While not the last disc format that will ever be made -- 4K Blu-ray is almost here -- the humble 1080p Blu-ray is probably the last you'll actually need. Now is a good time to buy a player if you don't already have one: the hardware is cheap and retailers practically give away movies older than six months. A good Blu-ray player costs only a little more than an Apple TV these days and being able to play discs is a definite plus if you still have a large media collection.
Sony's BDP-S5100 offers high-quality disc playback in addition to excellent streaming via a decent selection of apps, including Netflix, Amazon Instant, and Pandora. Its DLNA implementation is less impressive -- no DivX for example -- so it's not a great choice for people who download lots of content. But with a good price and an easy-to-use interface, this is one of the best players in an increasingly shrinking market.
Last year Sony premiered a trapezoidal look to its Blu-ray players that is now used by both Sony and Panasonic. The geometry doesn't end with the front of the player, as the top has a gemlike plastic cover that looks unusual and makes it tough to stack other components on the player. Of course, it means you also still have access to the top-mounted playback controls, which are, thankfully, hard buttons and not the capacitive controls of the previous model. Touch-sensitive buttons might look cool, but they are easily activated by accident.
The BDP-S5100 is small for a Blu-ray player at only 14.1 inches wide, 1.69 inches high, and a shallow 7.8 inches deep. No more drop-down panel for the current crop of media devices, and the Sony just features a simple door. However, the disc drive door is flimsy and held on by what might as well be bent paper clips. Considering this is one of the only two things you'll touch on a regular basis -- the disc tray and the eject button -- the poor build quality here is disappointing.
Sony has clung to its XMB interface for use on most of its gadgets since the release of the PlayStation 3 in 2006, and only this year did the company swap to vertically scrolling menus for its TVs. Sony keeps the flame flickering though in the BDP-S5100 with the XMB (XrossMediaBar). It mimics the look of previous Blu-ray players with a horizontal menu and vertically assorted apps. If you've used a PS3 before you'll know whether or not this is your cup of tea.
The remote control is compact and has most of the shortcuts you need, including a dedicated Netflix button. It's pretty easy to use, though it's not backlit, and the "display" button is a little hard to find.
Though many Blu-ray players, including this Sony, support 3D playback, it's no longer a major marketing point. Instead, Sony is highlighting the player's networking capabilities with a feature it calls "Super Wi-Fi," which supposedly offers a "stronger, faster wireless connection." Curiously, it's not affiliated with the forthcoming wireless standard of the same name.
The video-streaming services on offer here are quite broad, with Netflix, Amazon Instant, Hulu Plus and Vudu all accounted for. Audio is a little more restricted with just Pandora, Slacker, and TuneIn (Internet radio), and Sony's own SEN.
In the past year, the number of processors in a home theater gadget has become important for marketers, and if you're one of the few people taking notice, the BDP-S5100 has a dual-core processor. While this will probably have little effect on playback, you may expect faster loading times for discs and streaming services, plus faster animations in the operating system.
If you're still in possession of a CRT television or a flat-screen older than six years then a 2013 Blu-ray player is not for you. Most players have now jettisoned analog outputs, opting for digital-only ports. On the rear of the device you'll find a 3D-compliant HDMI port, and optical digital, USB, and Ethernet ports.