No matter how you feel about Sony, it's hard to deny that the company has a knack for product design. The Sony BDP-S590 ($140 street price) falls right in line with that tradition, as it's the only Blu-ray player I've seen this year that actually looks attractive, while most competitors are little more than a utilitarian black box. And the BDP-S590 isn't all just for show, with a healthy set of features including built-in Wi-Fi, 3D compatibility, and a suite of streaming apps that includes Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant, Pandora, and Vudu.
Its flaws only become apparent after you move past its fancy looks and spec sheet. It's relatively slow to load discs (sometimes nearly twice as slow as competitors) and its user interface still lags behind the competition, especially for Amazon Instant and Hulu Plus. On the other hand, it is better than most players at playing back digital video files, like MKV and DivX. The Sony BDP-S590 wouldn't be my first choice for a Blu-ray player (that would be the Panasonic DMP-BDT220), but it definitely has its charms, especially its sleek look and its facility with digital video files.
Design: Finally, a handsome Blu-ray player
Sony may be the only company that still cares about how its Blu-ray players look. The top of the player has an attractive textured look, and the case tapers down toward the bottom, avoiding the typical "black box" look that most players have. There's a standard disc-tray on the left, with the front-panel display, buttons, and USB port on the right. If you care about how your Blu-ray player looks in your home theater cabinet, the BDP-S590 is your best bet.
The remote is a good one, too. It's a simple design, with a centrally located directional pad and playback buttons underneath. Even better are dedicated buttons for both Netflix and Sony Entertainment Network, the latter being Sony's portal of its streaming-media services. Like most Blu-ray players these days, you can control it with a smartphone app, but it's not that useful since the normal remote (or a quality universal remote) works better.
User interface: A tale of two interfaces
At first glance, the BDP-S590's user interface looks a lot like the one on last year's BDP-S580, which had a lot of shortcomings. Thankfully Sony has made some significant improvements; the main user interface still uses the XMB-inspired layout, but the Netflix app no longer uses Sony's subpar proprietary interface.
Even with the improvements, though, Sony's Blu-ray interface still feels a step behind competitors. The XMB layout isn't a great choice for organizing all the streaming-video services, which just appear in a long list where you can only view a few options at a time. And while the Netflix interface has been updated, Hulu Plus and Amazon both use Sony-specific layouts that don't maximize screen real estate. That's a shame when Sony's other Blu-ray player, the PS3, has a new, excellent Amazon Instant interface. On the upside, Sony is unique among all Blu-ray players in letting you access most streaming-media services right from the main menu, without needing to access another interface, like Panasonic's Viera Connect or Samsung's Smart Hub.
Confusingly, Sony does actually have its own streaming-media interface, Sony Entertainment Network, which is essentially another way to view the company's streaming-media offerings, along with content from Sony's Content stores (Sony Video Unlimited and Sony Music Unlimited). It's actually a more straightforward layout for streaming-media content, although I have a feeling most people will never find it, since it sounds more like a grouping of Sony's services, rather than all of the apps available on the player. And if I owned the BDP-S590, I'd probably always sift through the XMB interface, rather than waiting for another screen to load.
In the end, the BDP-S590's interface won't bother techies, but it might not be a great choice for the less technically inclined. And if you're considering the BDP-S590 because you want Amazon Instant or Hulu Plus access, I'd definitely consider a competitor with a better interface.
Features: Loaded with apps
The Sony BDP-S590 has all of the major features covered: built-in Wi-Fi, 3D Blu-ray support, and a full suite of streaming-media services.
Sony's selection of apps is but there are some surprising omissions. On the video side, the BDP-S590 has all of the major services, including Amazon Instant and Hulu Plus, but surprisingly there's no MLB.TV support, which is available on all of its major competitors. Similarly, while there's support for Pandora, Slacker, and Facebook, it's missing an Internet radio app (like vTuner) or a photo-sharing app like Picasa or Flickr. On the flipside, Sony supports quite a few worthwhile niche services that nobody else has, like Crackle, Moshcam, NPR, and Berliner Philharmoniker. (As well as tons of less worthwhile niche services, like SingingFool, NewsLook, and uStudio.)