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Blu-ray Players

4K Blu-ray player shootout: Xbox One S vs. Samsung vs. Sony vs. Oppo

The Xbox One S was one of the first devices to play 4K Blu-rays, and it's still among the cheapest. So how does it compare to dedicated 4K Blu-ray players?

Ever since the original PlayStation back in the '90s, game consoles have been at the cutting edge of playing optical discs. The DVD and Blu-ray formats both got a huge boost from Sony's machines. 

With the latest optical format, 4K Blu-ray, it's Microsoft's turn to lead the pack. Sony decided to omit 4K disc support from its PlayStation 4 Pro, leaving the Xbox One S as the sole console capable of delivering the highest-quality home video under the sun. At 12 months of age, the $250 One S has grown into a fine console, and its inclusion of 4K UHD playback is one of its best features. 

Meanwhile dedicated 4K Blu-ray players sell for around the same price or even more, and can do far less. So the question for people who want to watch 4K Blu-ray becomes: Is there any good reason to buy one of them instead of the One S?

To find out, I pitted the Xbox against three high-profile 4K Blu-ray players -- the Sony UBP-X800, the Samsung UBD-K8500 and the Oppo UDP-203 -- to see which presented the best performance for the money.

The interface

screens-dan05.jpg

Pressing the center button on the Xbox One controller now takes you to a Guide sidebar, rather than the traditional home screen.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Despite the Xbox One's considerable power and capabilities, I consider its menu system a nightmare. The on-screen display is confused, convoluted and makes finding anything more difficult than before. And that's just games. As the Xbox is not a disc player first and foremost, you may have to burrow down to access the Blu-ray app.

Of the four 4K BD players I've tested so far, my favorite interface is the Sony. It puts content first, and lets you tailor your shortcuts so your favorites -- say Play Disc, Netflix and Pandora -- are right in front of you.

Operating speed

The Xbox One S is actually pretty fast when it comes to loading discs and streaming Netflix. While the 2016 Samsung UBD-K8500 is still the fastest I've seen at loading 4K discs, Microsoft's console is second fastest among the four. Sure, the Xbox is beaten in most of the other tests, but it only loses out by a couple of seconds each time. You probably wouldn't notice the difference in real-world use.

Loading times

Time to load (s) Microsoft Xbox One S Oppo UDP-203 Samsung UBD-K8500 Sony UBP-X800
Netflix (until menu) 10.01 N/A 7.64 4.26
'MI:III', player on, disc tray open 15.43 14.81 10.00 12.41
'Batman vs. Superman' UHD, player on, disc tray open 37.69 39.3 28.78 44.43

Image quality

While you may expect a dedicated player to produce a better picture than a game console, that wasn't the case. The Xbox One S passed all of the tests I threw at it -- whether DVD, Blu-ray or 4K disc. From everything I could see, it was just as good as the dedicated players. It was able to correctly replay film and video content from DVD and Blu-ray test discs well, without stuttering or leaving jaggies. And 4K high dynamic range (HDR) content popped in exactly the same way it did on the Samsung, Sony and Oppo players -- whether via streaming services or discs. 

Be aware that if you want to stream HDR, only Netflix and Amazon are supported on the Xbox One S right now -- no YouTube or Vudu yet. By comparison, the Samsung only does Amazon HDR, while the Sony only has YouTube HDR.

Should you buy a dedicated player?

Microsoft Xbox One Media Remote

The Media Remote makes disc playback easier on the One S.

Sarah Tew/CNET

With similar speed and image quality across all of the players, why buy anything but the Xbox One S for 4K Blu-ray playback?

The main reason is if you watch a lot of discs. The interface of the Xbox One S muddles things and makes the process of playing stuff more annoying than a dedicated player. The $18 Media Remote is also worth the investment if you don't want to use the Xbox's game controller. 

But that's pretty much it, and for most people the interface differences aren't worth paying extra to get a dedicated player. If you want to do any gaming at all (and even if you don't), the Xbox One S is worth buying over a dedicated player. It's capable, compact and comparatively fast. And until those other players go down in price, it's by far the best value in 4K Blu-ray playback.

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