Sony has entered the Ultra HD Blu-ray Player fray with a quite economical unit, the UBP-X800 Ultra Blu-ray player. Despite the sub-$500 pricing, there seems to be only one noticeable omission on this player.
What's missing from our traditional understanding of the DVD Player/Blu-ray Player/Ultra HD Blu-ray player is a front panel display. Neither are there any analogue connections — at all — but things have been heading that way for a while, and there's really no point in buying an Ultra HD Blu-ray player if you don't have digital inputs available on your downstream devices. If your AV receiver is a few years old it may not be comfortable with Ultra HD signals in its HDMI feed, so the Sony UBP-S800 player has a second HDMI output for audio only (interwoven into an inoffensively vanilla video signal) for your receiver while the first HDMI output connects direct to a 4K TV. If the receiver is even older, the player also has a coaxial (as opposed to the more common optical) digital audio output.
And, as you'd expect, it has full network connectivity. As we shall see, it has highly competent and useful network features. To make use of them it has both Ethernet and dual band 802.11n level Wi-Fi. The Ethernet is 100Mbps level, not gigabit. The manual says that you can use an app on Android and iOS devices called SongPal, but when you search in the relevant stores you'll find the Sony Music Center, which seems to have replaced SongPal (or perhaps it has merely been renamed).
A front flap that's almost the full width of the unit keeps things looking neat. When the disc tray opens, it pushes this down. There are no further inputs revealed. At the right-hand end are eject and on/standby keys, the only physical keys on the unit. Don't lose the remote control! Thankfully Sony hasn't caved to the regrettable trend of putting keys on the top of equipment, so it remains convenient for stacking. There's also a USB socket under a pull-out plastic panel immediately below the two control keys.
The player also supports Bluetooth audio devices, so it can connect to your headphones that way. The SBC and AAC codecs are supported, along with Sony's own higher quality LDAC codec.
The player supports CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray discs and, as a pleasant surprise, Super Audio CDs. It of course supports all the expected stuff for UHD Blu-ray, including the wide colour gamuts and high dynamic range of Ultra HD Blu-ray discs.
But not Dolby Vision. It's my understanding that a number of premium Sony TV models will be capable of handling Dolby Vision signals via a firmware upgrade to come. However there appear to be no plans to make a similar upgrade available for this player.
There's a standard Sony remote provided with a sensible range of keys, lacking only one for ‘Setup’. For that you have to navigate the on-screen display.
Let's approach this in four ways. First, picture performance. Then audio performance. Then disc handling. Then, network media capabilities.
The picture performance was glorious with Ultra HD. I'd love to attribute that to this player in particular, but it's actually the things common to all Ultra HD players that produce equally brilliant results: UHD resolution, HDR blacks and brightness, REC.2020 colour capability for the first significant expansion of colour gamut since home entertainment first moved from black and white to colour. The Sony UBP-X800 was up there with the best of them with Ultra HD material.
DVDs? Australian 576i/50 DVDs were decoded and delivered with very respectable progressive-scan conversion and upscaling (I left the output resolution on full UHD throughout—- changing it involves digging into the settings menu which is too inconvenient). There was a little bias towards film-mode deinterlacing, so that even the more ambiguous film-content was properly delivered. But actual video-sourced stuff wasn't mistreated as film content either. It was impressive.
Less so with 1080i/50 Blu-ray discs. It broke up a little at the start of Chapter 10 of 'Miss Potter' (look at the window of the house as the downwards pan completes), but that's not too unusual. Worse was a couple of minutes into the next chapter as Miss Potter and Mr Heelis are walking down a country lane. For a second or so the railing of the fence to their right is rattling around as the deinterlacer alternates it between lines, rather than just weaving the lines together. Fortunately 1080i/50 film-based Blu-ray discs are quite rare.
The first time I put on an UltraHD Blu-ray — 'Mad Max: Fury Road' it was—- I noticed something missing. The player was not triggering the Dolby Atmos decoding in the receiver. I was using a Yamaha Aventage model which provides plenty of signal information through its on-screen menus. It turned out that the player was decoding the Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track to 7.1 channel PCM instead of bitstreaming either that or the Dolby Atmos extensions to the receiver.
Time to delve into the menus. There were a couple of things in there that needed changing. The main one was the 'BD Audio MIX Setting', which defaulted to 'On'. That setting allows the player to mix any secondary audio (typically associated with BonusView PIP content) into the main audio. In order to do that, it has to decode both the main and secondary audio to PCM. It apparently decodes the main audio to PCM whenever this setting is 'On', regardless of whether or not any secondary audio is present. No bitstream means no Atmos.
So, if you have an Atmos-capable receiver, go to that settings item and switch it 'Off'. But remember that it's there in case you are watching a BonusView PIP disc in the future and would like to hear the secondary audio.
And while you're there, change (subject to your equipment; if you're plugging it into a TV, then it might be best to leave this) the '48kHz/96kHz/192kHz PCM' setting from 48kHz to 192kHz to correct its default of downsampling high resolution PCM.
Finally, change 'Audio DRC' from 'Auto' to 'Off'. The default setting will act on dynamic range compression metadata, if any, in certain Dolby tracks on some Blu-ray discs. 'On' or 'Auto' can sometimes help with controlling levels for night-time viewing, but the implementation is so spotty, and I've heard one or two truly lousy implementations, I'd suggest leaving that off as well.
Playing both DVDs and regular Blu-ray discs, the unit offers three fast forwards and four rewind speeds, plus one slow motion in either direction. In addition, you can step frame by frame either way. With UltraHD Blu-ray, the same forwards and rewind speeds are available, but slow motion and single frame stepping works going forwards only.
There were only two defects of the unit as a network media handler, from my point of view. First, network music playback wasn't gapless, neither when the unit was used as a DLNA renderer nor as a DLNA player. Second, the unit wouldn't play DSD files from the network.
The former of those is way too common. The latter is strange, given that the UBP-X800 plays SACDs, so why not the SACD format from the network? Furthermore, it's remarkably competent when playing other media formats. For example, I was able to achieve the rare feat of sending multichannel FLAC music to the unit and have it decoded to 5.1 channels. I could send 5.1-channel DTS-encoded material, extracted from DTS CDs and saved in FLAC format, to the player and it would turn it back into the original DTS bitstream and send it to the receiver for surround decoding.
A 100Mbps 4K test clip stuttered a little when playing back from my gigabit network when the player was wired into Ethernet. That's usually the case with devices with 100BASE-T Ethernet, since it's right at their speed limit. When I switched to Wi-Fi, it ran absolutely perfectly. Clearly it's time consumer devices went Gigabit Ethernet? To be fair, only a couple of premium Ultra HD Blu-ray players seem to offer this, and they cost several hundred dollars more.
The player supports Spotify Connect. If you select Spotify within the Music Center app, it'll start up the Spotify app, and from there you can select the UBP-X800 as your player. There's also a Netflix player on the home page, along with a couple of other streaming services—- MUBI and Pandora and Snag Films and the Berliner Philharmoniker. And, of course, the wonderful 'W Network'. Which allows you to pay actual money in order to watch WWE wrestling.
There didn't seem to be any kind of app store for adding additional capabilities. The '+' part of the home page had little more to offer.
Sony smart TVs use Android as their OS. I don't think that this player uses it. I couldn't mirror Android or Windows computers to it.
Finally, the player did a great job on photos, rescaling them to match screen resolution without bottlenecking down to 1080p along the way. Full 4:4:4 resolution was delivered with photos.
I did enjoy using this player very much. It was reliable. It offers better disc control on more formats than most, and the network performance was generally very good. There are clear complementarities for those using a Sony TV, and even for those with a different brand, it is well worth checking out.
Sony UBP-X800 Ultra HD Blu-ray player
Price: $499 ($398 on sale through Sony store)
+ Very good overall performance
+ Plays SACDs!
+ Good low price
- Doesn't play DSD from network
- Could be a touch better on 1080i50 deinterlacing
Tested with firmware: M36.R.0123
Outputs: 2 x HDMI, 1 x coaxial digital audio
Others: 1 x Ethernet, WiFi, 1 x USB
Dimensions: 430mm wide by 50mm tall by 265mm deep
Weight: 3.8 kilograms
Warranty: 12 months