Sony's 'ES' products represent the high end of the brand's product range, so you don't have to be a genius to figure out that the NS9100ES is currently Sony's flagship DVD player.

The build quality of this Sony stands out for its almost armour-plated robustness, yet it carries its uncompromising structure with real elegance.

Connectivity is good. When it comes to video there's an HDMI output, joined by component video inputs, two Scarts, and S-video and composite video outputs. High-end audio support is provided by two i.Link ports for transfer of SACD's full-bandwidth DSD signals. Plus there's a set of 5.1-channel outputs, and both electrical and optical digital audio outs.

The Sony permits HD upscaling via its HDMI output, offering the usual 720p and 1080i options (though not 1080p). It also sports an exceptionally sophisticated set of progressive scan options for dealing specifically with a wide range of different source types.

Elsewhere is a suite of picture adjustments, together with playback of JPEG and MP3 CDs (though not DiVX or WMA).

The NS9100ES won't play DVD-Audio discs, but this is no surprise, given Sony's vested interest in SACD.

The NS9100ES performs sublimely. Its pictures are probably the best I've seen from a Sony DVD player. Images offer phenomenally rich colours, exceptionally profound black levels, immaculate detailing and a mesmerising sense of solidity.

The picture is even cleaner in terms of MPEG blocking and mosquito noise than even the brand's classic NS999ES model, plus there seems more subtlety to background detailing, especially in shadowy areas. In fact, the Sony's 1080i/720p HDMI-fed upscaled pictures look so fluid, rich and simply cinematic that they even nip at the Marantz's 1080p offerings.

The NS9100ES is also a terrific showcase for SACD. Every last drop of the format's extra sonic range emerges with ease; the overall tone is exceptionally clean but never clinical or remote, and detailing in the soundstage is pinpoint accurate. Audio jitter is admirably low.

Galling though this DVD deck's lack of DVD-A support is, it wouldn't be right to deny a product that performs this well a high score. If you can live without total high-resolution audio compatibility, I suspect the Sony will blow you away.