Sony BDP-S560 Blu-ray Player Review 
Home Theater Video Players Blu-ray Players
Written by Thomas Spurlin   
Wednesday, 28 October 2009

It’s natural to assume that technology-initiator Sony would be a market leader in the player category, though the widespread implementation of the PS3 might be a bit of a shock. For those who weren’t swayed towards using a video game machine as a high-definition unit, Sony also wedged into the mix with their BDP-S350 and S550 models – both of which are excellent players.  Naturally, Sony has followed up their previous line with the S360 and their step-up model reviewed here, the S560.  As with their other players, Sony’s BDP-S560 naturally stand up against the company’s versatile PS3 – now available as a slim, less expensive unit  -- and it does so with admirable quality, though it’s a tug-of-war between the benefits and negatives between the two.

At first glance, Sony’s player will look strikingly familiar. It carries the signature dark-blue strip at the forefront of the unit, turning into a full-length plastic flap that opens and closes with each ejection of the actual Blu-ray tray.   The unit’s length is a standard size at around 17”, which is fairly obvious by the photographs; however, it’s also a little bit taller than it looks in stock photographs, at a little over 2”, and a great deal shallower than expected at 8”.   Alongside the unit, a standard AC power cord and component cables were made available with the stock Sony remote.

Sony BDP-S560 Left Side

The S560’s appearance is a little chunkier than expected at the front, with silver buttons and the Sony logo somewhat oddly adorning the corners of the unit, but still nice-looking.  It’ll take a little while to get used to the large flip-tray, but it happens quicker than expected.  On the right hand size underneath the flap, the LED timer can be seen in a soft blue tint.  On the display, we’ve got a typical arrangement of functions, including HD indicator and HDMI status – and a Network connection indication for the wireless signal (discussed later).  Directly above the Blu-ray logo lies a soft glowing blue light, which can be adjusted in brightness along with the time coding within the XMB.

To the rear, we’ve got a fairly standard array of plugs that’ll leave a bit to be desired for some.  It contains an HDMI port, both Toslink and Coaxial legacy audio jacks, an S-Video port, as well as standard component jacks and two-channel Stereo jacks.  An Ethernet LAN connection port is also available, as well as an Extension port for BD-Live storage (discussed later).  We’ve also got a sizable ventilation hole for the internal fan, which works to keep the system running on a low-temperature, low-noise level.  What’s missing are a set of analog jacks, which will disappoint those without HDMI-enabled receivers.  This review will be utilizing the HDMI port, however, running to a bitstream-capable Onkyo TX-SR605.

Remote:

Sony’s remote is the very definition of a streamlined, bare essential unit.  It’s a compact unit that’s terribly light with nothing in the way of frills, carrying very little beyond the realm of necessity.  It offers a classic circle-based navigation button system at the center, with four circular buttons – Top Menu, Pop Up/Menu, Options, and Return – at the four diagonal corners.  The overall framework largely resembles the Blu-ray Bluetooth remote for Sony’s Playstation 3, only much lighter and smaller.  And, like that remote, it doesn’t come with a button backlight.

Sony BDP-S560 Right Side
Underneath the circular navigation lie a HOME button, as well as the assumed Skip, Fast Forward, Replay/Advance, Play, and Pause Functions.  Also available is a Display function that makes the attributes of the Blu-ray/DVD available for viewing, including the audio codec, resolution, and time coding.  At the top are the television-based numerical functions, Audio and Subtitle toggles, an Angle toggle, the four-colored Bookmark functions, and the Power button.  This remote does not include an Eject button, a negligible yet noticeable omission, or a lack of an internal zoom feature in the player.  

Setup:

Much like the framework in Sony’s Playstation 3, theBDP-S560 offers an Easy Setup function that makes getting the Blu-ray player up-and-running a snap.  After selecting the language of your choice, it runs through the TV Connection screens – where it enables selection of cables (HDMI chosen) and resolutions available.  Rounding out the Easy Setup is to allow access to the Internet via BD-Live, as well as initiating Quick Start Mode. It doesn’t cycle through the Audio portions in the Easy Setup, which can be toggled in a stripped-down variation of Sony’s now-famous Cross Media Bar (XMB).  It’s a far less fluid version of the framework, but it’s still very effective nonetheless with Setup, Music, Photo, and Video icons as the points of interest.  

When in the core XMB layout, a more in-depth Setup function can be browsed.  Underneath this label, options to adjust the Video, Audio, BD/DVD Viewing Settings, Photo Settings, System, and Network Settings are all available.  If anxiousness drove the user to skim passed the Easy Setup at the beginning, or if the user purchased the unit second-hand, it can be revisited here at any time.  Finally, as the always-recommended next step, a Network Update button is available at the top of the Setup tree.  This player was updated to software version 11.4.007 for this review, which took a negligibly lengthy timeframe to download and install.  System Settings allow for adjustment of OSD language, Dimmer (all the way to “Dark”), Control for HDMI across devices, Quick Start Mode (also changeable under the Easy Setup), Auto Power Off after 30 minutes, Auto Display, Screen Saver (On/Off), and Software Update Notification.

After selecting the Video icon, a handful of varied yet fairly standard adjustments can be made.  Along with tweaking the TV Type (16x9, 4x3) and Screen Format for signals not in the TV’s aspect ratio – which was toggled to Fixed Aspect Ratio instead of Original, since the latter stretches 4x3 material and makes non-16x9 zoom unavailable – adjustments can also be made to DVD Aspect Ratio for 16x9 content on a 4x3 television (Letterbox, Pan and Scan), Output Video Format (same as Easy Setup functions), BD-ROM functionality, and 1080/24p output.  Under more complex video adjustments, we also have access to tweaking YCbCr/RGB color space over HDMI (YCbCr in both 4:2:2 and 4:4:4 varieties, RGB in 16-235 and 0-255), Deep Color Output (Auto, 12bit, 10bit, Off), and x.v.Color Output (Auto, Off).  Most points were left set at the Auto setting, though the functions underneath do allow adjustment in case of unnatural color or the like.   

Underneath the Audio icon, the sound output can also be shaped– once again, just to minor but important degrees.  Along with setting the Audio Output Priority (HDMI, Digital, Stereo) and setting the Audio output over HDMI (Audio, 2-channel), the BD Audio setting allows for interchange between Direct and Mix.  Mix must be selected in order to enable internal decoding, while Direct – the function more extensively concentrated on here – controls streaming the raw audio directly to the receiver.  After that, we’ve also got Audio ATT toggle, Dolby Digital adjustment between 5.1 and Downmixed PCM, DTS adjustment in the same fashion, 48-96khz toggle, Audio DRC (Standard, TV More, Wide Range), and Downmixing properties to either Dolby Surround or Normal.  

Sony BDP-S560 Rear Input Panel

A few icons down lies the Internet Settings function, which allows for either Wired or Wireless interconnectivity with the player.  Sony’s player makes the process pretty simple again, asking what type of connection desired (Wired/Wireless) and the method of Wireless LAN setting (including Access Point scan to streamline the selection process).  After it searches, any local networks will pop up in a scrolling menu – which, then, the right option should be selected and a passkey can be entered, if the security level is that high.  After that, it cycles through the rest of the elements – Acquisition of IP address, DNS setting, and Use of Proxy Server. Following this, a Network Diagnostics test can be run to verify the options selected.    Signals are picked up extremely easy through the access point scan, making the process a relative breeze in activating BD-Live and conducting a System Update.   

Performance:

To keep with the theme of October, Sony’s BDP-S560 was put through a series of seasonal Blu-ray discs and DVDs matching the mood – ranging from blisteringly loud sound mixing and visual delights to subtle treats to create atmosphere.  Sony’s S560 was certainly up to task at all bends around the road, rendering respectable high-definition quality at 1080/24p and upscaling DVDs to extremely pleasant degrees.  Though not quite a pristine or depth-conscious as more costly models – and maybe a hair behind the PS3 – it still performed exceptionally well.

Blu-ray Quality:

Drag Me To Hell Blu-ray First up in the player was Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell, presented from Universal in a 2.35:1 AVC image and a DTS HD Master Audio that’ll really push the limits of a home theater build.  It’s a robust horror feature with a myriad of fine details, richly used shades of subdued yet compelling shades, and a broad range of movement.  Sony’s S560 handles all of these elements exceptionally well, rendering details like the pattern in Christine’s shirt, tree leaves, and the rather bold textures used in the gruesome CG-effects with tight precision.  Though a strong visual treatment, Drag Me to Hell’s prowess really comes in the signature Sam Raimi-style of lavish sound design through the Master Audio track – which is a blisteringly potent experience.  Surround elements, like invisible monsters swirling in the background and aggressive wind blowing, fills the rear channels with expansive fluidity, while the lower frequency channel pounds with graceful, rightly-balanced mid-range and lower punches.

Audition Blu-ray Disc To give a harsher disc a chance to work its magic in Sony’s player, Takashi Miike’s Audition was tossed in the machine.  Presented from Shot Factory in a greatly-improved but still difficult 1080p AVC image and a delicate Dolby TrueHD/DTS Mater Audio track, it showcases how low-cost content can be handled extremely well in high-definition.  The S560 handled it with aplomb, yet the sharpness was a little softer, the colors a little less stable, and the grain a bit heavier than in other players.   With that said, Sony’s unit still took the disc to task, presenting a very pleasing image that retained crisp lines and a handful of impressively etched details – like a pan of acupuncture needles and the detailing in Asami’s apartment.  The TrueHD track, however, echoes with brilliant breadth, from the harsh ringing of a telephone in Asami’s place to the bloodcurdling effects that occur during the picture’s climax.

Let the Right One In Blu-ray Next up was a more subdued, controlled color palette in Momentum’s UK Import of Let the Right One In, offered at 2.35:1 and with a legacy DTS track as the sound function.  Sporting mostly cold blues with only a few flickers of louder colors through the crisp photography, just about every detail was exceptionally sharp and handled potently.  Motion rendered a flowing disposition, while the solidity of contrast and coloring were rather impressive – though the overall contrast leans towards being minutely lighter than others.  The DTS legacy track filled the speakers with delicate sound throughout, being a more subtle-minded horror film with little in the way of punch or bombast.  It does retain ambiance well, showcasing the S560’s ability to handle a high-quality (core) legacy track to high standards.

Wizard of Oz Blu-ray Finally and possibly a diversion from the theme just a bit, it was time to give Warner Bros’ immaculately-constructed Wizard of Oz Blu-ray a spin.  Rebuilt from the ground up with a new, correctly restored transfer from the original Technicolor elements, it’s a stunner in high-definition – and Sony’s Blu-ray player does a tremendous job in replicating this quality.  Minor elements could have been a bit tighter (with a few stronger lines), but all of the textured elements – the waffle print in Dorothy’s dress during the sepia scenes, the sheen against the plasticized leaves when she enters the world of color, and the astounding rich set design – looked impressively detailed and densely colorful.  More importantly, the grain structure looked rather strong, retaining a very tight and pleasing veil of film presence about the picture.  The TrueHD track exhibited a proper richness as well, maintaining a well-executed balance throughout.  

The Matrix Blu-ray Operating the BD-Live functionality was made a lot easier by putting the responsive wireless connection to work within the unit, though it comes at the expense of a lack of internal memory.  In order to access these features, a 1.0 GB memory stick must be inserted to the rear of the unit (the expansion USB port mentioned earlier).  This is a shame, considering that the like-priced PS3 has an extensive hard-drive for this purpose and many other step-up units have at least 1 GB of internal memory for this purpose.  Once that’s been taken care of, everything operates as normal – as tested with Warner Bros’ copy of The Matrix on Blu-ray with its In-Movie Experience.  This player can’t register BonusView material while in Direct (Bitstream) Audio mode, just like many others; however, hopping out of the film and activating the function is pretty quick underneath Sony’s framework.  Hitting the Home button on the remote takes us out of the film and into the XMB, where the audio function can be toggled from Direct to Mix quickly.  You will, however, have to start from the beginning of the film.   Furthermore, the BD-Live online function also worked well, as tested by Sony’s presentation of the live-action Blood: The Last Vampire.  It took quite a while for the information to pop up, but it eventually opens the gateway up to trailers and other downloads available on the site.

Sony’s BDP-S560 is a verified Region-A locked Blu-ray player, as tested by a Region-B locked copy of The Fountain.  Fox’s Blu-ray booted up, only to show the rejection screen stating that the disc should be placed in a Region-B machine.   This player also cannot handle PAL-encoded material, as giving the interview footage on the UK Blu-ray of Ashes of Time wasn’t successful – not even sound.

DVD Quality:

To test the merits of Sony’s BDP-S560 under the scrutiny of standard definition, first we popped in Warner Bros’ presentation of cult-hit Trick ‘r Treat.  Framed at 2.35:1 and sporting a Dolby 5.1 track with the anamorphic transfer, the viewing experience was pleasing but not without a few points of interest.  The contrast levels leaned quite a bit lighter than expected, though black-level solidity was kept fairly solid.  Details and problematic standard-definition elements like aliasing and edge enhancement didn’t look too shabby, a slight degree better than the Playstation 3’s  upscaling capacities.  The Dolby Digital track was splendid, retaining surround elements that fluttered to the rear channels and across the soundstage – especially the little pitter-patter of fear-inducing feet in the final segment with Brian Cox.  

Trick or Treat DVD Throwing a more problematic disc in the machine, it was time to do a bit of spot comparisons between Shot Factory’s Blu-ray and Lionsgate’s interlaced standard-definition disc of Audition.  This, actually, was a fairly pleasing affair, as it showcased a fair amount of tangible detail and strong lines within the problematic source.  Colors remained robust and fluid, and the jerky problems with the disc’s interlaced nature weren’t terribly problematic – though, naturally, still there, and still carrying a pretty healthy level of digital grain.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers Finally, the Sony’s capacity to handle non-16x9 DVDs was tested with Republic Pictures release of the classic ‘50s Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  All points considering, it handled the content exceptionally well and with plenty of visible sharpness.  Details in the black and white image remained admirably sharp, while the black levels and grain were certainly tolerable.  Better than tolerable, actually; when zoomed in with the television’s internal zoom – necessary due to the lack of a zoom function in the Blu-ray player – it rendered a surprising cinematic experience for a difficult older discs.

Sony’s BDP-S560 does not support DVDs outside of Region One, nor does it allow PAL-enabled Region 0 DVDs.

Media:

The Nordic Sound Blu-ray As a media hub, the BDP-S560 certainly takes a back seat to versatility and merely concentrates on being a decent Blu-ray player.  It holds the capacity to play a standard range of CD/DVD-RW rewriteable discs, as well as CDs.  Standard CD capacity was tested in this review with Mum’s Please Smile My Nose Bleed, while high-definition audio was handled with 2L Nordic’s Blu-ray test disc.  The complexity present in the Icelandic band’s nuanced and intriguing sound construction pours through with somewhat satisfying high-range and mid-range levels, considering the primary usage of the unit.  It’s not, however, a dynamic CD player, as the only functions readily available are to play from the start of the CD and Stop the disc from the Options menu.  Utilizing the high-definition portion was a more pleasing affair, as the echoic Gregorian Chants in Crux Fidelis and the sublime Sonata for 2 Pianos from Mozart filled the area beautifully in both DTS HD Master Audio and LPCM functions.

MP3’s can only be accessed by CD-ROM media, which makes the front USB jack only useful for updating firmware and browsing through pictures.  Though the S560 has the ability to stream files from another computer/wireless storage unit, it only works with retrieving photographs – unlike the PS3’s ability to extract both from Windows Media Player-enabled devices.  Viewing photographs isn’t a terribly exciting affair with the S560, rendering the images with mediocre quality without the ability to zoom in or out.  It can, however, access image files quickly through the XMB with a USB drive plugged into the front.  Not the back, however, which is specifically dedicated as an “expansion” for BD-Live material.   

Impressions:

Pros: Strong A/V Quality, Wireless, Smooth Navigation, Quiet, Quick Load Times

After spending some time with Sony’s S560 Blu-ray player, it became obvious that it’s a strong-quality unit.  Its audio and video attributes stand toe-to-toe with many other players in its price range, even if its quality is on-par or possibly just a tiny bit shy of Playstation 3’s class.  The image quality here is fairly impressive, though it appears slightly softer and a little more unstable during difficult-sourced materials with a lot of natural grain. Sony’s unit functions extremely well under both Direct (bitstream) and Mix (internal decoding) functions for high-definition sound, while upscaling DVDs to suitable yet merely satisfying degrees and handling legacy Dolby Digital/DTS tracks with matched breadth.  Its quality can be best described as tremendously sharp and satisfying, but not first-rate.  

Sony S560 Blu-ray Player Front Shot

On an operational level, it’s a very low-key, quiet unit – somewhere it certainly bests the PS3, affectionately joked as being a “jet engine” at times -- as well as being a rather speedy one.  Boot-up time from being powered off to the XMB interface can be rather quick, making the dive into your nightly cinematic experience a much more tolerably paced one.  Now, the load times when booting up a Java-heavy disc are lengthier than expected considering its fast-moving nature, but they’re still about on-par with the rest of the units available in its class.  Speaking of the XMB, a streamlined version of Sony’s signature navigational system is carried over to the S560 with many of the functional elements that make its gaming units easy to operate.  It also has strong wireless functionality, which certainly helps in many departments – running Ethernet cables, updating firmware, and streaming photos.      

Cons: Not as Versatile as Comparably-Priced PS3, No Internal BD-Live Storage, No Analog Jacks

However, the comparison between Sony’s BDP-S560 and their Playstation 3 brings up probably the biggest factor: bang for the buck.  With the S560 sitting at an even price with its gaming/Blu-ray counterpart, it lacks a handful of features that makes the choice a bit more difficult.  For one, it lacks the availability to stream MP3s over a wireless connection, while also lacking the availability to play MP3s via the jump drive storage port to the front of the unit.  It also lacks internal BD-Live memory, adding the fact that a separate flash drive must be used to activate BD-Live / BonusView functionality – unlike the internal double-digit GB storage available in the PS3.  Plus, and this is both a large factor and one that might not necessarily matter as much to some, the PS3 also has the fact that it’s a full-fledged gaming device fueling added justification for its price tag.  The S560 is much quieter, however, and more suited for rack design with its rectangular-shaped aesthetic.  Unrelated to the comparison, it’s also worth noting that the S560 doesn’t include analog jacks either, so only those with HDMI capability will be able to enjoy high-definition audio with this player.  

Final Thoughts:

Sony’s array of Blu-ray players certainly holds a large slice of the pie in the high-definition market, and their BDP-S560 offers a bright option in its price market as a 1080/24p, Profile 2.0 player.  Featuring satisfying image quality, excellent bitstreaming and decoding properties for DTS HD Master Audio/Dolby TrueHD tracks, agreeable standard-definition upscaling, and a built-in wireless device for BD-Live / online communication, it’s a quick and sturdily-functioning unit.  That description, however, can also be attached to one of Sony’s other units – the ever-present Playstation 3, now with bitstream capacity and a 120GB storage capacity in its slim model.  By comparison, the BDP-S560 isn’t as feature-rich – lacking a versatile MP3 interface, internal storage, or analog audio jacks – but its strengths and a lower-key, quick operating level are justification enough for those resistant to utilizing a gaming machine in their home-theater environment.
Manufacturer Sony
Model Sony BDP-S560 Blu-ray Player





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