Until now, we haven’t encountered a budget 4K Blu-ray player that wowed us in the way we believe 4K and HDR picture quality should.
The Sony UBP-X700, however, endeavours to deliver a five-star performance where rivals have failed – and it succeeds with flying colours.
Launched at CES 2017 for just £269 (and now available for £249/$250 or less), this affordable Sony player boasts virtually identical features to the Award-winning UBP-X800. The main difference? The UBP-X700 supports Dolby Vision HDR.
Sony joins LG as the only big TV brands to support Dolby Vision alongside the standard HDR10 format (the other three are backing HDR10+).
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.
And the Sony player juggles all 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, we note 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 lauded Sony for its natural-looking disc-players, but the X700 surpasses even that of the X800 in how it displays a wonderfully subtle picture that’s impeccably judged while being hugely entertaining.
It balances the colourful, fantastical elements – the rainbow bridge, a scintillating Jeff Goldblum – with the more realistic hues of our Earth world.
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’s the better value of the two.
The X800’s picture performance is glossier: everything gleams, colours are richer and everything pops. 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 a comparable quality of sound to accompany that superb picture, and the Sony doesn’t disappoint. Voices are front and centre, and blissfully clear.
So much of Thor: Ragnarok hinges on humour, and the Sony player relays every joyous quip, sarcastic rejoinder and laugh-out-loud line with punctual timing. It’s 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.
Despite not flashing the hi-res audio badge, the X700 can play up to 24bit/192kHz files in all popular files, including WAV, FLAC and DSD.
That zippy, dynamic character comes through with stereo music, with each instrument and voice ringing through loud and clear on 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.
Features and connections
The UBP-X700 shares nearly every other feature with the UBP-X800. It supports 4K 60p pictures and can play all types of discs, including SACDs and 3D Blu-rays (even if your new 4K TV doesn’t support 3D).
If you’re a fan of streaming 4K, you’ll be happy to know the Sony player supports 4K HDR streams on Netflix and Amazon Prime. Other apps found on the player’s home page include 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 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 the X700’s 4K stream of Jessica Jones holds up nicely without any drop outs during 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.
Being a more affordable model, we’re not surprised Sony has fitted 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. It’s 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 while the power and eject buttons are 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 remarkable.
It’ll take quite some rival to knock this superb 4K player off its five-star perch.
See all our Sony reviews