the BDP-S560 Blu-ray Disc player also supports Wi-Fi protected set-up (WPS), for a quick and easy conection to WPS enabled wireless routers. The BDPS560 even supports Dolby TrueHD and dts-HD audio codecs for up to 7.1 channels of high-definition sound.

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