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Blu-ray Players

Sony finally has a 4K Blu-ray player, but it's not what we hoped for

Late to the game, Sony's first 4K Blu-ray player, the UBP-X1000ES, will be a premium model with very limited distribution.

Sony

In August Microsoft said it was supporting 4K Blu-ray discs in its revitalized Xbox One S game console. To follow suit, rival Sony was expected to announce its new PlayStation 4 Pro would also support the new hi-res format -- one which it had also helped create. But sadly it was not to be. A week later, however, and Sony is finally announcing a real player, but even so it's probably not what we had hoped for.

Yes, the UBP-X1000ES is a 4K Blu-ray player, capable of spinning virtually any other kind of optical disc too, but no, you won't be able to buy one off the shelf. Like Sony's other high-end "ES" components released in the US, this model will only be available through custom installers.

From the outside, the X1000ES looks very similar to the "premium" 1080p UHP-H1 player, and it performs many of the same functions, such as streaming Amazon Video and YouTube. But it has the added benefit of playing 4K discs.

4K Ultra HD Blu-ray is the latest disc-based standard and includes features such as 4K resolution (3,840x2,160 pixels), high dynamic range (HDR) and better color depth.

From a hardware perspective the new player includes a high-end 32-bit processing DAC, which will play disc-based media like SACD and CD, as well as stream native DSD (at up to 11.2MHz) and PCM (up to 192kHz).

Sony has yet to announce pricing and says it will be available in spring 2017, which is a little later than originally announced.

My take: Too little too late?

Oh, Sony. You had one job: make a 4K Blu-ray player that people can actually buy. Sony is the most popular manufacturer of Blu-ray players and this distinction could easily translate to the 4K version. But the company has seemingly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory for the second time in a week.

Given Sony's history of popularizing disk formats through enabling native support in new consoles -- PlayStation 2 and DVD; the PS3 and Blu-ray -- Sony was widely expected to announce support for 4K Blu-ray with its PS4 Pro last week. It didn't -- the console can only do 4K streaming -- and Sony has extended the disappointment with the UBP-X1000ES.

Despite being one of the first companies to produce 4K Blu-ray discs, it appears Sony is reticent to let people play them on anything. Subconsciously or not, the company is helping to scuttle the format with this lack of hardware support. And the UBP-X1000ES doesn't really count.

ES components are only available through custom installers in the US, probably because the company has the potential to make more money than in the cutthroat retail market. But this isn't helpful to ordinary people who just want to buy a Sony 4K Blu-ray player. At this stage, only if you have enough money to install a home security system or a dedicated theater room will you be able to drop a lazy grand (I'm guessing) on a 4K Blu-ray player.

Sure, 4K Blu-ray is a couple of years later to market than it should be to really have a chance, but it's a real format and the company is selling the discs already.

I still hold out hope that Sony will now announce a companion player, at a sensible price, for release at a similar time to the UBP-X1000ES. Perhaps then 4K Blu-ray will have a fighting chance.

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