4K Blu-ray is growing up. Current players offer better performance and cheaper prices than their predecessors. The latest batch of UHD players are available for between $100 and $200 and offer things the early adopters couldn't, including compatibility with Dolby Vision discs.
With a software update available later this year, the Sony X700 will work with Dolby Vision-encoded discs, lending owners of DV-equipped TVs a sense of future-proofing.
Unlike the cheaper LG UP870 and the Oppo UBP-203, which are strictly disc players, the Sony UBP-X700 offers the best of both disc media and streaming. It's relatively fast, offers all of the apps you need, and its picture quality is top notch.
"But what about the Sony X800?", you might say, especially as that one's not going away. Performance-wise it's a wash between the two Sony players -- the main benefit to the more expensive model is a nicer-looking box and marginally better DVD performance. At a $50 saving and with the promise of Dolby Vision in the future, there's no real reason not to buy the X700. Don't need streaming, though? Save some money and get the equally impressive LG UP870.
The Sony UBP-X700 is available for $199, £269 or AU$349.
In terms of design, the X700 sits somewhere between the up-market, book-like X800 and compact HD models like the BDP-S3700 The X700 measures a foot across and boasts a two-tone finish, but it lacks a display on the front panel -- all you'll find there are play and eject buttons. To the left of the front panel is a drop-down drawer that hides the disc mechanism.
Apart from the design, what is the difference between the X700 and the $250 X800? Two words: Dolby Vision. No one likes a format war, but Dolby's baby is one of a handful of HDR technologies vying for your attention. While support isn't coming till mid-2018, the X700 also includes the more widespread HDR 10, so you'll have most of the bases covered.
Connectivity is identical to the X800's with two HDMI ports -- one for audio and video and a second for decoding audio from an older, non-4K-sporting AV receiver. The player also comes with a coaxial digital port, which is a bit unusual, as most TVs and sound bars support optical, plus it offers a USB connection.
The menu is sensibly laid out and pretty much identical to the X800's, plus the X700 has most of the apps you can ask for, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Panora, Spotify and Hulu. The player also supports 4K streaming from Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and YouTube, but only the latter in HDR. Lastly, If you somehow still need it the player includes Miracast for streaming your mobile device's screen to your player as well as DLNA.
The remote control is compact and fun with easy access to most of the functions you'll need.
There's a reason Sony players are so popular -- in our testing they have proven to be consistently good performers -- and the X700 again acquits itself quite well. We found it was equally comfortable with HD discs, 4K Blu-ray and YouTube HDR streams. Compared to the X800 though, the more-expensive player was a little bit better at playing DVDs, with less moire on the edges of the buildings in our Star Trek test disc. The X700 gives you a choice of two different settings for upscaling -- Auto1 (2K) and Auto2 (4K). As Auto1 (2) was better than Auto2 with this test, which indicates that the scaler in our LG OLED TV was taking over the heavy lifting to bring it to 4K. By contrast, we found both the LG UP X870 and Sony X800 to do a better job of reproducing DVDs with less jaggies.
So the X700 put in a good show picture quality-wise and in terms of speed it was equally adept. Most surprising was how quickly the player loaded Netflix -- at only 1.89 seconds it's the fastest a player has ever performed this test. It felt instantaneous. While we would always recommend a dedicated Roku box instead of a Blu-ray as your main streamer the X700 is a very good alternative. That said, the X800 is no slouch either -- since we first looked at the X800, its loading times have also improved, and on the disc side it is now the second-quickest at loading the Batman versus Superman 4K BD.
|Load times (s)||LG UP870||Oppo UDP-203 (discontinued)||Microsoft Xbox One S||Samsung UBD-K8500||Sony UBP-X700||Sony UBP-X800|
|Netflix (until menu)||N/A||N/A||10.01||7.64||1.89||4.26|
|MI:III | player on | disk tray open||9.36||14.81||22.87||10.00||12.56||12.41|
|Batman vs. Superman UHD | player on||21.2||39.3||37.69||28.78||30.72||24.05|
Finally, we watched a number of HDR discs, both in HDR 10 and Dolby Vision. Why Dolby Vision when it's not supported yet? We had some troubles last year with the Xbox One overblowing HDR highlights on the Dolby-sporting Despicable Me 2 test disc and wanted to see if the X700 did the same. The answer is, no; it simply read the HDR 10 layer and relayed it without issue.
Likewise, Mad Max Fury Road looked lovely, with a much more natural palette when played through the LG OLED55C8P TV than we'd seen previously. When you first see the procession of vehicles as they chase the war-truck (Chapter 2 17.00), the ultra-red details of the flaming exhausts and the blind guitarist's velour outfit "pop" but don't look completely unrealistic.
For your extra 50 bucks, what does the X800 give you? The most obvious answer is a premium build -- while the X700 looks like something you keep in a motorhome, the X800 more befits a home AV system. The other is that the X800 is a little faster with 4K load times. But things can change drastically in 12 months, for while the X800 was the best player at this time last year, that is no longer the case. In its place we present two alternatives: for the streamers, this X700 is the best option, while for people who strictly want a disc player, the LG UP870 is shaping up to be a budget superstar. Look out for a full review of the LG player soon.