“Makes 4K discs an affordable reality”
FOR Crisp, natural picture; excellent detail AGAINST Sound could be punchier; no Dolby Vision (yet)
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 UBPX700, 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 UBPX800. However, the main difference here is that the UBPX700 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 UBPX700 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 UBPX800’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 UBPX700 shares most other features with the UBPX800. 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.
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.
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 UBPX800, which will surely be phased out at some stage. With its main competitor out of the way, and once the Sony UBPX700 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