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Unparalleled audio / visual quality and top notch components for home entertainment at its best. Minor gripes with the lack of web content and backlighting on the remote.
It’s a great time to be buying a new Blu-ray player. The market is packed with more models than ever before, each boasting a variety of features aimed at improving your home cinema experience. Prices are better than ever too, with manufacturers putting a lot of stock into expanding their budget lines for the widest possible audience. The problem is that if price isn’t really your main concern and you want the ultimate Blu-ray player to complete your home entertainment set-up, it’s hard to know where your money would be best spent.
Leading the pack of top-end designer Blu-ray players is the Azur 751BD from British manufacturers Cambridge Audio. The 751BD is intended for users who are serious about their home entertainment and particularly sound, with the manufacturers proudly promoting it as designed for audiophiles. It’s a good looking device, although it has somewhat large dimensions that might not suit everyone. The build quality is of premium standard, with each individual component of the highest quality, an aspect of this machine that is certain to please technophiles. Disc loading times are extremely fast and once in action the HD picture quality is superb, whilst the sound is crystal clear. There are a few decent features too like multiple format compatibility, 3D viewing capability and the ability to stream video from your home internet network, but there’s no doubt that picture and sound quality is what the 751BD is really about.
The Cambridge Audio Azur 751BD is an outstanding Blu-ray player that is right at the top of the market. It’s not the most affordable option out, but with the highest standard of build quality around, you wouldn’t expect it to be. If you’re an audiophile or just want the best home entertainment set-up possible, the 751BD could be the ideal Blu-ray player for you.
Upon unpacking the 751BD from its box, you’re immediately given a sense of the superior quality that you’ve opted for. The player is tightly packed in for security and is wrapped in a glossy blue surround that promises excitement inside. Once the blue wrapping has been removed it’s important to understand what you’re looking at. The 751BD is glorious in its minimalism. The actual player itself is devoid of all the fancy trim and curved edges that are found with most budget models, instead preferring functionality and robustness that gives a hint of what a fantastic performer this is.
That’s not to say that its functionality means the 751BD is a bad looking device, in fact it’s anything but. The casing is constructed entirely from metal and is pleasingly solid in feel. A plain brushed aluminium finish lends the player an expensive look without being flashy. As with most high-end products, the 751BD doesn’t need to shout to be noticed, it’s quietly sophisticated. One thing that is worth mentioning about the finish is that the brushed aluminium collects finger-prints at an alarming rate, making this an appliance you’ll probably want to keep the kids away from.
The front of the player houses the in-built control options, as well as the central disc loading deck. A small blue-lit LED display sits beneath the deck, allowing easy reading of information such as a Blu-ray’s run-time and the time. There are the usual physical controls (eject, play, stop, etc.) as well as a button that lets you choose between three anti-alias settings (linear, steep, minimum) for increased audio control. A USB port is also discretely hidden beneath a rubber seal, allowing ease of access to connect memory sticks for photo viewing or data transfer. The 751BD’s dimensions are 430 mm (width) x 312 mm (depth) x 85 mm (height), meaning it’s not the smallest of Blu-ray players. With a hefty weight of 5 kg, it’s not one of the lightest either. It’s important that you know this in case you don’t have the surface space free for the 751BD, or if the size just means it’s not for you. That would be a shame though, as we think that the 751BD’s slightly larger than usual dimensions are a small price to pay for the exemplary performance it delivers.
The rear of the 751BD is fitted with all the connection options you could need. There are composite, optical, coaxial and component video and audio outputs. Notably 2 HDMI v.1.4 outputs have been included, allowing dual connections to separate TVs or other HDMI compatible devices. There’s even an eSata port that can be linked up with a compatible hard-drive to stream media. An extra USB socket completes the picture, providing a perfect place to plug in the provided Dongle for Wi-Fi connectivity. We thought that including the dongle was a really nice touch, considering that most Blue-ray players require its separate purchase as an extra.
The only fault that we could find with the 751BD’s design lay with the accompanying remote control. As well as being plain to the point of uninspiring, the remote doesn’t have any form of back-lighting, making it difficult to use in darker settings. Ordinarily a complaint like this would seem petty, but when you’re shelling out this much for a Blue-ray player we think everything should be perfect.
There’s no doubt that the 751BD is intended for video and audio playback of the highest quality above all else. In this vein, Cambridge Audio has included some useful features to enhance your home viewing experience.
Watching video is what it’s all about and we couldn’t be more thrilled as the 751BD delivers some of the most stunning viewing quality we’ve seen. Whilst the performance is very good regardless of your chosen connection, the 751BD really comes into its own using the HDMI output. As previously mentioned there are 2 HDMI outputs with the type of quality components that will have technophiles in seventh heaven. The first HDMI output uses a powerful Marvell DE2750 Qdeo Scaler, whilst the second runs on a Mediatek MTK8530 chip. Both work wonderfully well but the Marvell Qdeo Scaler takes the gold, delivering breath-taking clarity of images and detail on an entirely different level. Whilst Blue-rays reveal the true depth of the 751BD’s potential, DVD upscaling also yields impressive results.
Those of you fortunate enough to own a 3D TV and matching glasses can also revel in the 751BD’s 3D playback capabilities. You won’t be plagued by the flickering 3D performance of most other players, as this delivers results as close to perfect as you can get at home. Images really pop out from the screen and have depth that we just aren’t used to seeing on home set-ups.
The 751BD is also compatible with a wide range of video codecs, including AAC, AVI, MOV and MKV (although curiously not DIVX). This is really useful in allowing you to stream content from memory sticks or your home computer. One downside of the 751BD is its lack of web content though. It doesn’t provide the same access as most cheaper players to catch-up services like iPlayer, nor is there much in the way of content from Cambridge Audio. Photography fans will be pleased with integrated access to Picasa, but there’s little here for the rest of us. The simple truth is that video and audio quality has been put ahead of this kind of secondary feature, and as it’s so good, we can’t argue with that.
Sound is what Cambridge Audio has traditionally done best and it’s incredibly good on the 751BD. It can handle practically any music format, including demanding Super Audio CDs. The Wolfson WM870 digital to analogue converters provide stellar quality from the analogue outputs, whilst HDMI output is almost as good. The premium parts used shine through in the peerless clarity and warmth of sound that the 751BD offers. Whether using the 751BD as a music player or watching video, the sound remains outstanding.
Another excellent feature resulting from the 751BD’s high quality components is the extremely fast disc loading times. Where most other Blu-ray players struggle to meet our demands in this category, the 751BD fired up disc after disc in 30 seconds or less, meaning you’d better not head off to grab popcorn whilst waiting for a disc to load!
The Cambridge Audio Azur 751BD is amongst the most impressive Blu-ray players that we’ve ever seen. Audiophiles will be on cloud 9 with the advanced audio capabilities bestowed on the 751BD, including superb Super Audio CD playback. Blu-rays and DVDs have never looked better, with the high end components used in the 751BD yielding unparalleled picture quality. Just about every audio and video file type under the sun is supported too, giving you more viewing options. Even the lack of built-in Wi-Fi has been handled by the inclusion of a really good dongle that performs the service just as well in its stead. The only real complaint that we have with the 751BD is the lack of related web content, but when a player performs this well it’s easily overlooked.
If you’re considering buying a new Blu-ray player and only the best will do, the Cambridge Audio Azur 751BD is well worth looking into. Its high quality construction and outstanding all-round performance make it the ideal complement to any home cinema set-up.
Phenomenal graphics make for absorbing gameplay, great looking & compact console, iconic PlayStation controller, expandable hard drive, excellent online services, plays DVD as well as Blu-Ray, but there is no SD card or flash drive support, PlayStation 2 games are not compatible and no HDMI cable is supplied.
Some products hardly need any introduction at all and one such device that speaks more than loudly enough for itself is Sony’s PlayStation 3 Slim (PS3) games console. Sony has been at the sharp end of the gaming market for quite some time now and the fact that the PS3 can still arguably be considered the best overall console out there six years after it was first released is a testament to just how good it really is.
Although the PS3 has remained largely the same over the years with Sony sensibly not deviating from a winning formula, there have been a few updates to make the current incarnation of the console more appealing than ever. It’s still all about amazing graphics and enjoyable gameplay, but Sony has made the latest PS3 accessible to a wider audience with a lower price tag than previously, as well as a new ultra compact ‘Slim’ form. In addition to the space saving convenience of the Slim design, Sony also gives you a wireless PlayStation DualShock controller so that you can play in maximum comfort, without the restriction of cables. The PS3 comes in two models, a more affordable version with a 160 GB hard drive, or the pricier full 320 GB of storage space for the hardcore gamer. Users who opt for the smaller hard drive can also upgrade at a later stage if more storage space is needed.
Whilst the graphics, gameplay and huge selection of games available for the PS3 are reason enough to want one, it’s the PS3’s multimedia functionality that sets it apart from the competition. As well as being able to interact with other users via Sony’s vibrant online community, PS3 owners can take advantage of subscription or free on-demand services (like iPlayer or Lovefilm) and even use the console to watch Blu-rays or DVDs. Throw in the ability to store music as well as photos and it becomes clear that the PS3 isn’t just a great console, but an outstanding multimedia hub. If you want a console that outdoes the competition on multimedia functionality and still achieves supreme gaming, the PS3 is the right choice for you.
Tearing a new product out of its packaging is always exciting, and with the PS3 it’s a particularly satisfying experience as it comes securely wrapped in the premium sort of packaging we expect from a brand like Sony. Everything’s pleasingly secure in the box, so there’s no fear of damage from parts bouncing about inside.
In the box you’ll find the PS3 slim console itself, a DualShock wireless controller, the power cord, a USB cable and an Audio/Video cable. There’s everything you need to get gaming straight out of the box, but Sony’s failure to include an HDMI cable is frustrating as you’ll have to get your own to connect to an HD TV.
The last thing you want to deal with when a new gadget arrives is a lengthy set-up that requires constant reference to the manual before you can get going. Fortunately setting up the PS3 could hardly be any easier, letting you dive straight into gaming in next to no time!
Simply connect the console to a plug socket, as well as to your TV and you’re ready to go. The controller has to be connected to the console with the supplied USB cord to charge before you can use it wirelessly, but you can start gaming straight away whilst it charges.
Connecting the PS3 to the internet is similarly simple and can be done wirelessly or using an Ethernet cable according to your convenience. Follow the comprehensive on-screen instructions and you can use the PS3’s pre-installed web-browser to get online straight away. Once online you can perform a System update to ensure that your system has all the latest features working fully.
Graphics & Games
When it comes to graphics the PS3 is still a world beater, delivering stunningly realistic graphics that make for some of the most immersive gameplay you can find. Although the Xbox 360 may just shade the PS3 on graphics performance, there’s not a lot in it and we found the levels of in-game detail truly realistic.
There’s also a huge selection of games available for the PS3 including famous series like Gran Turismo, Final Fantasy and GTA. Whilst there are some family friendly titles available for the PS3, we think it’s a console best suited to a slightly older audience with a firm focus on titles aimed at more mature gamers (e.g. Call of Duty & GTA series). The only slight disappointment is that the PS3 can’t be used to play PlayStation 2 games, although several PlayStation 1 titles are backwards compatible.
Internet & Multimedia
Whilst there’s no doubt that the PS3 is a games console first and foremost, gaming alone is only scratching the surface of the device’s potential. It’s much more than a console, indeed it’s more of a multimedia hub with the ability to be used to play CDs, mp3s or DVDs. A trump card that the PS3 has over its rivals is the ability to play Blu-rays too, negating the need for a costly separate device. If you’re lucky enough to have a 3D TV you can even watch 3D Blu-rays via the PS3 and although picture quality isn’t quite up to a dedicated Blu-ray player, it’s impressive nonetheless.
Controlling video or audio playback is surprisingly easy with the PS3 DualShock controller, although for comfort’s sake it may be worth investing in the separately available remote control if you plan on using your PS3 as your primary video source. As previously mentioned you’ll also need to get an HDMI cable to connect to an HD TV and output Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD to an external receiver.
If you run out of DVDs and Blu-rays the PS3 also has a wealth of content available via its built-in internet services. It’s true that the web-browser isn’t great, but it’s doubtful you’ll want to surf the net through the PS3 anyway, instead you’ll likely be busy taking advantage of its excellent online multimedia support. There’s a shortcut that gives you immediate access to BBC’s iPlayer, ITV player or Channel 4 On Demand so that you can catch up with any shows you’ve missed free of charge directly through your PS3. You can also subscribe to the on-demand movie service LoveFilm, allowing you to stream movies from their huge library straight to your TV. You also get access to the PS3’s Vidzone, an area with a collection of multimedia that can be streamed for free or downloaded for a fee.
Sony even has its own PlayStation store that you can access directly through the PS3, providing a variety of content like game expansion packs and customised themes to jazz up your system’s interface. Games are also available for download through the store with some titles available at bargain prices, whilst you can expect to pay more for the latest releases. You have to sign up for the PlayStation Network to use the store which is easy to do, as well as free of charge. For a monthly fee serious gamers can opt into the ‘PlayStation Plus’ service which provides regular exclusive content downloads like early releases of new game demos.
One of the most exciting recent updates to the PS3 comes in the form of PlayStation Move, Sony’s interactive motion control system. PlayStation Move uses the PlayStation Eye camera (which connects to the PS3 and sits in front of the person playing) to track the real-time movements of the PlayStation Move controller and recreate the actions on-screen. This creates a hugely fun, interactive method of gameplay that is ideal for mirroring actions like tennis racket strokes or golf swings.
Inevitably comparisons will be drawn between the PlayStation Move system and Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect motion controller, as well as the fully motion controlled Nintendo Wii console. PlayStation Move is more like the Wii than Kinect in the sense that you use a handheld controller, but it’s far more precise in recreating movements than either of those systems thanks to the PlayStation Eye camera. It’s unlikely that hardcore gamers will drop their DualShock controllers in favour of Move, but it’s a fun alternative way to use your console with a steadily growing number of titles available for the technology and it’s brilliant for kids.
Sony’s PlayStation 3 Slim continues the PlayStation tradition of gaming excellence and justifiably sits right at the top of the game console market. It’s undoubtedly one of the best consoles currently available, with its huge selection of games and impressive graphics arguably making a case that it’s the very best overall console around.
The PS3 is so much more than just a console too, it towers over its rivals for multimedia functionality with the ability to play Blu-rays as well as DVDs and audio files. With a 3D TV you can even watch Blu-rays in 3D via the PS3. The PS3’s outstanding internet options also mean that it’s unlikely you’ll ever run out of content thanks to direct access to TV catch-up and subscription on-demand services. You can also buy new games for immediate download from the PlayStation Store and interact with other gamers through the PS3’s online community.
Although it has to be bought separately, the PlayStation Move system adds an interactive, fun new way of using your PS3 that will go down well with all the family. It’s brilliant for parties and kids won’t be able to get enough of it.
If you want a console that provides the highest level of gaming along with unrivalled multimedia functionality and the option of adding innovative motion controls (PlayStation Move), look no further than the PS3 Slim.
Superb Blu-ray or DVD picture quality plus a batch of entertainment options via Sony's Bravia 'internet portal'. Integrated versions of 'iPlayer' and 'Demand 5' are available and audio is well supported as well.
Choosing a basic Blu-ray player isn’t as easy as it once was. There are more options than ever before, each favouring the latest, greatest features and technology that you aren’t really sure if you need anyway. Then there’s the fact that the latest technology usually comes with the price to match and you may not necessarily be looking to fork out a lot of money. There’s no doubt that the consumer wanting a basic Blu-ray player that does what it’s supposed to, with a few extras thrown in, now faces a more uphill challenge than their opposites shopping at the top end of the market. The Sony BDP-S490 may provide a solution however.
In the BDP-S490, Sony has created a Blu-ray player that performs the basics brilliantly and offers exceptionally good value for money. It’s attractively designed, with stylishly sleek looks and a thin frame that is easily integrated into any home entertainment set-up. Although it’s a simple player, Sony has also loaded the BDP-S490 with enough features to rival some of its pricier competitors. There’s a built-in option that allows the player to be controlled from a smart-phone, as well as excellent 3D Blu-ray playback (if you’re fortunate enough to own a 3D TV).
The Sony BDP-S490 is a great Blu-ray player that performs its primary function wonderfully well, whilst also offering enough features to keep your player amongst the best in the game. The BDP-S490 is well worth looking into if you’re looking for a Blu-ray player for your home.
The first thing that strikes you about the BDP-S490 is how good looking it is. The price is the only thing that’s budget when it comes to the design of this Blu-ray player, with Sony obviously having put a lot of work into making it so appealing. Its dimensions are a tidy 430 mm (width) x 199 mm (depth) x 36 mm (height), giving it an extremely slim profile. This is a great aspect of the design, making it easy to add the BDP-S490 to existing set-ups as it doesn’t take up much room and will fit in on most shelves without any issue.
The player is finished in matte black that lends a sleek, modern appearance. It looks particularly good beneath a matching black TV, but it’s worth noting that it needs regular wiping down as it collects dust like nothing else which is only highlighted by the otherwise attractive black finish. A shiny silver lip sits in the centre of the player, adding overall symmetry with the disc loading deck to its left and a small LED display (showing time elapsed when running and a clock when not) on its right. The standby ad playback buttons are along the bottom of the player on a raised edge for ease of access.
The BDP-S490 offers the same connection options as most players of its class. There’s the standard component video and composite video outputs, as well as stereo audio and HDMI outputs. We should tell you that somewhat inexplicably Sony hasn’t allowed for high definition playback when using a component video cable, meaning you’ll have to use the HDMI output to maximise the BDP-S490’s potential. This is hardly a deal-breaker, but it’s a confusing choice on the part of the manufacturer nonetheless. There are also 2 USB ports (one on the side, one on the back which can be used for a ) and an Ethernet port for internet connectivity. You’ll notice at this point that the BDP-S490 doesn’t feature built-in Wi-Fi, although this can be added via an optional dongle which, whilst tough to complain about when the player itself is such good value, is a keenly felt omission.
Whilst it’s mainly intended to act as a simple player for home Blu-ray and DVD viewing, Sony has loaded enough features into the BDP-S490 to rival some of its more expensive competitors and provide you with more options.
The BDP-S490 is joyfully easy to use thanks to Sony’s ‘XcrossMediaBar’ interface. This works in the form of a horizontal menu across the screen with easily selected options like: Settings, Music, Video, Digital or Analogue. Simply selecting the corresponding icon using the arrow keys on the remote control allows you to perform the desired function. As a side note, if you happen to own a Sony TV, you can set the remote to control it along with the BDP-S480 for improved user friendliness. There’s also an option that allows you to control the player from your smart-phone, which is great for when your remote unexpectedly dies, as well as for showing off the BDP-S490’s capabilities to friends.
The ‘XcrossMediaBar’ also gives you access to Sony’s ‘Bravia Internet Portal’ (once connected to the internet), which provides a huge number of advanced entertainment options. There are all kinds of on-demand video and audio options, as well as quick access to entertainment websites like YouTube and Daily Motion. TV fans will also be pleased to find fully-integrated versions of BBC’s ‘iPlayer’ and Channel 5’s ‘Demand 5’ catch-up players for all the shows that they miss. There’s also news from Sky and Eurosport for those preferring factual content. In addition to these multimedia options, Sony has also given the BDP-S490 the capacity to support all types of media files, including MKV (ideal for users with a lot of downloaded video content). On the audio side you’re well covered too with all of the major file types supported (mp3, AAC, WAV, WMA) as well as Super Audio CD support that sounds absolutely stellar. Access to the Gracenote entertainment database automatically downloads album covers and artist information for your music as a nice bonus.
The BDP-S490’s crowning glory is undoubtedly its visually stunning picture quality. The detail is razor sharp and colours pop vividly out of the screen. This quality extends to the BDP-S490’s 3D playback feature, which (if you own a 3D TV) offers depth of 3D images more typical of a far pricier player. The 3D effect can flicker occasionally when film action gets fast-paced, but when you remember the BDP-S490’s low cost, it’s barely even noticeable.
The Sony BDP-S490 is a truly outstanding Blu-ray player overall and represents arguably the best value for money that’s currently available. It performs brilliantly when it comes to Blu-ray or DVD playback, with stunning high-definition picture quality. There are also enough features like the range of entertainment available through the ‘Bravia Internet Portal’ to keep you busy for weeks. 3D playback potential keeps you at the forefront of home cinema technology too. The lack of built-in Wi-Fi (you have to buy a seperate dongle) is slightly annoying, but when you’re already getting so much at such a good price it seems petty to complain.
Sony has succeeded in creating an excellent Blu-ray player that does exactly what it says on the tin, with a few useful extra features thrown in for good measure. We think it’s an outstanding device and if you’re looking for a new Blu-ray player that’s great value, we’d highly recommend looking into it before they all get snapped up.
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