When it was first announced back on 6/9/2016 that Microsoft was releasing a new and improved version of their XBOX ONE, with a bigger 2 TB hard drive and sleaker style what really made waves amongst many (espacially movie fans) was the new Ultra HD capabilities, both for streaming, future games, and of course ULTRA HD BLU-RAY.
Here at THE DIGITAL CINEMA that was a major announcement for obvious reasons.
Now while this unit has been covered by PC and gaming sites they have mostly centered on how the unit delivers as per the gaming front, as well as the cosmetic changes in the smaller, slimmer size. Fair enough.
Being “game” based biased sites they are not actually reporting all the details of the Blu-ray side and how it delivers - or doesn't.
Now this wouldn’t be an issue except that those interested in catching the cheapest priced ULTRA BLU-RAY player on the market would not be happy to know there are serious flaws within the XBOX ONE S and what it promises, and ultimately delivers.
Yes, it plays ULTRA HD BLU-RAYS with striking clarity and sound expected from the format. But like most players today it also is supposed to up convert 1080p (standard BD discs) into 4k. This feature is not new and has been associated players, receivers, and TVs - to various degrees of quality.
The rub here however is when the XBOX ONE S is set to a video output of 4k, a 1080p disc looks spectacular, and is seemingly up converted, devoid of judder and blur – however, there is NO SOUND.
This strange, and major flaw is staggering.
Like the previous XBOX ONE release everything needs to be set from the set-up menu, video output, sound output, etc. The most annoying aspect is needing to choose which sound option to use. It seems there is no “auto” function. The choices are Dolby or DTS the XBOX ONE S doesn’t allow the selection to be made via the Blu-ray's disc menu, as with other BD players.
The XBOX ONE S also isn’t capable of Dolby Atmos – weird since that audio option is readily available from any BD player, and then decoded by a receiver with the capablitits . Even though I tested the ULTRA BD my reciever isn't capable of DTS X, so I can't say if the XBOX S can handle it.
Microsoft has produced a unit that completely seeks control instead of integrating with other elements within home audio – but they’ve left out prime elements. What they should have built is a player that reads the disc streams offering them to be chosen via the disc menus, and then accessed by the receivers for presentation.
Perhaps they are too much into their own environment of total Windows interrogation and control, which is both extraordinary yet creepily intrusive.
Code writers within the company have been working on this release for months, but somewhere between Dubai and the U.S. something has missed the boat. Development within has streched the limits of productivity with needless sharing across the globe where lack of understanding of what most consumners expect differ within the realm of regions.
For this reason outsourcing has produced a product that struggles to compete, but lacks polish and completness.
The inconvenience in setting the XBOX ONE S to 4k is needing to set it back to 1080p in order to get sound for standard resolution BDs. Instead an auto read function should have been offered, allowing the setting to simply remain.
This is something I currently don’t have to do when my OPPO, or receiver are set to 2k/4k. Sound still plays no matter what. It’s as if the XBOX ONE S isn’t fully capable of doing two functions at once.
Truthfully, as a BD player I’d say this unit is more a beta model than a finished product.
In the 48hrs of having the unit, and of this writing, therre have been 2 major updates – none of which have fixed these issues, or added Dolby Atmos capabilities.
So, if you’re considering the XBOX ONE S as a bargain for getting a ULTRA HD BLU-RAY player, with the added bonus of a game system – don't.
I made a comparison with the SAMSUNG UHD BD PLAYER UHD-K8500 which retails for $317 on Amazon. This was not a bench test; simply a comparison on playback. The Samsung is poorly constructed. Light and cheap plastic. However it can up-convert DVDs and standard BDs with no problem – yes, with sound. The up-convert quality depends on how well the source has been rendered on disc. I was surprised how well THE MUNSTERS, the older TV series looks compared to some theatrical films when up-converted, all from DVD. It terms of BD the PQ was very pleasing with little blur and no judder. This of course will differ depending on you TV, its settings and if you are adding more settings via playback though a receiver.
In the end, the SAMSUNG did have a slightly sharper image than the XBOX ONE S. Most important there were no issues with sound.
My evaluation still stands – skip the XBOX ONE S if you’re looking for a problem free UHD BD/BD experience.
MICROSOFT has reached out to me and we're exchanging information in hopes to reslove the issues mentioned in my review. I will report any changes/findings or suggestions as things progress.
Microsoft game be advise in connection and settings - all of which I had tried, or had already set. At least we're on the same track.
Their system was working without a hitch and not experiencing the issues I was having.
I was unable to get to my unit for 24hrs, but when I did - it worked! I had done nothing, no change in connections, or settings!?
What I did find out from Microsoft was that since the DVD/BD player is "App" based there may have been a update on the app between the time Microsoft tested their unit and I went back to test mine. App updates are not noted, only system updates are.
Now the unit is playing standard BDs with sound while set to 4K - they are also being up converting as well.
On an interesting note: Microsoft has statated the following ...
"You should also know that you should use PCM audio out as this will preserve the quality of the original sounds, whereas using DD or DTS--since they are lossy encoders--will decrease the quality. It is also the policy of the Xbox One to decode all incoming bitstreams so that we can mix them with system sounds: toast alerts, friends coming online, button feedback, etc. If we simply passed-thru the audio, it would be less of a platform and "merely" a BD player. Yes, we agree it would be nice to offer a pass-thru option, and maybe we will in the future.
I will post updates on this as they occur.
And concerning DOLBY ATMOS & DTS X...
"The Console takes whatever soundtrack you select in the BluRay app, decodes it to PCM, mixes it with system sounds, and then outputs it in the format you select. So, if you select DTS-HD in the BD app, the app will provide that stream to the decoder which turns it into PCM. In Settings, under audio, you get to choose whether to output the best-possible mix of sounds (by choosing PCM) OR performing a lossy compression by choosing bitstream DD/DTS. This DD or DTS is NOT the same soundtrack from the disk—it is NEVER that. Because of this, the Atmos information (and DTS:X) is currently getting lost. Until MS puts out an update that includes a pass-thru option, as mentioned by Albert Penello , then you will not have Atmos or DTS:X."
So, there you have it. The one fixed issue, but one still unresolved.... and hopefully yet to be addressed.
I thank MICROSOFT for getting in touch and aiding me in find a resolution.
The XBOX ONE S is more than it was, yet still has room for improvment.
For film fans and thoses searching for a more economical investment to play UHD BDs it's a personal choice of what you're not getting.
Any questions, or concerns please feel free to contact me. If I can't answer your questions I will forward them to Microsoft.
- Scott Michael Bosco, thedigitalcinema.info
Copyright, The Digital Cinema, 2016