Japanese brand ditches trendy designs and delivers a Blu-ray player for the 4K generation
Sony has a chequered history when it comes to Blu-ray players. Its last high-end offering was back in 2009, and came in the shape of the admirably over-engineered BDP-S5000ES. Yet back then BD decks were simpler affairs, dedicated to the task of extracting the maximum number of bits from discs.
Things have moved on considerably since. Playing platters is now just one part of a suite of functionality, which also covers network file playback and subscription VOD. And in the intervening years Sony’s player fleet has been dramatically commoditised, compromising creditable electronics with third-division cabinetry. The BDP-S7200 represents a slight reversal of that direction. While not a premium player (this is still a 2.3kg cheapie), it seems a much more considered offering.
Certainly cosmetically, the BDP-S7200 is less fussy than recent BD players from the brand. We've lost the barmy stealth angles of the BDP-S4200 and BDP-S5200, which were more Wayne Industries Tumbler than home entertainment, in favour of a fascia that’s clean and minimalist; a glossy slab that will more easily stack with other AV gear.
The deck’s user interface is unchanged. Embracing the standard Sony XMB (XrossMediaBar) layout, it’s perfectly functional and nippy to navigate, thanks no doubt to the dual-core processor. Exploring the menus reveals interesting functionality. Setup options include the usual variety of adjustable display parameters, including 4K upscaling frippery. There are two modes for this: Auto 1 and Auto 2. The former output maintains 1080p Full HD for video material but plays out JPEGs at 3,840 x 2,160. Auto 2 also upscales video material to 2,160p.
There's a variety of canny picture processing refinements, including IP Content NR Pro, which applies noise reduction to improve low-bitrate 'net-delivered content, and Sony’s long-standing Super Bit Mapping which improves and smoothes gradations. You can even adjust the colour space of the player, using the YCbCr/RGB switch. There's a choice of either 4:2:2 or 4:4:4 chroma sampling.
Sony hasn't forgotten about sonic niceties either. DSEE does a decent job of interpolating back lost audio data from compressed music files, and there’s compatibility with Super Audio CDs, with provision for DSD over HDMI if your AVR supports this.
The BDP-S7200 also boasts Super Wi-Fi, which appears to mean ‘better than bad’ wireless reception, courtesy of a high-sensitivity antenna. Wi-Fi support remains limited to 2.4GHz though; there's no dual-band support, something the growing number of enthusiasts adopting dual-band routers would readily approve of. By shunting video and music media onto a 5GHz network you’ll be avoiding congestion on the more popular 2.4GHz band; stability is almost always better. As it happens, I experienced no problems streaming, but would usually stick with a wired hookup.
Usability is generally great, with disc loading speeds refreshingly fast. The Java-heavy release of Bond classic Goldfinger goes from tray to menu in just 40 seconds; others come in at less than 30.
Audio and video file support is wide-ranging. I successfully unwrapped MKV, MPEG.TS, MOV, MP4, AVI and WMV files both from a DLNA server and local USB drive, and had similar success with AAC, WAV, FLAC, MP3, WMA and AIFF audio tracks. The player also supports DSD64 and DSD64 5.1 multichannel mixes. Hi-res audio sounds absolutely spectacular, not least because the player doesn’t have to move any parts to make a noise. In truth, while the disc loader makes the occasional mechanical grumble, this is a generally a well-behaved deck.
With a Blu-ray, images have outstanding definition, subtle gradations and a vibrant colour palette. We’re all so inured with broadcast HD it’s easy to forget just how magnificent BD can look in comparison.
The Amazing Spider-Man, one of Sony’s first Mastered in 4K releases, offers up an intricate web of detail, from the subtle textures on Spidey’s suit, which gets dirtier throughout the movie as his battles intensify, to the snarling CGI minutia on the Lizard’s face. Performance can be further enhanced for UHD screen owners, thanks to the 4K scaler. It should be noted that this only works on 1080/24p material. In many ways this feature is one of the player's bigger surprises, bringing fresh nuance to Full HD material.
I partnered the BDP-S7200 with Sony’s KD-65X9005A, itself no slouch when it comes to upscaling 1080p. That flatscreen, left to do all the work with the BDP-S7200, looks fine enough, but the player's UHD processing offers something new and a little different. When Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy turns up at the Parker house after the funeral of [spoiler redaction – Ed], her tear-stained visage has considerably more texture via the player’s 4K output than when upscaled by the TV. And while the UHD TV set is great at resolving the wicker chairs on the porch behind Stone, it struggles with her skin tones. The BDP-S7200 is far more comfortable here; Stone’s freckles clearly belong on her face, and no longer appear to float just above her skin.
The deck also does an extraordinary job rendering her woollen hat and coat. The chippery inside the BDP-S7200 seems more creative when it comes to interpreting complex detail and noise. That said, the TV still has the edge when it comes to delineating fine vertical and horizontal lines. Which was better? That’s ultimately a matter of personal judgment, but what’s clear is that this Blu-ray player is doing something admirable and different from what we’ve seen before. And the fact that it’s doing all this for just over £200 is remarkable.
The BDP-S7200 is therefore something of a return to form for Sony when it comes to BD. While I still hanker for the physical prowess of a flagship player, this model at least offers a classical aesthetic, married to lightning-fast load times, broad file support, and an excellent 4K scaler. An easily justified Blu-ray upgrade.
Price: £220 Approx
Highs: Cracking BD image quality; super-fast disc loader; hi-res audio file support; internal 4K upscaling worth investigating
Lows: No dual-band Wi-Fi support; lightweight build quality; not best for catch-up; some may be sick of the XMB interface
Upscaling: Yes. To 3,840 x 2,160
Multiregion: No. Region B BD/R2 DVD
HDMI: Yes. 1 x output (v1.4)
Multichannel analogue: No
Digital audio: Yes. 1 x coaxial digital audio
Built in Wi-Fi: Yes
Dolby TrueHD/DTS-HD decoding: Yes
Dolby TrueHD/DTS-HD bitstream: Yes
Dimensions: 430(w) x 49(h) x 210(d)mm
Features: 2 x USB inputs; iOS/Android app control; 4K video upscaler; 4K photo support; access to Sony Entertainment Network content portal; DLNA media playback of MPEG, AVI, MKV, WMV, MOV, MP3, AAC, WMA, FLAC, DSD, AIFF, ALAC, JPEG, PNG, GIF, MPO; Super Wi-Fi; 2D-3D conversion; Gracenote; Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE); Quick Start feature; Miracast screen mirroring
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