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Sony UBP-X800 review: A 4K Blu-ray player alternative with a premium vibe

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Sony announced its first 4K Blu-ray player in September of 2016, the UBP-X1000, and while it looked like it was "the business," it was also a sobering $700 (£725 or AU$940). This was followed by the UBP-X800, and most recently the UBP-X700, which crucially adds Dolby Vision.

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7.9

Sony UBP-X800

The Good

The Sony UBP-X800 4K Blu-ray player offers excellent design and oozes a "premium" vibe. Video quality is as good as any player we've tested. It's incredibly fast at loading apps and has some impressive features including Bluetooth streaming.

The Bad

It can be slow to load 4K discs. Limited number of audio outputs: no optical digital or stereo analog. The player requires a little hands-on fine-tuning to get the most out of music and DVD replay. No Dolby Vision. Sony's X700 is cheaper and has Dolby Vision.

The Bottom Line

The Sony UBP-X800 4K Blu-ray player has impressive build quality and video performance, but the cheaper Sony offers a better deal.

Despite the presence of the newer player, the Sony X800 is still available and offers excellent playback quality plus a design that feels solid and high-end, unlike typical non-4K players today. Its $249/‎£400/AU$499 price compares well against other manufacturer's players such as the $559 "videophile" Oppo UDP-203 (now discontinued but still available). Yet the sticking point is Sony's own X700. It's cheaper, and has better support for HDR formats.

In the 12 months since we reviewed the X800 a lot has changed -- more 4K players have come out, prices have come down, and Dolby Vision has become a more viable format. Performance-wise there's not much to separate the X700 and X800, except that the more expensive player is marginally better at DVD playback. As a result the X800 is no longer our go-to 4K player, and we now present two alternatives: If you want streaming apps and Dolby Vision, get the X700; if you want to save money and get an even faster player, but no streaming apps, the LG UP870 is an out-and-out bargain.

First published May 27, 2017. 
Update May 8, 2018
: The introduction and conclusion of this review have been updated to account for more recent reviews, including the Sony X700. The X800's Value rating dropped from 8 to 7, and its overall rating was lowered from 8.1 to 7.9. 

Design

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The design of the X800 is virtually identical to the more expensive X1000 with its low-slung, "book-on-its-side" appearance. The most notable difference is that there's no display on the X800.

The front of the unit is pretty sparse, the disc tray hides behind a drop-down panel and another pull-away panel fronts a USB port. The only visible features are the Sony logo and buttons for power and eject, which are a little too close together -- I found it was easy to accidentally hit one instead of the other. With no Play control on the unit you will need the remote to perform almost all of the functions.

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Sarah Tew/CNET


The design mimics the STR-DN1080 receiver: the top and bottom edge of the unit are textured steel with gloss black stripe across the middle. It's also built solid -- hold the unit in your hands and the X800 has a pleasing heft to it.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The X800's remote is the adorable candy bar similar to other recent Sony components. It offers the handy Home button near where your thumb rests and several functions can be performed with the remote alone, including launching Netflix. It trounces the terrible, tiny clicker Samsung ships with the UBD-K8500.

Features

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

The Sony also offers support for HDR video in the form of HDR10, but not Dolby Vision. Format wars are never fun, but this one is shaping up to be a "DTS vs. Dolby" situation which means the two may happily coexist and have minimal effect on us, the end users. Among major TV makers only Samsung has yet to support Dolby Vision. We'll have to wait till the first discs arrive in June 2017 to test the efficacy of the disc format, but from what we've seen with streaming, the differences over HDR10 won't be drastic.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

While Oppo has gone the extreme videophile route with its UDP-203 and slashed all streaming features, the Sony has gone in the complete opposite direction. The UBP-X800's accent on streaming comes through from the Sony's home screen -- it's a grid of numerous streaming services and a single "disc" icon.

The number of different apps the player offers keeps growing every time I turn it on and it now has over two dozen, including all of the crowd pleasers like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Pandora and Spotify. We're particularly pleased to see the inclusion of Mubi which is an excellent, curated movie service.

The player offers 4K streaming from Netflix, Amazon and YouTube but only has HDR compatibility with YouTube at present. By contrast, the Samsung UBD-K8500 only offers HDR via Amazon Video. Smart TVs and dedicated streamers like the Roku Premiere+ typically have much better 4K and/or HDR app support.

As far as disc playback is concerned the X800 will do 4K Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD, CD and more esoteric formats like DVD-Audio and SACD. You can also stream content over a network and the player is "Hi-res compliant," meaning it will also do 24/192 and DSD audio formats.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The number of connections the Sony offers is in line with its price -- no analog though, all digital -- with dual HDMI ports, a coaxial digital, USB, Wi-Fi and Ethernet, plus Bluetooth listening. Like other players we've seen recently the X800 can output Bluetooth, and even the company's own LDAC variant to a pair of Sony headphones. The second HDMI is designed to let you use an older, non-4K/HDR compliant AV receiver.

Performance

We've made the point before that most Blu-ray players, no matter how inexpensive, are good enough to play most discs at their best. We've tested a handful of players now -- the Oppo UDP-203, the Samsung UBD-K8500, and the Sony. All play Blu-rays pretty well, and all are able to play HDR10-encoded 4K Blu-ray discs with identical picture quality as far as we can see.

The most obvious difference is speed. In our tests the Sony was a full 10 seconds slower than the Samsung at loading 4K discs. The Sony was faster at 1080p Blu-ray discs, however, and it's the fastest Blu-ray player we've ever seen at loading Netflix. Just four seconds. That's Roku fast.

Operating Speed

Time to load (s) Microsoft Xbox One SOppo UDP-203Samsung UBD-K8500Sony UBP-X800
Netflix (until menu) 10.01N/A7.644.26
MI:III | player on | disk tray open 15.4314.8110.0012.41
Batman vs. Superman UHD | player on | disk tray open 37.6939.328.7844.43


The current crop of 4K movies looked as good as any 4K Blu-ray player. Compared side-by-side with both the aforementioned Oppo and Samsung -- using a Samsung QN65Q7F 4K HDR TV -- there were no observable differences in picture quality between the players.

No third-party 4K test discs are available yet -- a 4K HDR disc Samsung gave us won't work in the X800 (by design, Sony says) -- but it's still early days for 4K Blu-ray.

Performance with standard Blu-ray discs was very good. While I take synthetic patterns with a grain of salt, the Sony performed the HQV 2.0 1080p Blu-ray tests better than any other single player we've seen -- including any Oppo currently on the market, and the Samsung. This thing is solid, acing all of the various jaggy and 2:3 pull-down tests.

Only when it came to playing DVDs did I have a little initial trouble playing our test disc of "Star Trek: Insurrection." As the camera panned across the roofs of the village the frame rate chugged like it wasn't performing the 3:2 pull-down process correctly. However, switching the player menu's 24p mode to "on" fixed the issue.

Depending on your setup, pristine audio might require tweaking the setup menu. By default the player is set to output digital audio as PCM at 48kHz, which uses the player's onboard processing. Listening to music I found that a hi-res (24/44.1) version of "Default" by Django Django sounded tinny and unpleasant when the digital stream played back through our reference Rotel receiver. However when I flipped a switch (Settings > Audio Digital Audio Output > Auto) and the player sent the file unmodified, the harshness disappeared and I could enjoy the music.

Conclusion

Aside from Dolby Vision, the Sony X800 offers almost every conceivable feature you could want, and all of the video performance you'd hope for in a next-gen player. Oddly enough, the X800's main competition comes from the same manufacturer. While the X800 is a little better at DVD playback and looks a whole lot nicer design-wise, if you want to save some money and get Dolby Vision thrown in, the X700 is what we'd suggest.

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7.9

Sony UBP-X800

Score Breakdown

Design 8Ecosystem 8Features 9Performance 8Value 7