Sony's first Ultra HD Blu-ray player has hit the market, in the form of the UBP-X800 first introduced at CES. At $299, the UBP-X800 is priced in the more entry-level category, with the likes of Samsung's UBD-K9500 and Philips' BDP7501. However, it carries some features that pit it against higher-priced units like the $550 OPPO Digital UDP-203--namely, support for SACD and DVD-Audio high-resolution audio discs, which makes the UBP-X800 a true universal disc player.
Like all UHD players, the UBP-X800 can pass the higher-quality video signal on a UHD Blu-ray disc, including Rec 2020 color and the HDR10 High Dynamic Range format, but not Dolby Vision HDR. It offers both wired and wireless network connections, as well as built-in Bluetooth with AAC/LDAC support to stream audio to headphones or other Bluetooth audio devices. Netflix, Amazon Video, and VUDU are integrated, as is Miracast screen mirroring technology.
The player supports high-resolution audio playback via disc, USB, and DLNA, and it also features Sony's DSEE HX upscaling technology to improve the quality of lower-resolution compressed audio files like MP3.
The UBP-X800 feels a lot more substantial than the other sub-$300 players. It's more comparable in build quality to the OPPO UDP-203. It weighs eight pounds and seven ounces, which is roughly twice that of the Samsung player and close to the OPPO's 9.5 pounds. While it does not have the solid brushed-aluminum front faceplate of the OPPO, its steel cabinet sounds a little thicker when you give it a knock with your knuckles.
The one build area where it falls short of the OPPO is in the inclusion of a front-panel display. The reflective front panel looks like it might contain a display, but alas it does not. That reflective panel actually drops down to reveal the slide-out disc tray. Small power and eject buttons sit to the right, along with the player's only USB input, covered by a pull-off door.
Around back, the UBP-X800 is similar in connectivity to the other sub-$300 players. You get two HDMI outputs: one HDMI 2.0a AV output and one audio-only HDMI 1.4 output. Sony has kindly covered up the audio-only output with a piece of tape, which is a subtle but helpful way of letting people know that they shouldn't use that particular output unless they need to mate the player with an older AV receiver that doesn't support 4K/HDR pass-through.
The only other AV connection is a digital audio output, and here Sony has made the odd decision to go with coaxial instead of optical. That's probably not a big deal if you mate the player with an AV receiver, but it could be a concern if you use a soundbar or powered speaker, as many of them only offer optical digital audio inputs. At least Sony has added Bluetooth audio output, so you can connect to many powered speakers using that method. The supplied IR remote includes a direct Bluetooth button that pulls up an onscreen menu for the quick pairing of Bluetooth devices. The remote control is small but contains all of the desired buttons in a logical layout.
This player lacks some of the advanced connection options you'll find with the more expensive OPPO and Panasonic players, such as multichannel analog audio outputs and an RS-232 control port (it does support IP control, though). The upcoming and higher-end Sony UBP-X1000ES player will include these type of connections. The X800 also lacks the OPPO's HDMI input to pass-through another source, like a streaming media player or cable/satellite set-top box.
Initial setup is quick and easy: just select your language, choose to enable or disable the Quick Start mode, agree to Sony's licensing, and set up your wired or wireless network connection. I used the onboard LAN port for a wired connection, but 802.11ac Wi-Fi is also built-in. During my review session, I mated the player directly via HDMI to my reference LG 65EF9500 OLED TV, as well as the Sony XBR-65Z9D UHD TV. I also added an Onkyo TX-RZ900 AV receiver to the mix at times to test audio output, alternating between the main HDMI AV output and the audio-only HDMI output.
One important setup note: Many UHD TVs require you to enable UHD Deep Color to pass the full bit depth, color space, and HDR that are possible with an Ultra HD Blu-ray player. You can do this in the TV's Video or Picture setup menu. The LG TV that I use has a setting in the Picture menu called HDMI Ultra HD Deep Color, and you can enable it per input. What's nice about the Sony player is that, during initial setup, it puts up a notice that reminds you to perform this step in your TV and even tells you where to find the setting in Sony's UHD TVs.
Of all the UHD players I've tested thus far, the Sony's Home page is my least favorite. It's not horrible; it's just a bit boring and disorganized. It doesn't have the big, colorful icons of the Samsung or the beautiful high-resolution images of the OPPO. The page is divided into two main sections, with "Featured Apps" to the left and "My Apps" to the right. At the bottom right are tiny squares for Disc, USB device, and screen mirroring. Even though this is a disc player, the position of the disc icon makes it feel like a secondary function or afterthought. Up at the top right are options for "All Apps" and "Setup."
The Featured apps are Netflix, Amazon Video, VUDU, and Opera TV, but here's the thing: those are actually the only streaming services that the player offers. Go into All Apps, and you won't find any other official services--no YouTube, no Hulu, no Pandora, nothing. So, do we really need a "My Apps" section that takes up a huge amount of real estate on the Home page yet sits empty? The only thing you can really add to the section that isn't already on Home page is the "Media server" icon for streaming from a DLNA server. My Sony rep says that the company plans to add more apps over the coming months; perhaps then this layout will make more sense, but right now it just feel redundant. [Update, 5/23/17: Sony has since issued a firmware update, adding a number of new apps: YouTube, Hulu Plus, Pandora, Spotify, Crackle, MLB.TV, Fox News Channel, and others.]
In the setup menu, most of the UBP-X800's screen settings are set to auto by default, ensuring that the player will work with any TV to which you connect it and automatically pass HDR if the TV supports it. The player includes an Original Resolution (aka source direct) mode, which is rare at this price point. In other respects, though, the Sony player doesn't quite have the setup flexibility of the more expensive OPPO player, although it's better than what the Samsung player offers. Most current UHD movies are mastered at 10-bit BT.2020 color with a YCbCr 4:2:0 color space. With the OPPO player, you can set up a Custom output with those exact specs if you want. With the Sony, you can set the color space to RGB, YCbCr 4:4:4, or YCbCr 4:2:2 (but not 4:2:0) and turn the Deep Color function to allow for 12- or 10-bit output, but you can't set a specific bit depth as you can with the OPPO. That more advanced level of setup probably isn't crucial for most consumers, but the Type A videophile might prefer the OPPO player.
On the audio side, the player has internal Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding. It is set by default to mix audio and commentary on Blu-ray discs (called BD Audio Mix), which will downmix Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master audio soundtracks--so you'll want to turn it off in order to pass the higher-resolution soundtracks. Leave the digital audio output set for auto in order to pass Dolby Atmos and DTS:X 3D audio tracks to your receiver for decoding.
As I mentioned, this is also a universal disc player, handling both SACD and DVD-Audio playback. It is configured by default to play the multichannel SACD layer; however, DSD output via HDMI is turned off by default. In this configuration, my Onkyo TX-RZ900 received a 176.4-kHz PCM signal over HDMI when playing SACDs. Once I enabled DSD output, the Onkyo receiver used its internal DSD decoding to deliver SACDs at the full 2.8 MHz.
As for the built-in streaming services, Netflix is available in Ultra HD with HDR, Amazon Video is only available in Ultra HD (no HDR), and VUDU is the standard, non-UHD version. I had no issues signing in and streaming content from these services.
The UBP-X800 spent several weeks in my system, as I evaluated it and the Sony XBR-65Z9D TV. I watched demo scenes from a variety of UHD movies--including The Magnificent Seven, The Revenant, Batman vs. Superman, The Martian, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, and Sicario--as well numerous BD and DVD scenes. In all respects, the player simply did what I asked of it, without misbehavin'. In fact, it's the first new UHD player I've auditioned that did not have any playback glitches during my time with it. It never froze up on me, nor did it struggle with any disc type that I fed it--be it UHD, BD, 3D BD, DVD, SACD, DVD-Audio, or CD. The disc drive is also very quiet, and the player responds quickly and reliably to remote commands.
In the speed department, the Sony's disc-loading speed was right on par with the OPPO UDP-203 and slightly slower than the Samsung UBD-K8500 (by an average of about five seconds), which is still the fastest player I've tested. The Sony's Quick Start mode does allow it to start up faster than all the other players, though. Press the power button, and the Home page appears instantly. And I do mean instantly. Enabling Quick Start also allows you to power on the player remotely via IP, but it does cause the player to consume more power in standby mode.
I put the UBP-X800 through my usual processing tests to evaluate its deinterlacing and upconversion abilities. It passed all of the 480i and 1080i deinterlacing tests on the HQV DVD disc and the Spears & Munsil 2nd Edition Blu-ray disc, and it did a great job with my favorite DVD demo scenes that are prone to artifacts: the Coliseum flyover in chapter 12 of Gladiator and chapters 3 and 4 from the Bourne Identity DVD. I saw no instances of moire or jaggies in these scenes, and the level of detail in the upconversion was solid.
I performed some direct A/B comparisons with the UBP-X800, first against the OPPO UDP-203 and then the Samsung UBD-K8500--using an Atlona AT-UHD-H2H-44M matrix switcher and dual copies of the Mission Impossible Rogue Nation BD and Insurgent UHD BD. With the Mission Impossible Blu-ray disc, I couldn't see any significant differences in detail, brightness, or color between the players. There was one instance, in the overhead shot of Havana in chapter 3, where I felt that perhaps the Sony was a little sharper, but seeing any difference required me to stare intently at a paused scene, standing about two feet from the screen ... and even then it was tough to tell.
The Atlona switcher does not pass HDR, so my first round of A/B comparisons using the Insurgent UHD disc were in non-HDR mode. Here, I did see noticeable differences in brightness. The Sony image was clearly brighter than the Samsung's, and it was slightly brighter than the Oppo's. The green foliage in the film's early scenes was brighter and more vibrant through the Sony, with more variances in color. I can't say which is technically more accurate, but I found the Sony image to be more inviting, while the Samsung image, in particular, looked flatter and duller.
Next, I used my HD Fury Integral box, which does support HDR pass-through, to switch between the players. In HDR mode, the picture quality of Insurgent looked more similar between the different players. I even used my Xrite I1Pro 2 meter in various scenes to check for brightness variations, and the numbers were nearly identical. So, the biggest performance difference that I could ascertain was in how the Sony passes non-HDR UHD content compared with the other players, which will only matter if you're looking for a player to mate with a non-HDR-capable UHD TV.
Finally, I tested the UBP-X800's handling of personal media files, via both USB and DLNA. Through its USB input, the player supports the addition of either a thumb drive or server, and it boasts excellent file support. On the video side, supported file types include MPEG2, MPEG4, AVCHD, MKV, AVI, MOV, WMV, and XVID. It played my ripped movies in the MP4 and M4V formats, as well as home videos in the MOV and AVCHD formats. I popped in the Digital Video Essentials UHD USB stick and ran through both video and photo tests; the Sony successfully passed the full UHD resolution with both HEVC video and JPEG photos.
On the audio side, supported file types include DSD, FLAC, ALAC, AIFF, WAV, AAC, WMA, and MP3. I had no issue with 24/96 AIFF and FLAC files downloaded from HDTracks.com. I was also able to stream WMA files from Windows Media Player via DLNA without issue.
The user interface for personal media files is utilitarian but quick to navigate, with menus for Video, Music, and Photo to the left and the list of file options running down the screen to the right. During music playback, the screen shows song/album/artist name, file type/resolution/size, and elapsed time, all set against a black background with textured circles. It's simple but elegant.
The UBP-X800 does not currently support the Dolby Vision format. Technically, neither does any other player on the market at this moment, nor are there any DV-enabled discs. However, discs are coming soon, and the OPPO UDP-203 and LG's upcoming UP970 are scheduled to receive firmware updates at a later date to add Dolby Vision functionality. Sony has not officially committed to doing the same.
The UBP-X800 has more built-in apps than the OPPO player (which doesn't have any), but it doesn't have as many as the Samsung K8500, which adds big names like YouTube, Hulu, FandangoNOW, Pandora, and PLEX.
Comparison & Competition
Competitors to the UBP-X800 are the Samsung UBD-K8500 (which now sells for about $200, since Samsung just introduced the newer UBP-M9500 at $399) and the Philips BDP7501 ($230), as well as LG's UP970 ($279)--which is the only one in this price range with a confirmed upgrade path to support Dolby Vision. the Microsoft Xbox One S also supports UHD playback, if you don't mind the fact that it's also a gaming console; prices start at $249.
At last September's CEDIA Expo, Sony also announced a flagship player, the UBP-X1000ES, which has more connection options and a stronger home automation emphasis. It was supposed to arrive this spring, but we've heard no further updates on pricing or exact availability.
Sony's first entry in the Ultra HD Blu-ray market is a good one. The UBP-X800 is fast, well built, and very reliable, and it delivers a high-quality video experience. Although it lacks some of the advanced connection and setup flexibility that you'll find in the more expensive players, it does include a few noteworthy features not offered in other sub-$300 UHD players, such as SACD/DVD-Audio playback, a native-resolution viewing option, and Bluetooth audio output. Add in streaming services like Netflix, VUDU, and Amazon Video, as well as support for a wide variety of personal media files, and you've got yourself a truly universal player offered at a great price.
• Check out our Blu-ray Player category page to read similar reviews.
• Sony XBR-65Z9D UHD LED/LCD TV Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Visiti the Sony website for more product information.