Sony's newest mega-changer Blu-ray player, the BDP-CX7000ES, addresses movie aficionados' desire to have a large number of movies compactly stored and readily available at the push of a button. For years I have been housing my DVD collection in Sony CDP-CX777ES changers controlled by an Escient front end. However, those players cannot play Blu-ray discs and Escient products are no longer available. Alas, it was time to find a new way to house my growing multi-format collection.
Enter, the newest Sony Blu-ray jukebox style mega-changer: the BDP-CX7000ES ($1,899) reviewed here. This 400-disc capacity Blu-ray player is one of the only large capacity Blu-ray players on the market. Like its predecessor, the BDP-CX7000ES is huge, measuring 17 inches wide by nine and a half inches tall and nearly 22 inches deep. Upon taking the player out of the box I noticed that it felt more solid and had better build quality than some of the previous jukebox style players I have had in my system over the years. The BDP-CX7000ES bares a familial resemblance with Sony's current lineup in that it has a stepped front panel. The slightly recessed upper portion houses a LED display while the main portion of the front panel has a large sliding door with a prominent knob and a few buttons to the right side.
The BDP-CX7000ES's feature set notably does not include the 3D or streaming capabilities so proudly featured elsewhere in the Sony lineup. Nonetheless, as a traditional Blu-ray player, the unit has all the features you would expect to find. Disc playback features include: CD, DVD and Blu-ray compatibility as well as BD Live capability, lossless audio codec support, 1080p / 24 fps video, DVD upscaling and Sony's own Super Bit Mapping - which up-steps 8 bit video to a 14 bit signal that is then sharpened with Sony's HD Reality Enhancement. The BDP-CX7000ES also incorporates Sony's Precision Cinema HD Upscaling technology, which is said to analyze the signal on a pixel-by-pixel basis rather than by entire scan lines. A built-in USB port allows the addition of a USB flash drive. Strangely, Sony chose not to include the $10 flash drive, which is required to enable BD Live on this $1,900 disc player.
A RS-232 port allows easy integration of the BDP-CX7000ES with most home automation systems. The player's HDMI and component video outputs can be operated simultaneously (with the video output limited to 1080i), which provides flexibility in video distribution. Likewise, in addition to digital audio outputs, the player can output simultaneous two and 5.1 channel analog audio. For those systems requiring multiple changers, the units and remotes can recognize up to three separate changers in one system.
Unlike traditional Blu-ray players, disc management becomes important with a 400 disc player. The BDP-CX7000ES stores its bounty of discs in a tightly spaced carousel. The player utilizes an Internet connection to lookup discs on the Gracenote database. The database does a pretty good job on most mainstream discs but limited releases, some bonus feature discs and of course non-commercial discs will need to have their titles manually entered. Unlike past Sony mega-changers, the BDP-CX7000ES does not support a keyboard, which leaves disc editing to the unworthy remote. Text entry is done cell phone style and can be tedious. The remote itself is a basic wand style remote with minimal backlighting and a poor layout. Thankfully, most purchasers of this unit will likely be using a home automation system or at least an aftermarket universal remote system.
While the remote is rudimentary, Sony implemented its "xross media bar" user interface for onscreen interaction. This graphical user interface was originally introduced on the Sony PSX and then gained widespread notoriety through its inclusion on the PS3 gaming console. I had some reservations about the xross media bar at first but have since found it to be attractive and easy to use.
The physical connection of the BDP-CX7000ES was straightforward and no different than any other modern Blu-ray player. Multiple units will need to be connected in the same way as there is no pass through capability. The connections included an IEC power cord, Ethernet cable and an HDMI cable. In order to evaluate its analog capabilities, I connected the stereo analog outputs to my stereo system and the 5.1 analog outputs to my theater system. However, before you can even begin to think about making these connections, you need to find a place the player will fit. At 31-pounds, the BDP-CX7000ES will not be a problem for any well made audio / video rack but it may prove challenging to a flimsy shelf system. More challenging than the player's weight is it's sheer size, for you do not want to squeeze the player into a space just large enough as its complex playback mechanism needs room to breathe and stay cool.
My reference theater system has undergone some large changes over the past few months. Of particular note, I am now using a 100-inch diagonal Stewart Filmscreen StudioTek 100 screen with my Marantz VP-11S2 projector in place of the woven, acoustically transparent screen that had been in use for the past two years. The Stewart StudioTek 100 material has a gain of 1.0 and provides exceptional clarity and uniformity, making it an ideal material for use in my reference system.
The Sony has a variety of image enhancement and noise reduction features. In my system I found the Super Bit Mapping to be of benefit but generally avoided the other image enhancement features, although they could be of benefit in other systems.
Loading and Organization
Typically I would jump into the performance of the gear here. But, in this case the loading and organization of the discs is an important part of the mega-changer experience. The discs are loaded in the vertical position, one at a time onto the carousel that occupies the majority of the unit's interior. The spacing of the disc slots on the carousel is very tight and one has to be careful to get the discs inserted carefully. Slot number one is reserved for rental discs and will be brought to the front when the 'Rental Slot' button is pushed. This feature comes in handy for swapping out rental discs; however I would have hoped for some extra space around this disc slot to ease access.
Once you load the player up with CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs, push the 'Open/Close' button and the door slides shut, a useful child lock feature prevents small and curious fingers from causing serious damage to your collection. The Gracenote database found nearly all of the nearly 100 discs I loaded into the changer. The discs it did not find were supplemental material discs and a few small and independent releases. Unfortunately, for the few discs the BDP-CX7000ES could not find in the Gracenote database, I had to use the remote and an on-screen virtual numeric keypad to enter the data. The option to use a computer keyboard that was on the earlier models was definitely missed as I slowly entered this data.
Once the discs were all loaded and the Gracenote information was downloaded, it was time to browse my discs and select one for playback. The discs can be browsed by slot number, title in alphabetical order, or by release year. The BDP-CX7000ES can also group the discs by category for browsing. The xross media bar allowed for quick access to your discs but strangely the ability to simply key in a slot number is absent. Thankfully disc information is also available on the front panel display so you can cue a disc up without having to use your main viewing screen. Once a disc is selected, the Sony carousel quickly rotates to access the selected disc, then playback commences. The mechanical noise of the carousel is quieter than on my DVP-CX777ES, which I am hopeful is indicative of solid build quality and a robust mechanism. Access times when switching discs was quite slow as to be expected. However, if you already have the carousel set to the disc you want, loading times seemed to be middle of the road. The Sony has a feature whereby you place it into a sleep mode rather than turning it completely off which saves some startup time but utilizes more energy.
Disc playback itself was very good with Blu-ray discs through the HDMI output, which is how I did the vast majority of my viewing. Pixar's Cars and Monsters, Inc. (Disney) are favorites of my son and were in heavy rotation during my evaluation period. I would be hard pressed to identify any substantial quality differences, in terms of playback, between the BDP-CX7000ES and my reference Oppo BDP-83SE. While I did not compare the two players back to back, the Oppo seemed to have slightly better detail and image depth.
Moving away from animation films, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Sony) gave the Sony a bit more of a workout. With the image enhancement circuits on, a lot of the film's texture and graininess were missing. The picture without the HD Reality Enhancer and Video Equalizer was much more preferable to me as it looked more like film and less like video. However, for those who like the look of video, the Sony can accommodate.
The only Blu-ray disc where I think the Sony fell a bit short was Jane's Addiction: Live Voodoo (Blu-ray Eagle Rock Entertainment). This concert disc is a bit unusual as it is a 1080i not 1080p transfer. The Sony stumbled a bit over the de-interlacing and some jagged edges were visible. I played another 1080i concert Blu-ray, U2: 360º at the Rose Bowl (Universal Music) and the results were similar.
Moving back to 1080p Blu-ray material, I played Transformers (Paramount). This movie has lots of sharp angles and edges, which were reproduced without any jagged edges. The Sony did a good job with colors at both ends of the spectrum. On the vibrant side, the colors of the machines were bright and solid, on the other end, the flesh tones were natural. Image detail was also very good, providing a gritty image (such as the dirt and grime) when called for.
The Sony did a fair job on traditional DVDs. Heat (Warner Home Video) was upscaled to 1080p from 480i. The picture was pretty good and free from any major scaling artifacts. However, when I manually switched the Sony to output 480i I was able to get a sharper, cleaner picture with fewer artifacts by using the Gennum VXP video processor built into my projector. Unfortunately, the BDP-CX7000ES does not have a native resolution output setting. If you want to use your outboard video processor you will have to manually change the video settings each time you play a disc with a different video resolution.
Lastly, I listened to music from some Compact Discs on my reference stereo system through the Sony's analog outputs. After listening to a handful of tracks off of a few discs, there were some consistent sonic characteristics. First of all, the sound quality was decent but fell short of the more audiophile grade Oppo BDP-83 and Oppo BDP-83SE. The midrange and treble were on the thin side of neutral, with little air in the upper registers. The soundstage of the Sony was usually of appropriate width with slightly reduced depth on larger scale pieces.
Click over to Page 2 for the Competition and Comparison, the Downside, and the Conclusion . . .
Competition and Comparison
The Sony BDP-CX7000ES and its non-ES version really have no competition. There simply are no other mega-changer Blu-ray players on the market. The Escient control system provides a better interface but is no longer in production. Request also makes a controller that can control the BDP-CX7000ES, although I have not had a chance to review it. The real competition would be the Kaleidescape system. Although, at this time, Kaleidescape's Blu-ray capabilities have not been fully implemented. If you do not need a high capacity changer, you can learn more about other Blu-ray players, click here to learn more. For more on video servers in general click here to learn more.
The interface and remote need a bit of work. A theater remote without backlighting or buttons that are easy to discern by touch is problematic. A $1,900 Blu-ray player with a sub-standard remote and no built-in memory for BD-Live? Really? The least Sony could have done was throw in one of their own flash drives and a remote with glow in the dark buttons, preferably one that could directly access discs by slot number.
The BDP-CX7000ES lacks some of the popular features found elsewhere in the Sony lineup such as 3D and media streaming functionality. While I personally am not (yet) a fan of 3D at home, I would have liked to have seen this capability included so that those with 3D capable systems would not need to use a second player. Surprisingly, the changer was not compatible with SACDs either. Accordingly, those with 3D discs or SACDs will require a second player in their system to handle these discs.
While I am OK with the spacing for the discs that will be there for a while, the spacing around the rental slot should have been bigger to allow for easy access to rental discs that would be changed out often.
Lastly, as to the changer's physical attributes, I would have liked a provision to daisy chain multiple units for those with larger collections so that all discs could be integrated into one guide. Perhaps a third party will come out with a unit that can do this for the Sony mega-changers.
On the performance side of things, the BDP-CX7000ES was solid. There were certain aspects, as discussed above, where performance could have been better but overall it was pretty good. From an ergonomic standpoint I would have liked to have seen a native resolution option in the video settings and better data management. For example, it would be nice to be able to use a keyboard to enter data, or to be able to browse discs via cover art (not just a column of tiny thumbnails) or even to directly access a disc by punching in the disc's slot number on the remote.
If you need a large capacity Blu-ray changer that can be integrated into a home automation system, the Sony BDP-CX7000ES is it. In fact, it is your only choice. The non-ES version, the CX960, is less than half the price but lacks the RS-232 port crucial to integration with control systems.
The BDP-CX7000ES is a very capable Blu-ray player and a solid DVD and CD player as well. Its disc management is not up to the standard of a Kaleidescape system or some of the third party controllers but was still fairly quick and easy to use. If you haven't been spoiled by Kaleidescape, Escient or another similar product you will likely have no complaints.
The real shortfall I see with the system is its 400 disc limit. Many of us have larger collections and are looking to the mega-changer to house all of their discs and present them in one, integrated guide. For those with collections exceeding 400 discs you can divide the discs into different changers by groups (genre, disc type, family member) or look into third party controllers to coordinate multiple changers into one guide.
Personally I see the BDP-CX7000ES as a great way to store your top 400 Blu-rays and DVDs with convenient access (really, who has more discs that you really want to see over and over?) and then add a second, single disc, universal player for those special discs such as 3D or SACD or even DVD-Audio. This solution would also negate the issue of the hard to access rental slot.
Unless you are willing to spend several times the price of the BDP-CX7000ES for a Kaleidescape Blu-ray system, (which isn't fully realized as of yet) the Sony BDP-CX7000ES is the way to go for being able to have your Blu-ray library cued up and ready to enjoy.