Microsoft Xbox One S UHD Blu-ray Player Review
Minor quibbles aside it's staggering value for money
What is the Xbox One S?Microsoft caused a bit of a sensation when it added an Ultra HD Blu-ray drive to its Xbox One S, not least because Sony, who actually developed Blu-ray, neglected to do the same thing with its PlayStation 4 Pro. The addition wasn't just embarrassing for Sony, who have only just managed to release their first UHD BD player in the form of the UBP-X800, but also meant Microsoft had the cheapest 4K disc spinner on the market. Although the recent arrival of the Panasonic DMP-UB300 has usurped the Xbox One S's crown in this regard, the games console remains a very cheap option with the 500GB version retailing for around £200.
We're reviewing the 1TB version of the Xbox One S, which will set you back about £240, but both versions represent among the cheapest methods of getting a UHD BD player into your home. In fact it's an almost identical situation to the PlayStation 3 during the early days of Blu-ray and consumers have taken a similar approach, not even using the Xbox One S as a gaming console, but instead treating it as a standalone player. In this review we're going to do the same and specifically look at the Xbox One S as an Ultra HD Blu-ray player and decide whether this feature-packed games console succeeds as a standalone machine.
The Xbox One S that we tested for this review was bought from Scan and is a genuine retail unit, rather than a review sample provided by Microsoft. As such our experiences with this Xbox One S should be the same as any other unit bought from a retailer.
DesignThe design of the Xbox One is minimalist to say the least – a simple rectangular shape that uses a two-tone finish with a white upper section and a black recessed lower section. There are holes designed into one half of the chassis to add a bit more texture and presumably to provide ventilation. There's a power button on the right hand side in the shape of the Xbox logo and a slot style disc loading mechanism on the left with a small eject button to the right of that. At the bottom left in the recessed lower section there's a USB 3.0 port and over on the right there's an IR blaster and a controller-pairing button. The IR blaster allows the Xbox One S to turn on other devices, such as your TV, soundbar or AV receiver and whilst it increases the console's multi-media capabilities, we found it could be unreliable and preferred just using the remotes for our various devices. That's your lot, so there's no other controls on the player itself and obviously no display but that's hardly the end of the world and, in that respect, the Xbox One S is the same as the Panasonic UB300 and UB400, as well Sony's X800.The build quality is very good with a solid, well-engineered feel and, despite only measuring 295 x 64 x 230mm (WxHxD), it weighs 2.9 kg and has a built-in power supply that uses a two-pin connector. We're not fans of slot loading mechanisms for discs, although that's just a personal opinion, but we did find the Xbox One S to be a little slower than a standalone player when it came to loading and navigating discs. The eject button is also very plastic in feel and often difficult to press with any success. The console was also quite noisy, with an audible fan even when it wasn't doing anything, and it produced a lot more noise once we started playing a disc. It's definitely noisier than any of the standalone players we've tested, although how annoying you'll find this will depend on where you place the console and the kind of volume you use when watching films. Finally we noticed that, unlike the standalone players we've tested, the Xbox One S didn't seem to remember where we had previously stopped a disc, despite selecting Resume Playback in the Disc menu.
It's well made but hardly a looker and is rather slow and noisy in terms of disc playback
Connections & ControlAside from the single USB 3.0 port on the front, all the other connections are at the rear of the Xbox One S and here you'll find another two USB 3.0 ports, an optical digital output, an IR out and an Ethernet port, although it also has built in WiFi. There is only one HDMI 2.0a output – the same as Xbox One S's main rival the Panasonic UB300 – which means you'll need to ensure that your AV Receiver or soundbar supports 4K, HDR and HDCP 2.2. The Xbox One S has been designed to be a multi-media hub, so it also includes an HDMI input that allows you to connect another device like a set top box. The only other standalone players to include an HDMI input are the Oppo UDP-203 and UDP-205, thus allowing you to take advantage of their superior video processing. You've probably realised by now that the Xbox One S is a digital transport with no analogue outputs at all, which is in line with majority of standalone players aside from the Panasonic DMP-UB900 and the aforementioned Oppo disc spinners.There are certain areas where the Xbox One S's primary role as a games console means that it isn't the ideal choice for use as a standalone player and the most obvious example of this is the included gaming controller. Whilst it might be great for a session of Gears of War, it isn't the best remote for controlling a Blu-ray player. It's fairly easy to use, with the joy stick and A button providing for the navigation and enter controls, whilst pressing the B button will bring up a series of playback options on the screen. After a while we got fairly adept at using the gaming controller but often found ourselves missing a more traditional remote. Of course for £20 you can buy an Xbox One Media Remote as an alternative, which is exactly what we did back in the days when we used a PS3 as a Blu-ray player.
You're limited to one HDMI output and a gaming controller isn't an ideal remote
Features & SpecsThe most obvious main feature of the Xbox One S is that it's a games console, so you can game in High Dynamic Range (HDR) and upscaled 4K resolution. The console also includes built-in storage with options for 500GB, 1TB and 2TB hard drives, although how Microsoft have managed to squeeze a game console, a power supply, a hard drive and an Ultra HD Blu-ray drive into the Xbox One S's diminutive chassis is anyone's guess. The console uses the Windows 10 operating system and includes Cortana for voice control but the home page is fairly busy, reflecting Microsoft's intention to make the Xbox One S a multi-media digital hub. Whilst we appreciate all the console can do, we did find the tiled layout rather confusing and felt that navigation was far too complicated. As a result we found ourselves missing the simplicity of a standalone player but if you're familiar with the Xbox operating system then this will probably be less of an issue. The Xbox One S has an extensive selection of apps, so from a video perspective you can enjoy 4K HDR from the likes of Netflix, Amazon and YouTube but the overall choice is very US-centric. However the Xbox One S is the first device to support Dolby Atmos via its Netflix app, which is an exciting new addition.For the purposes of this review the main feature is the Ultra HD Blu-ray playback capability, which you activate by installing a Blu-ray player app - it's free and only took a few minutes. The Xbox One S will playback Ultra HD Blu-rays, 2D and 3D Blu-rays, DVDs and CDs and, thanks to an update, it also supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X but you'll need to install another app for the former. The Xbox One S supports 4K, HDR10 and Wide Colour Gamut (Rec. 2020) but currently it does not support Dolby Vision. The console will automatically read the EDID of your display and set its output for resolution, HDR compatibility and 3D support based on your display's capabilities. However there's plenty of opportunities to tweak the setup of the console but, like the home page itself, the menu system feels a bit fragmented and less than intuitive.
In the Blu-ray sub-menu you can turn Dolby Digital Dynamic Range Control on and off and you can select a bitstream output to let your receiver decode the audio for Atmos and DTS:X. There's also the option to select your preferred menu, audio and subtitle languages. In the Disc sub-menu you can select to play a disc automatically and resume playback, although as we mentioned the console didn't seem to do that properly. Finally in the Display menu you can select different resolutions from 720p to 4K UHD and also select 8-, 10- or 12-bit and the colour space. Finally under Advanced Video Settings you can set the console to automatically detect your TV and allow 50Hz and 24Hz frame rates, HDR, 4K, YCC 4:2:2 and 3D if applicable.
Xbox One S Video Review
PerformanceWhen the Xbox One S was first launched it was the cheapest Ultra HD Blu-ray player by some margin and many people considered buying one as a cost effective way of getting a 4K disc spinner into their home. If they happened to use it for gaming as well, all the better. Some people were initially put off by the lack of immersive audio support but that has now been added, so there's no issue there. Some people were also put off by misleading reviews that seemed to suggest that the Xbox One S was in some way inferior to certain standalone UHD Blu-ray players. As we have said on numerous occasions, unless the player is applying some back door processing, all players outputting a digital signal over a digital connection have to be identical. How can two players read the same set of ones and zeros and yet somehow one of the players has more detail, depth, pop, black level or insight (whatever that means) – that's clearly absurd.
The Xbox One S is actually fairly simple in its setup, unintuitive menus aside, so in reality there's less opportunity for it to be manipulating the signal in any unwanted fashion. So it shouldn't come as a surprise to discover that the Xbox One S is an excellent Ultra HD Blu-ray player that delivered an image performance that was the equal of the standalone players we have reviewed. Whilst we can complain about little niggles like noisier playback, slower loading and using a game controller as a remote, when it comes to image quality the Xbox One S is superb. We ran through a host of UHD Blu-ray discs and the console handled them all with ease, delivering perfect playback. We have read of people experiencing problems loading certain discs but we didn't find any issues, even with Planet Earth II, with which we know others have had problems. We may not like using a slot loading system but we had no complaints about the images on screen.
The same was true when it came to Full HD Blu-rays like Rogue One and 3D Blu-rays like Moana, which the Xbox One S handled extremely well. If there was one area where the console could have struggled it was scaling these Blu-rays to a 4K resolution but it actually proved very adept in this area. The same was true of the DVD test discs we tried and overall we were impressed with the Xbox One S's performance, which reaffirmed its bargain status. The playback of video streaming was also excellent and the console handled the input from our set top box equally as effectively. The console's native frame rate is 60Hz but just make sure you have ticked the boxes for 50Hz and 24Hz and you won't have any problems with different frames rates, the console will automatically switch to the correct one.
As we mentioned earlier in the review the Xbox One S is a digital transport, that means it has no analogue outputs, but we have also read reports of the audio sounding 'thin'. Well once again we're talking about ones and zeros and we can assure you there was nothing 'thin' about the Dolby Atmos soundtrack of Pacific Rim, which nearly blew the doors off the home cinema. The same goes for The Rock's dulcet tones in Moana, with the musical numbers sounding great. We ran through all of our favourite test discs and the Xbox One S handled Dolby True HD, Dolby Atmos, DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS: X and even Auro-3D without any problems and the audio sounded superb through our 7.2.4 system. All-in-all the Xbox One S didn't put a foot wrong as a playback device for discs and video streaming services, making it a genuine contender as an Ultra HD Blu-ray player.
As a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player the Xbox One S was as good as the competition
- Superb 4K playback
- Decent build quality
- It's also a games console
- Great price
- Noisy and slow in playback
- Game controller not ideal remote
- Only one HDMI output
- No Dolby Vision support
- No analogue audio
- No display
Microsoft Xbox One S UHD Blu-ray Player Review
Should I buy one?If you're in the market for a games console but also want Ultra HD Blu-ray playback, it's a bit of a no-brainer, in fact the Xbox One S is currently your only option. However even if you're not interested in the gaming aspect, it's still worth considering because the Xbox One S is an excellent 4K disc player in its own right with a superb video and audio performance. Yes it isn't perfect, it's fairly noisy, the disc loading and navigation is a bit slow, the operating system feels slightly confusing and we'd definitely buy a media remote to use instead of the gaming controller but in pure performance terms we had absolutely no complaints. The Xbox One S is also well made and we like it's understated appearance, which means it won't look out of place in an equipment rack. There's a lot more choice these days when it comes to Ultra HD Blu-ray players but at £200 for the 500GB version, it's hard to see how the Xbox One S can be anything other than a Best Buy.
What are my alternatives?This is an interesting question and it really depends on your priorities. If absolute cost is your main criteria then the Panasonic DMP-UB300 is hard to resist at just under £190. Aside from the gaming aspect, the only advantage the Xbox One S has is built-in WiFi but otherwise the two are very similar in terms of performance. If you need a second HDMI output because your soundbar or receiver doesn't support HDR or HDCP 2.2. then the Xbox One S isn't for you. In that case you're looking at the Samsung UBD-K8500 which currently costs around £220 and the Panasonic DMP-UB400 which you can pick up for around £240. If you think that Dolby Vision support will be important, then you're looking at the LG UP970 which currently retails for around £280, whilst those who want analogue outputs should consider the Panasonic DMP-UB900 which will set you back about £370. One thing is for certain, whatever your criteria and whatever your budget, there's never been a better time to buy an Ultra HD Blu-ray player.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £200.00
Ease Of Use8
Value For Money10
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