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First impressions of Sony UHD Blu-ray, Dolby Atmos & new soundbars

08 Feb 2017 | Tommy Lindegaard |

Sony had invited us to take a closer look at the 2017 TV line-up where we also got a chance to see Sony’s first consumer UHD Blu-ray player as well as the new soundbar products, including Sony’s first with Dolby Atmos.

Sony UHD Blu-ray player

Sony gave a brief demonstration of the UBP-X800 UHD Blu-ray player. It is the company’s first player for the mainstream segment based on the UHD Blu-ray disc standard that delivers 4K resolution, HDR, and an expanded color space. Together these elements can elevate the viewing experience.

Sony had prepared a short movie clip and – as expected – the picture was excellent. We were not allowed to examine it more closely since it was a prototype demonstration but the player looks promising. If you have yet to experience the great pictures produced by UHD Blu-ray do yourself the favor and make arrangements.

Sony X800 UHD Blu-ray player

X800 has the exact same width as a standard AV component, meaning 43 centimers or 17 inches. This allows it to fit nicely under or on top of for example the new Sony AV receiver STR-DN1080. The chassis of X800 is of high quality, very sturdy, and quite heavy. It weights around 3-4 kilograms and the solid chassis ensures that vibrations do not affect playback quality.

Sony has already confirmed that the player will not support the Dolby Vision HDR format, and reiterated that statement at the event. That surely seems like a miss given that Sony’s new TVs support Dolby Vision. Besides that X800 conforms to the UHD Blu-ray standard and also supports Dolby Atmos and DTS Master. Specifications are available here.

Sony X800 UHD Blu-ray player

Sony X800 UHD Blu-ray player

Sony’s new soundbars

Some of Sony’s previous soundbars will carry over into 2017 but Sony will also add new products to the line-up. In total four new soundbars were introduced at the February event.

The Sony HT-MT300 is basic soundbar that will launch in spring for around €300. We did not get a chance to hear it play but it will most likely be a relatively cheap way to upgrade sound in most TVs. The subwoofer is wireless and can be placed under for example a sofa.

The MT300 soundbar is about half the width of a typical soundbar. It measures 50 cm whereas most regular soundbars come in at 90-100 cm. It will be available in “creamy white” and black.

Sony HT-MT300

Sony HT-MT300

If you want a full-size soundbar Sony will also launch the HT-CT290 and HT-CT291 that will cost about the same the MT300. Price is expected to be around 300 Euro.

The two soundbars deliver 300 Watt in 2.1 channels. They also offer Bluetooth, exactly like the MT-300. The difference between the two is that one is grey (CT290) and the other is creamy white (CT291).

Sony HT-CT290

Sony HT-CT290

Listening to Sony’s compact MT-500

If we step up into the next price class, Sony will offer the HT-MT500 with almost the same dimensions as HT300. The price tag is expected to be around 650 Euro when it hits the market in April.

MT-500 has Spotify Connect and Chromecast built-in. This soundbar can furthermore integrate into Sony’s wireless multi-room system with other products such as SRS-ZR5 and ZR7. This allows you to build a wireless 4.1 setup if you buy two speakers for the left and right rear channels.

We had a chance to hear it. Sony used the movie Gravity and it revealed that vocals were a bit more defined and sharper compared to the built-in speakers in the TV that Sony had set up for reference. More pronounced differences were heard in the deep tones where the soundbar improved things considerably compared to the TV. These capabilities also lifted the listening experience when enjoying a track by Eric Clapton beamed over via Bluetooth from a smartphone. It demonstrated that, compared to the TV, the soundbar delivered an allround better experience all the way from the deep tones to the pitch vocals.

Sony HT-MT500

Listening to Sony’s Atmos soundbar

Lastly, Sony announced its first Dolby Atmos soundbar dubbed HT-ST5000. Dolby Atmos is the exciting new object-based audio technology that you may have experienced in the cinema.

ST500 comes with 7 units built-in distributed across the 1 meter soundbar as well as 2 upwards-firing units to create 7.1.2 sound -and of course a subwoofer.

I was not completely convinced by the demonstration. The experience reminded me of Samsung HW-K950 that I recently reviewed; it is another Atmos soundbar that was not entirely convincing. Sony’s soundbar also lacks rear speakers, which takes away some of the effect.

Sony HT-ST5000 Atmos soundbar

The audio “objects” were not reproduced clearly enough to be distinct and I must say that I never felt like being immersed in “3D” sound that you would expect from a “surround” soundbar. I have to reiterate what I have said in the past. I remain a little dubious about the feasibility of integrated everything; center, left/right and rear speakers in a 1 meter soundbar. Call me conservative but I just think you need wider distance between the two front units and separate rear speakers.

Sony HT-ST5000 is expected to cost around 1500 Euro when it launches this summer.

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