Sony UBP-X800 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player Review
Impressive but where's the Dolby Vision?
What is the Sony UBP-X800?As the creators of Blu-ray it must have come as a constant source of embarrassment for Sony that they didn't have a 4K Ultra HD BD player of their own last year. Samsung and Panasonic were first out of the gates with the UBD-K8500 and DMP-UB900 respectively and then towards the end of the year Panasonic released a second player in the form of the DMP-UB700 and Oppo joined the party, some would say slightly prematurely, with the UDP-203. Things got worse for Sony when the PlayStation 4 Pro arrived without an Ultra HD Blu-ray drive but arch-rivals Microsoft slipped one into the Xbox One S. After what seemed like an eternity Sony teased a UHD Blu-ray player at IFA last year before officially announcing the UBP-X800 at CES in January.
Whilst there was celebration amongst enthusiasts at the thought of a Sony-made 4K player there was one slight fly in the ointment and it's a fly that Sony dropped in themselves. At the same time as the UBP-X800 was announced, Sony also revealed that their TVs using the X1 Extreme processor would be getting an upgrade for Dolby Vision. This good news was tempered by the realisation that the X800 wouldn't and couldn't support Dolby Vision, so was this an own-goal from Sony? It seemed fairly obvious at the time that Sony's decision to add Dolby Vision to certain TVs was taken very late in the day and the development of the X800 was too far along for such a significant change that would require a different chipset.
That doesn't of course mean that the X800 is a dead duck, Sony still make excellent players and the eventual success of Dolby Vision is far from guaranteed but with the Oppo UDP-203 and UDP-205 already updated with Dolby Vision and LG's UP970 getting an update very soo, it does put pressure on Sony's new UHD player. The company may already have pre-empted this fact because despite being a universal high-end digital media player that can handle any current disc format, it has a competitive price of £349. So does the UBP-X800 do enough to justify the wait, how does it compare to the competition and is Dolby Vision really that important? Let's find out...
DesignIt shouldn't come as surprise to discover that the UBP-X800 is a lovely piece of industrial design, with a look that's very similar to last year's UHP-H1. That's not a bad thing as that player was very fetching and the X800 retains the same sleek lines and minimalist appearance. In fact the X800 is a textbook example of understated finesse, so much so that there's almost nothing on the front, not even a display. That may actually annoy some people, although others turn a player's display off as a matter of course, but you can always use the on-screen display so it's no great loss.
The design uses a glossy black mid-section sandwiched between two stippled charcoal grey metal slabs and the entire player feels solid and well engineered. You certainly get the sense that the X800 is a high-end player designed to deliver a superior performance with a frame-and-beam chassis that offers a rigid structure to help eliminate micro-vibrations, as well as effective electrical shielding. Aside from the disc tray, the only other features on the front are an eject button, a power button and a USB 2.0 port behind a tethered cover. The X800 measures 430 x 50 x 265mm (WxHxD) and weighs in at 3.8kg.
The styling is lovely and the build quality excellent but there's no front display
Connections & ControlThe X800's status as a high-end purely digital media player is fairly obvious when you look at the connections at the rear of the player. You won't see any analogue outputs but there are twin HDMI outputs – one for video/audio and one for audio only. The main HDMI output is version 2.0 with support for 4K/60p, HDR, Rec. 2020 and HDCP 2.2, whilst the secondary HDMI output is version 1.4 for sending audio to older soundbars, processors and receivers. There's also a coaxial digital output and an Ethernet port, along with built-in WiFi (2.4GHz, 5GHz).The supplied remote is identical to the controller provided with the UHP-H1 and many other Sony Blu-ray disc players, however that's fine as it's a perfectly decent little handset. The playback controls are located towards the bottom, navigation options are in the centre and there's an assortment of source selection and shortcut keys at the top – including one to access your favourites and another to directly launch Netflix without going to the Home screen. It's not the best controller we've seen and it certainly isn't the worst but its black styling matches the player, it's comfortable to hold and is easy to operate with one hand.
It's an all-digital set of connections at the rear and the same remote provided with previous Sony players
Features & SpecsIn terms of features the headliner is obviously 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray playback but the X800 offers a lot more than just that. First of all it's a universal player, which means it plays UHD BD discs, regular 2D and 3D Blu-rays, SACD, DVD, DVD-Audio and CD. However it should be stressed that universal playback is different from multi-region playback and although the Ultra HD Blu-ray format is region free, the X800 is locked to Region B for Blu-ray and Region 2 for DVD. The player supports all the main surround formats including the ability to decode and output Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio as 7.1-channels and pass Dolby Atmos and DTS:X via bitstream.
The X800 really has been designed by Sony to be an all-singing all-dancing digital transport so it doesn't just play every disc format you can think of but just about every file format too. That means you can stream a host of video files via USB or your home network, including Xvid, WMV, MKV, MOV, AVI, AVCHD, MPEG2 and MPEG4. There's also Hi-Res Audio support from the likes of FLAC, ALAC and DSD (11.2MHz at two-channel), as well as support for WAV, AAC and MP3. The X800 includes the DSEE HX digital sound enhancement engine which upscales the frequency and dynamic range of MP3s and other compressed music – and even your CDs – to create a higher resolution experience.
The X800 also includes Bluetooth TX and LDAC which transmits three times the data of normal Bluetooth, for higher quality sound with compatible Sony headphones. You can also use the free Sony Music Center app on your mobile or tablet to stream content wirelessly from your UBP-X800 to other connected speakers and devices in your home, as well as send audio to your TV via HDMI, and to a wireless speaker over Bluetooth, at the same time. The X800 has an Ethernet port and built-in WiFi so you can use the player as a DMP (Digital Media Player) and DMR (Digital Media Renderer), along with screen mirroring (WiFi Miracast) with compatible smart devices.
That's an impressive list of features and the players tile-based smart platform makes it easy to access most things. You can customise the page using a large '+' button and the player includes Netflix, Amazon, Wuaki TV and YouTube, along with BBC iPlayer, BBC News, BBC Sport and Demand 5. There's also a channel from the Berlin Philharmoniker, plus additional content that can be viewed via Opera TV. Unlike the UHP-H1, the X800 does support 4K via Netflix, Amazon and YouTube, although at present only Netflix also offers HDR streaming. Finally, to add to the X800's already considerable audio credentials, there also support for Spotify Connect.
As a player the X800 was fast and responsive when it came to navigating discs and it was equally as quick with loading, getting to the menu on an Ultra HD Blu-ray in just over 30 seconds. It was a little quicker with regular Blu-rays and very speedy with DVDs but overall we found it to be one of the faster loaders we've tested. It was also pleasingly quiet, not quite as good as the Oppo UDP-203 in this area but better than the Panasonic DMP-UB900. The excellent build quality certainly played a factor in this and as a result of its solid construction the X800's drawer mechanism was also smooth and quiet.
Sony UBP-X800 Video Review
Ultra HD Blu-ray PlaybackThis is of course the X800's main feature and the player handled all the Ultra HD Blu-rays we tried with ease, flawlessly reproducing the 4K resolution, 10-bit video depth, wider colour gamut and high dynamic range (HDR) encoded on the discs. We would expect any Ultra HD Blu-ray player to be able to accurately deliver all the features found on a UHD disc and in direct comparison with the Oppo UD-203 and Panasonic DMP-UB900 we found no differences, all three players were excellent, delivering their images free of any unnecessary processing, colour issues or back door noise reduction. The Sony had no problems automatically detecting a display's native capabilities and optimising its output accordingly, although there are also plenty of opportunities to tweak the output including selecting 4:4:4 chroma upsampling which worked extremely well.
When a 4K display doesn't support HDR, the X800 automatically detects this and down-converts the HDR to Standard Dynamic Range (SDR) and we found that it did this very effectively. If for some reason you wanted to use the X800 with a Full HD display, perhaps to initially take advantage of the immersive audio soundtracks often used on UHD discs, then the Sony could also down-scale the resolution accordingly. Overall the X800 was an excellent 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player when it came to HDR10 but, as we have already mentioned, it doesn't support, nor will it support, Dolby Vision. How important this particular version of HDR is to you will largely depend on whether you have a Dolby Vision capable display like, the Sony KD-65A1 OLED TV, and any Dolby Vision encoded discs – ironically Sony Pictures have already announced their first releases – but it currently remains a niche format.
Blu-ray PlaybackAs with the Ultra HD disc playback, we would expect an equally flawless performance with both 2D and 3D Blu-ray discs and so it proved, with the X800 playing back the discs perfectly without any unwanted image enhancements. Of course if you're planning on using the Sony with a 4K display, and we can't see much point in buying one if you're not, then it's at this point the player has an opportunity to add value. You could of course leave the player to output at a lower resolution and let the display do the scaling but if the upscaling is effective then you might as well use the player. As it happens the scaling on the Sony was excellent, producing sharp and detailed images that looked free of any unnecessary processing, colour issues or back door noise reduction. In direct comparisons with the UDP-203 and UB900 we couldn't see any real differences with all three delivering a superb scaling performance. When we switched to the internal scaling on the LG E7 we were reviewing at the time we also couldn't see any difference when watching 1080p discs but since the scaling on the X800 is excellent, we would be inclined to use the player's own processing with all content below 4K resolution.
Standard Definition PlaybackIf a player has a chance to add value with 1080p content, it has an even greater opportunity when it comes to standard definition content where most of the image is effectively being interpolated. Whilst we can't actually remember the last time we chose to watch a DVD – in the age of 4K and HDR the idea of willingly using a format that is now twenty years old seems faintly ridiculous – we did find in testing that the X800 did an excellent job of deinterlacing and scaling the standard definition images for an Ultra HD screen. In fact the performance is on a par with Sony’s high-end TVs and although we couldn't see any difference when comparing to the UDP-203 and UB900, the X800 did seem a bit more accomplished, particularly with a well mastered DVD, when compared to the LG E7.
Streaming Video ContentThe X800 obviously includes HEVC decoding capabilities, which means that unlike the UHP-H1 it isn't restricted to 1080p streaming and can support Ultra HD video services from the likes of Netflix and Amazon. The performance is impressive and one useful feature of Sony players is that they are able to dynamically adjust the output signal based on the framerate of the content, so a 24/23.976 frames per second (fps) series or movie will be sent at 24Hz and anything at 30 fps at 60Hz. As a result playback will be as smooth and film-like as possible, although you will need to make sure you enable this feature in the Settings Menu as it’s off by default. However, Sony players aren't able to do this with 25 or 50 frames per second material so this type of content isn't as optimally displayed, although it is also less common on video streaming services which tend to be US-centric.
Sound QualitySince the X800 is a digital media player there is no reason for us to expect it to sound any better than any other player over HDMI or coaxial digital output. However Sony know a thing or two about making quality audio devices and the X800 is an accomplished performer in terms of sound quality. Like the UHP-H1 it is capable of decoding both 5.1 and 7.1 Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio into multichannel PCM so, if you have an older receiver that doesn’t support the lossless audio formats, that’s good news. We can't say that the X800 sounded any better or worse than the UDP-203 or UB900 in terms of bitsteaming the soundtracks from Ultra HD and regular Blu-rays but it certainly proved very capable when it came to Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks, along with immersive audio formats like Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and Auro-3D. It also handled both SACD and DVD-Audio discs with ease, delivering an excellent audio performance via multichannel and stereo, and was just as adept when it came to CDs. The X800 also did a great job with high-res audio files and it proved able to get the best from compressed sources as well, which means the X800 isn't just a first class digital transport but an excellent all round digital media player.
The X800 delivered an excellent performance in terms of both picture and sound quality
- Flawless disc playback
- Universal disc support
- Great audio performance
- Good range of apps with 24p support
- Very quiet in use and well-built
- No Dolby Vision support
- No analogue outputs
- No display
Sony UBP-X800 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player Review
Should I buy one?The Sony UBP-X800 may have been late to the party but it was certainly worth the wait with a minimalist design, classy finish and fantastic build quality. The player supports every disc format you can think of, not to mention just about every file format, making it a superb all-round digital media player whatever your needs. There's an excellent set of features and a decent remote, making the player easy to use and it should meet the needs of most users. Our only complaint would be the lack of Dolby Vision but given the limited number of discs available at the moment that is hardly a deal-breaker. Overall the X800 is a consummate performer, delivering superior picture and sound quality, that makes the Sony ideal for anyone looking for a high-end universal Ultra HD Blu-ray disc player at a sensible price.
What are my alternatives?The X800 is sure to please Sony fans but if you're looking for alternatives then the only other universal 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc players available are the Oppo UDP-203 and UDP-205. The latter is silly money but the former provides universal disc support, high quality analogue outputs and superb build quality for £649. The UDP-203 doesn't currently support any video streaming services so, assuming you're only interested in using the digital outputs, the main advantage of the Oppo is that it supports Dolby Vision but is that worth an extra £300? The Panasonic DMP-UB900 has recently had a price reduction to around £370 which brings it into the same ballpark as the X800 and since neither supports Dolby Vision it's basically a straight fight between the two players. The UB900 is an excellent performer and has high quality analogue outputs but it doesn't support SACD and DVD-Audio, so we think that and the superior build quality of the Sony gives it the edge for those who are only interested in the digital realm.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £349.00
Ease Of Use8
Value For Money8
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