“Makes 4K discs an af­ford­able re­al­ity”

FOR Crisp, nat­u­ral pic­ture; ex­cel­lent de­tail AGAINST Sound could be punchier; no Dolby Vi­sion (yet)

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - First Tests -

Un­til now, we haven’t en­coun­tered a bud­get 4K Blu-ray player that wowed us in quite the way we be­lieve 4K and HDR pic­ture qual­ity should. How­ever, with its lat­est player, the UBP‹X700, Sony has en­deav­oured to de­liver a five-star per­for­mance where its ri­vals have failed – and it suc­ceeds with fly­ing colours.

Launched at CES 2017 for just £270 (though it's now avail­able for as lit­tle as £250), this af­ford­able Sony player boasts vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal fea­tures to the Award­win­ning UBP‹X800. How­ever, the main dif­fer­ence here is that the UBP‹X700 will be able to sup­port Dolby Vi­sion HDR.

That means Sony joins LG in be­ing the only big TV brands to sup­port Dolby Vi­sion along­side the stan­dard HDR10 for­mat (the other three ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ers have so far backed HDR10+). Dolby Vi­sion isn’t avail­able out of the box, how­ever – ac­cord­ing to Sony it will ar­rive via a firmware up­date some time this sum­mer. Though it is worth bear­ing in mind that Sony has past form for fail­ing to de­liver on its Dolby Vi­sion up­date prom­ises.

Set­ting the stan­dard

Since the UBP‹X700 doesn’t do Dolby Vi­sion just yet, we’re stick­ing with good old stan­dard HDR10 for now. We start with the 4K Blu-ray of Thor: Rag­narok –a kalei­do­scope of vivid colours, from the multi-hued, gaudy garbage planet to the gilded halls of As­gard.

The Sony player jug­gles all of these colours with an in­cred­i­bly deft hand. Ev­ery blade of grass is etched cleanly, Thor’s red cape has depths of gra­da­tions within its folds and sparks of light­ning split the screen with star­tling bright­ness. It’s a fun, in­volv­ing per­for­mance with stacks of de­tail.

In our re­view of the 4K Blu-ray disc, we noted how the film “strikes an im­pres­sively nat­u­ral­is­tic look for a fan­tasy film”, and it’s this qual­ity that comes to the fore with the Sony X700. We’ve al­ways ap­plauded Sony for its nat­u­ral-look­ing per­for­mance, but the X700 sur­passes even that of the X800 in how it dis­plays a won­der­fully sub­tle pic­ture that’s im­pec­ca­bly judged while also be­ing hugely en­ter­tain­ing.

It bal­ances the colour­ful, fan­tas­ti­cal el­e­ments – the rain­bow bridge, a scin­til­lat­ing Jeff Gold­blum – with the more re­al­is­tic hues of planet Earth. Skin tones are nat­u­ral, ac­tion scenes are han­dled with smooth and sta­ble mo­tion, and there’s a life­like qual­ity to the pic­ture that just draws you in.

The X700 may be cheaper, but it’s a newer model than the X800 and ul­ti­mately that shows – it hap­pens to be the bet­ter value of the two play­ers.

Grass is greener

The X800’s pic­ture per­for­mance is glossier: ev­ery­thing gleams brighter, colours are richer and ev­ery­thing pops a lit­tle more. It’s an im­pres­sive dis­play, but next to the more nat­u­ral­is­tic X700, the X800 looks a tad overblown at times. Play the Blu-ray of Looper and this qual­ity is most no­tice­able through skin tones and land­scapes – the green grass is too sat­u­rated through the X800.

The X700 is sim­ply more nat­u­ral in how it han­dles gra­da­tions of hues, pre­vent­ing pur­ples and or­anges and sparkling blues from clash­ing with each other but still let­ting them wave their re­spec­tive flags.

You’ll want just as good sound to ac­com­pany that su­perb pic­ture, and the Sony doesn’t dis­ap­point. Voices ap­pear in the front and cen­tre, and are bliss­fully clear. So much of Thor: Rag­narok hinges on hu­mour and the Sony player re­lays ev­ery

“The X700 is a fan­tas­tic player that makes watch­ing 4K discs an af­ford­able re­al­ity. It might not ex­ude the same pre­mium qual­ity as its older sib­ling, but it does de­liver a sub­tler, more life­like 4K pic­ture on a tighter bud­get”

joy­ous quip, sar­cas­tic re­join­der and laugh-out-loud line with punc­tual tim­ing. It’s a per­for­mance full of char­ac­ter.

Spe­cial ef­fects are flung about with agility and pre­ci­sion, and there’s a good amount of at­tack and punch when fists and ham­mer smack into hu­mans and Hulks alike. We’d like a bit more gusto and heft to the over­all sound, though. The Sony UBP‹X800’S ex­pan­sive and mus­cu­lar sound elic­its a more visceral re­ac­tion to crashes, wal­lops and thun­der­ous blows. The X700 sounds a tad lightweight in com­par­i­son, though it never suf­fers any wince-in­duc­ing bright­ness de­spite the leaner tone.

Badge of hon­our

The X700 re­mains an en­gag­ing lis­ten, and comes well equipped on all fronts. It sup­ports all sur­round sound for­mats, in­clud­ing the lat­est Dolby Atmos and DTS:X sound­tracks. De­spite not flash­ing the hi-res au­dio badge, the X700 can play up to 24-bit/192khz files in all pop­u­lar for­mats, in­clud­ing WAV, FLAC and DSD.

That zippy, dy­namic char­ac­ter comes through with stereo mu­sic, with each in­stru­ment and voice ring­ing through loud and clear when we play The Dead Weather’s

60 Feet Tall on CD. If you want to hear all the in­tri­ca­cies of the brood­ing com­po­si­tion, how­ever, you’ll need a ded­i­cated hi-fi ma­chine for the job.

Apart from the pend­ing Dolby Vi­sion up­date, the UBP‹X700 shares most other fea­tures with the UBP‹X800. It sup­ports 4K 60p pic­tures and can play all types of discs, in­clud­ing SACDS and 3D Blu-rays.

If you’re a fan of stream­ing 4K pro­grammes, you’ll be pleased to dis­cover that the Sony player sup­ports 4K HDR streams on Net­flix and Ama­zon Prime. Most of the usual catch-up apps can be found on the player’s home page, in­clud­ing BBC iplayer, BBC Sport, De­mand 5, Spo­tify, Rakuten TV, Youtube and more.

Con­nect­ing to your home net­work us­ing wi-fi or eth­er­net is a pain­less process. A close in­spec­tion of the specs sheet shows that the X700 sup­ports only sin­gle-band 2.4GHZ wi-fi, while the X800 model sup­ports dual band 5GHZ as well. The lat­ter adds an ex­tra layer of sta­bil­ity, but we play a 4K stream of Jes­sica Jones and the X700 holds up nicely with­out any drop-outs dur­ing our pe­riod of test­ing.

Well con­nected

On the con­nec­tions side, you get twin HDMI out­puts – handy if you want to sep­a­rate the video and au­dio feeds in your home cinema set up – a coax­ial dig­i­tal out­put, and a USB port for play­ing con­tent stored on me­dia drives or USB sticks.

It's a more af­ford­able model, so we’re not sur­prised Sony has de­cided to fit the X700 with a dif­fer­ent chas­sis to the X800. The X700 is smaller – about two-thirds the size of the hefty, metal­lic rec­tan­gle of the X800 – and it’s a lit­tle lighter, too.

But it’s not an all-plas­tic af­fair. The thin metal pan­els around the X700’s an­gled body pre­vent it from feel­ing cheap, and al­though the power and eject but­tons are made of plas­tic, they’re prompt and work with­out fail.

The in­cluded re­mote con­trol, on the other hand, is small, plas­tic and lightweight – it won’t suit ev­ery­one. All the but­tons are func­tional and easy to use, though, even in a dark room. But­ton-prod­ding leads to in­stant re­sponses, the disc loads qui­etly and, over­all, the X700 is a breeze to use the sec­ond you hook it up to your TV.

Phased out

The X700 is a fan­tas­tic player that makes watch­ing 4K discs an af­ford­able re­al­ity. It may not ex­ude the same sen­sa­tion of pre­mium qual­ity as its older sib­ling, but the fact that it can de­liver a sub­tler, more life­like 4K pic­ture on a tighter bud­get is a re­mark­able achieve­ment.

The ar­rival of this newer player is likely to sig­nify the end for the older UBP‹X800, which will surely be phased out at some stage. With its main com­peti­tor out of the way, and once the Sony UBP‹X700 is granted its Dolby Vi­sion HDR up­date, it will take some do­ing to knock this su­perb 4K player off its five-star perch.

Once con­nected, the UBP-X700 is a breeze to use – even the disc loads qui­etly

One of the few draw­backs with the UBP-X700 is its plas­tic re­mote

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