Step-down addition to Sony’s 4K Blu-ray player stable targets Dolby Vision fans
With the UBP-X700, Sony has added a new player to its Ultra HD Blu-ray stable that promises some improved functionality overs its predecessors, yet cuts other corners to hit a new, mass market price point.
It looks very much like a step-down deck. Front on, it's visibly smaller and less domineering than its premium brethren, and the front panel is nondescript. A Sony badge sits on the left hand edge, a USB input on the right, with acres of black plastic between. There's no display window, just a green power light, and what at first look like soft touch keys for power and eject turn out to be large panels that need to be physically prodded to operate. It's not especially stylish, and it doesn't have that same weight and assurance of build as the UBP-X800. The half-size remote isn't a design classic either, but is nicely responsive.
The back view is equally uninteresting. There are dual HDMI outputs (one audio-only), plus Ethernet and coaxial digital audio sockets (I'd prefer optical), and nothing else.
The absence of analogue audio outputs hints at this player's target audience – film and TV fans after a 4K fix. At the same time, however, the UBP-X700 retains support for Super Audio CD. DVD-Audio, surprisingly added to Sony's player lineup last year, has been left out. Will you miss it, though?
The deck offers wide multimedia support, both over a network and USB. It's ready and willing to playout your hi-res music sources, be they FLAC, WAV or DSD. Yet it doesn't get Sony's Hi-Res Audio certification. Such a badge isn't given based on format support alone; other aspects, such as player construction and components, come into play.
The UBP-X700 can be bought for around £270. Our sample, however, has been supplied by UK specialist The Perfect Signal (TPS), and is modded for multi-region BD and DVD playback. In this guise, it sells for £400.
Although all Ultra HD Blu-rays are region-free (as per the BDA specification), the case for having a multi-region deck in your AV rack has only gotten stronger after the last couple of years. Most obviously, there are still countless desirable US releases on Blu-ray (and DVD) that you might fancy spinning, especially from boutique labels such as The Criterion Collection, Shout! Factory and Twilight Time.
More recently, AV hedz have turned to the US for Ultra HD imports, making use of the format's region-free nature, earlier release dates and (in some instances) superior packages. But a UHD purchase can come bundled with a Region A-locked 1080p BD housing all the extra features... The solution? Consider a multi-region deck.
Switching Blu-ray zones here is achieved simply through the remote control, using the red, green and blue keys to choose from Region A, B or C (the old days of secret key codes is a thing of the past). Multi-region DVD playback is automatic.
The headline feature of the UBP-X700 is its support for Dolby Vision, the next-gen HDR format supported by some 4K Blu-rays (including ones from Sony Pictures). The UBP-X700 isn't due its Dolby Vision firmware update until 'Summer 2018,' however, so it's a feature you'll have to wait for. That may be fine if you're not yet a DV TV owner, but is an annoyance otherwise.
This player is currently Sony's only model targeted with a Dolby Vision revamp – the UBP-X800 and UBP-X1000ES appear unlikely to be overhauled. As for the rival HDR10+ format (supported by Fox and Warner Bros), Sony hasn't committed to anything.
This marks the UBP-X700 out as a player that some will feel is already hamstrung, as Panasonic is promising machines that will spin both formats. But in the mess that is HDR, any buyer wanting to be able to playback both is, at present, looking at owning two displays. And, with all systems covered by the industry standard HDR10 iteration anyway, it's hard to get a handle on how this format 'war' will play out.
All that can really be said is, if you own or are planning to buy an HDR10+ capable 4K TV (from Samsung, Panasonic or Philips), then this deck might not be the one for you.
While it waits for its DV firmware, the UBP-X700 puts in an assured shift with 4K (HDR10) platters. The excellent image on Paramount's Daddy's Home 2 carries gorgeous colour vibrancy, rich definition and expansive luminance. When Brad (Will Ferrell) gets his Christmas lights in a tangle with a snow blower (Chapter 5), this player sniffs out the twinkling highlights. The interiors of the log cabin, meanwhile, are sumptuously detailed.
1080p BDs, upscaled to 4K by the UBP-X700, show no sign of extraneous noise or suspicious image fettling. 1980 slasher Friday the 13th (BD) seems as grubby as ever, but not unwatchably so; modern Western Slow West (BD), with its weirdo aspect ratio, looks clean and solid.
The deck is well-behaved, too. Loading speeds are zippy and it's generally quiet in operation bar the somewhat rattly disc tray (which, usefully, can be 'child-locked' to thwart prying fingers). Rapidly skipping through Chapters on the Goodfellas 4K platter, which previously caused an Oppo UDP-203 to lock up, has the same effect here, though – suggesting this title is not only a picture quality travesty, but either badly encoded or my disc is faulty.
A niggle is that Sony's user interface isn't exactly glamorous. The are some rather clunky fonts and it all looks a bit muted and utilitarian. That said, it's an easy environment to move around. The 'Apps' menu provides access to Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, YouTube, Spotify and Mubi, plus BBC iPlayer and Demand 5 – All4 and ITV Player are absent. The setup menus and handset Options key provide access to various noise reduction modes, output resolution, HDR conversion and image tweaks.
At this launch price, the UBP-X700 is not quite the bargain 4K spinner, although it's certainly stripped back on connectivity and has the same compact, lightweight design as Panasonic's cheaper DMP-UB320. But while some features have gone from its higher-end siblings, the UHD BD performance prowess remains, and the addition of Dolby Vision playback makes it the first step in a new direction for Sony. And in this multi-region guise, you can chuck any disc in it you like. Barring DVD-Audio.
Ultra HD: Yes
HDR: Yes. HDR10; Dolby Vision (future firmware)
Upscaling: Yes. To 4K
Multi-region: No. Region B BD/R2 DVD (but aftermarket multi-region mod available)
HDMI: 1 x AV output; 1 x audio-only output
Multichannel analogue: No
Digital audio: Yes. Coaxial output
Built in Wi-Fi: Yes
Dimensions: 320(w) x 45(h) x 217(d)mm
Features: Front-mounted USB port; apps including Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, iPlayer, Demand 5, Spotify; USB and networked file playback; disc tray child lock; screen mirroring; 3D BD playback
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