With the recent proliferation of Dolby Vision content, Sony decided to release a new line of Ultra HD Blu-ray players this year, all supporting this high-performance HDR standard. The company's UBP-X1100ES, priced at $599, is their newest flagship player aimed towards the custom installation market. Compared to Sony's lower priced players, the X1100ES adds niceties like IP and RS-232C control and rack-mounting capabilities. The player also falls under the company's Elevated Standards (ES) product designation, generally reserved for the highest performing products in a given category. As such, the X1100ES comes with a generous three-year warranty.
Those familiar with Sony's Ultra HD Blu-ray players may confuse the X1100ES with Sony's UBP-X800M2, for understandable reasons. The chassis is reused here, but with the addition of several features that the X800M2 lacks. Sony has added an information screen on the front, and around back you'll find stereo RCA analog audio outputs, an optical S/PDIF digital audio output, a detachable AC power cord port and the aforementioned RS-232C and IR ports for system control. There's also, of course, the standard array of connections, including a single 18Gbps HDMI 2.0 port, legacy audio-only HDMI 1.4 port, coaxial S/PDIF digital audio port, a USB port, and a10/100Mbit LAN port.
Sony is marketing the X1100ES as "the ultimate disc drive," and it's easy to see why. The player supports just about every disc-based format available from the past two decades, including CD, SACD, DVD, DVD-Audio, Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray, and Ultra HD Blu-ray.
On top of this, Sony claims the X1100ES has the ability to "stream and play everything." That's mostly true as far as home network and USB-based file playback is concerned, as the player supports the vast majority of MPEG2 and MPEG4 encoded video formats in various commonly used containers, such as M2TS, MP4, and MKV. It also supports most of the current codecs such as HEVC/H.265 and VP9. For audio, playback of popular PCM-based formats such as FLAC, ALAC, MP3, and AAC are supported. It even supports DSD-based formats like DFF and DSF up to double-rate DSD.
App support on the X1100ES is fairly competitive against players from competing brands near its price point, but not competitive with Sony's own, less costly, players. I was a little surprised to see the X1100ES offers only Netflix, Amazon Prime, and YouTube, especially considering the company's far more affordable Sony UBP-X700 ($199) gives owners access to nearly ten more apps, including popular ones such as Hulu and Spotify. Hopefully a software update down the road will give X1100ES owners access to these apps.
You also have access to the player's UPnP/DLNA home network media player app, allowing you to send files to the player from a PC or server within your home as mentioned above. All of these apps support at least HDR10, with Dolby Vision supported as long as the app has access to such content.
For those who own a Sony Bravia series television, the X1100ES offers a special video processing mode designed specifically for these televisions. It's aptly named Bravia Mode and, despite what you may think, enabling this mode actually reduces the amount of video processing done within the player. Sony's philosophy is to do as little redundant processing as possible, or processing they know is of higher quality on their televisions, so Bravia owners get the best image quality possible with this specific combination of hardware. Things such as noise reduction and video upscaling are handled by the display instead of the player, where Sony deems a higher quality processing can be done instead. Though, it should be noted Bravia Mode doesn't work when playing back Dolby Vision or 3D video content.
The X1100ES supports detection and bitstreaming of both DTS:X and Dolby Atmos surround sound formats. Sony has also included their proprietary DSEE HX audio upscaling algorithm, which can be used to enhance any two-channel CD quality audio (44.1 kHz/16-bit) that's being decoded. This processing upsamples the audio to 96 kHz/24-bit and could be a good option to use for anyone pairing this player with an A/V receiver that lacks such processing or for those hooking up a two-channel amplifier directly to the analog audio outputs on the back of the player.
Another proprietary audio processing feature of the X1100ES is LDAC Bluetooth. This Sony-developed technology allows for three-times as much bandwidth compared to standard Bluetooth, allowing any high-resolution audio to remain high resolution, something regular Bluetooth can't do. The catch is that your Bluetooth speaker or receiver needs to have a compatible LDAC chip for this to work; otherwise you'll have to revert back to a regular Bluetooth connection.
Powering up the player, you'll see the user interface is straightforward and easy to use. You have direct access any disc currently loaded in the tray, streaming apps, or the player's menu system. Discs load lightning fast, as do all of the streaming apps themselves. The user interface within each of the streaming apps was fluid and fast-acting anytime I scrolled through the options of content to watch or if I needed to scrub through videos to find a particular spot to begin watching.
For those with a Dolby Vision compatible display, you'll need to go into the menu system and enable Dolby Vision mode, otherwise any Dolby Vision content will revert to the HDR10 base video. I had to learn this the hard way, not realizing why Dolby Vision content wasn't working properly with my LG B8 OLED television, which is Dolby Vision compatible. It should also be noted the X1100ES currently lacks the ability to auto-detect Dolby Vision encoded content on discs, so you'll need to manually disable this setting anytime you're playing a disc that's only HDR10, otherwise the player will incorrectly stay in Dolby Vision mode. Oddly enough, the X1100ES had no problems disabling Dolby Vision mode when playing back HDR10 content within the Amazon Prime app. It seems this shortcoming is limited to disc playback only.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
If you still have a large collection of 1080p Blu-ray discs, and I assume you do, the X1100ES gives you the option to upscale internally via the player, or pass 1080p along to your AVR or display. Compared to the upscaling on my LG B8 OLED television, I routinely found the upscaling quality of the X1100ES to be superior. I found the X1100ES's upscaling retained and revealed more detail within the image as compared with my television's upscaler, and objective testing with some test patterns confirmed this. The image also seemed to possess a more natural appearance thanks to the player's lack of ringing artifacts commonly introduced when an upscaler artificially sharpens the image. Unless you have a fairly high-end video processing solution available, I'd recommend using the X1100ES's built in upscaler for your sub-4K video content.
While testing for video upscaling quality, I also ran the player through the usual objective tests for chroma upscaling and deinterlacing. Deinterlacing performance was top notch and, while not the best I've seen at this price point, chroma upscaling quality should be good enough for all but the pickiest of videophiles.
As with the rest of Sony's 2019 Ultra HD Blu-ray player lineup, playback of Dolby Vision-encoded video is one of the main selling points of the X1100ES. No matter where the content came from, be it discs or streaming, Dolby Vision content was a consistent upgrade in video quality. The Dolby Vision streams of Stranger Things and Lost in Space via Netflix had a greater sense of dynamic range, more natural appearing colors, and better shadow detail.
One additional issue I noticed when playing Dolby Vision content, though, was that the player doesn't seem to be sending the proper REC2020 color gamut flag. With stock HDR10 content, the X1100ES does. Whether or not this will cause an issue with color point mapping on a display remains to be seen. As far as I know, all Dolby Vision content is mastered to REC2020, so if a display knows the content is Dolby Vision, it should also know to map colors to a REC2020 gamut. The Panasonic Ultra HD Blu-ray players that I've had here recently, by comparison, correctly sends this flag with Dolby Vision content, so I believe this omission or bug is worth pointing out.
The X1100ES offers HDR-to-SDR conversion when the player detects it's connected to a display that lacks HDR support. When this happens, an additional menu item appears that allows you to adjust the tonemap to better suit the brightness capabilities of the connected display. The lower you set the tonemap, reducing the dynamic range more, the brighter in appearance the video becomes. Overall, the performance was generally good, but not great, in my testing. The tonemapping did have a slight tendency to oversaturate colors when converting the color points from REC2020 to REC709 and, on occasion, crushed some shadow detail in darker scenes. I also noticed that high-nit portions of the image had a tendency to clip, something I didn't notice as often from competing players that offer HDR-to-SDR conversion. I don't think many purchasing the X1100ES with use this feature, but it's handy to have in a pinch when you're stuck with an older non-HDR display and only have an HDR10 version of a film or television show.
During my time with the X1100ES, I streamed a lot of video files stored on my desktop PC over my home network. While the user interface for the media player app needs a facelift to bring it into the twenty-first century, playback of both audio and video files worked better than expected. High-bitrate 1080p H.264 and 4K HDR10 HEVC files worked without issue. Video quality seemed to mimic that of disc-based video playback. However, with high-bitrate content, I would avoid using the player's Wifi connection as it tended to have buffering issues. Swapping over to the wired LAN port, or playing back the file from the USB port, solved this issue.
The biggest downside of the X1100ES are the tonemapping options available or, I should say, the lack thereof. Unlike competing players from brands such as Panasonic, with its HDR Optimiser tool, you're limited to tonemapping content down to SDR only, and that's only if the connected display doesn't support HDR. Neither HDR-capable OLED televisions nor projectors meet the brightness standards needed to faithfully reproduce the vast majority of HDR content. In particular, high-nit specular highlights cannot be faithfully reproduced on these types of displays. Typical examples of content with high-nit specular highlights would be a bright sunset in the background of a shot or a bright spotlight in a dark scene. Without the brightness needed to reproduce these types of shots, you'll often get a blown-out, clipped highlight, devoid of detail that's supposed to be present in the image.
To fix this issue on a display without the brightness to faithfully reproduce these shots, you need to tonemap the content and this can be problematic for two reasons. First is that most players lack a tonemap mode to fix this specific issue, like with the X1100ES. Secondly, this means you're left with your display's built in controls or automated tonemapping to correct such issues, and not all displays come with controls to fix this. For LG OLED owners, you do have the option to help correct this issue, but the fix comes with a global reduction in luminance, which is the opposite effect that we want for HDR content.
What competing players from Panasonic do is apply a light tonemap that targets just the high-nit portion of an image, above 600 nits for example if you're using an OLED television, and reduces the dynamic range to avoid blown out highlights and brings back detail within that part of the image that would otherwise be lost without the tonemap being applied, all without a reduction in overall luminance. The Panasonic players also change the static HDR10 metadata sent to your display to reflect the new peak nit point, 600 nits in this example, so your display doesn't apply a second, redundant, tonemap to the image. At the X1100ES' price point, I would have expected to see something comparable to what Panasonic has been offering for a number of years now.
It also bears repeating that Dolby Vision is not auto-detected and must be turned on manually. That's a big oversight for any disc player in 2019 and outright criminal at this price point.
Competition and Comparisons
As I alluded to above, the X1100ES has some serious competition from Panasonic, specifically from their DP-UB820. This player is currently priced at $499, making it $100 cheaper than the X1100ES. While the X1100ES does offer more flexibility with system control and disc playback compatibility, the UB820 offers far more flexibility in what it can do with an HDR10 image. The UB820 also supports HDR10+, making it one of only a handful of players currently available that supports all four major HDR standards.
Additionally, the UB820 has 7.1 analog audio outputs, compared to the stereo outputs on the X1100ES, giving owners more flexibility in how they can set up their home theater. If you plan on watching a lot of HDR10, which is what all Ultra HD Blu-ray discs have at a minimum, I do think image quality on the UB820 is superior due to its HDR Optimizer tool, of which the X1100ES lacks an equivalent. Unless you need IP control capabilities or SACD support, I think the UB820 offers more value.
Sony's own UBP-X800M2 (reviewed here) is a similar story. In many ways, it's the same player as the X1100ES, but at half the cost. You're giving up some system integration abilities, analog audio outputs, an information screen, and two years off the warranty, but, if you can live without all of this, it's easy to recommend the X800M2 over the X1100ES.
Sony's UBP-X1100ES is a solid choice for those who are already invested in Sony's ecosystem. The included Bravia and LDAC Bluetooth modes offer loyal Sony customers a way to get the best audio and video quality from this player. It's also a great choice for those looking for a player that's easy to integrate within their home theater control system.
The X1100ES also offers an impressive range of compatibility with both discs and file-based playback methods too. However, I do think those looking for a more refined HDR experience from a projector or OLED television, or a player that offers more value, should look elsewhere. With that said, those comfortable with a stock HDR experience, or with a way to curtail the image for their display outside the player, should be happy with the X1100ES.