by Eric Ravenscraft on
If you rent your home, you could feel left out of the current smart home renaissance. Fear not, though. There are still quite a few gadgets you can get to smarten up your rental.
If you’ve recently purchased a 4K TV, it’s natural that you want to enjoy stunning content on it. We’ve already looked at the cheapest ways to get started with 4k streaming but how about if you want to embrace physical media?
One option is to buy a dedicated 4K Blu-ray player but there is an alternative—buy an Xbox One S. Now, you may be thinking, “But I want a Blu-ray player, not a game console.” especially if your level of gaming is in the nonexistent to casual range.
Before we even dive into the extended argument, let’s focus on the thing many non-gamers might have overlooked in their search for a Blu-ray player. A good 4K Blu-ray player easily costs around $200, like the popular Sony UBP-X800—for that price you get a good 4K Blu-ray player with HDR and some smart features—and a premium player costs even more than that. An Xbox One S, on the other hand, runs $260 (and there are abundant used and refurbished units available for less) and not only plays 4K Blu-ray discs with HDR but also includes a pile of additional features that make it a better value for most people (even non-gamers).
Let’s take a look at the benefits of using an Xbox One S over a traditional player (and a few of the shortcomings).
The Xbox One S is a gaming platform under active development. Compared to stand alone disc players, game consoles get way more numerous and comprehensive updates. So numerous in fact you’ll want to leave the console set to its form of standby mode—instant-on mode—otherwise you’ll be manually updating a lot. Unlike a 4K Blu-ray player, you won’t have to wait impatiently for a firmware update that may not even ever come. Both the console operating system and apps you use on it, including the all-important Blu-ray player app, benefit from regular updates. It’s unlikely you’ll ever have a 4K Blu-ray that’s incompatible with the console thanks to this.
Speaking of frequent updates and applications, Microsoft really wants the Xbox One S to be an all-in-one solution for your home media needs. As a result Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Amazon, and Vudu all feature prominently within its store, each offering 4K support for a selection of content. Your mileage will vary depending on your interests (and whether or not you subscribe to Netflix and the like) but it’s pretty extensive.
Netflix only charges an extra dollar for access to 4K content and most of its Netflix Originals are available in 4K. Amazon has a smaller selection of 4K content but no extra fees beyond your Prime membership. Hulu and Vudu have similarly small selections (but it all adds up).
When the Xbox One S first launched and people got excited over the prospect of a game console that was also a great cheap 4K Blu-ray player, audiophiles pointed out a crucial issue—a lack of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support.
Thankfully an update in November of 2017 took care of the problem. (See the benefit of good updates?) A Dolby Access app for the Xbox One gives you plenty of options along with some demo pieces to try out. There’s also a 30 day trial for Dolby Atmos for Headphones, giving you Dolby Atmos using any headphones, ($15 after the trial). Those with an Atmos capable AV Receivers can playback Atmos content from the Xbox One, including some Netflix content, and Vudu.
Even if you don’t usually play games, having the option available to you might make it a little tempting—especially when looking at Xbox exclusives like Forza Motorsport 7 or Gears of War 4. You need the Xbox One X to play them in 4K (which is a lot more expensive at $500), as the Xbox One S only supports 4K video playback, but you’ll still benefit from HDR and playing some pretty fun games. It’s definitely something a regular 4K Blu-ray player can’t do. Want the ultimate Xbox gaming experience? Go for the Xbox One X, but don’t expect superior 4K movie playing compared to the S. The negatives to using an Xbox One as a Blu-ray player still apply to the more expensive system too.
Watch a 4K Blu-ray on an Xbox One S and the average user won’t be able to tell a difference. The visuals are punchy and vibrant, lighting up the room at all the right times. Directly compare it to a more expensive player such as the OPPO UDP-203 and a very keen eyed viewer might notice the difference in playback quality between a super premium player and the Xbox playback.
Will most people notice? Probably not—at least not unless you’re directly comparing side by side. For those keen to have the very best though, remember that the Xbox One S is one of the cheaper 4K options out there and sometimes, that’s going to be reflected in what it offers. If your eye is super sharp, that is.
Related to that, there’s no Dolby Vision support although there is HDR10 support. If you want Dolby Vision support, you’ll need to pay a lot more for a dedicated player. Devices like the aforementioned OPPO UDP-203 4K Blu-ray player have Dolby Vision support, but it also costs $560.
Of course, if you’ve already spent plenty on a 4K TV that includes Dolby Vision, it makes sense to go the extra mile and spend the extra on a dedicated player. For everyone else? Well, Dolby Vision offers 12-bit color over HDR10’s 10-bit color, which also means more brightness (up to 10,000 nits compared to HDR10’s 4,000), but it’s not going to be a dealbreaker for most people.
The Xbox One’s interface wants to be like Windows 10’s interface, except it’s even messier than that. Despite having owned one since launch, I still find it unwieldy and far from intuitive. On the plus side, if you just use it to play Blu-rays, it’s not too painful providing you plan accordingly.
The interface can be customized, with the option to pin content to the launch screen. That way, you can quickly load up your favorite streaming apps or the Blu-ray player without having to dig around too much.
It’s a very wise move to purchase a remote to go with the Xbox One S. The controller is awkward when trying to manipulate the Blu-ray menus, and gets old fast. Programmable remotes are an option but I’ve found the official Xbox Media Remote does the job pretty well. It’s backlit too, so it’s perfect for when you’re watching something in a darkened room and you’re fumbling for the remote to hit pause.
The Xbox One S doesn’t offer any analog connections, although it does have an optical audio port. That’s not going to be an issue for those with more modern sound systems, but it’s something to consider for users with older set ups—although, if you’re jumping into 4K there’s a good chance you’re updating a lot of your equipment at once.
In a similar vein, the Xbox One S offers a rear-mounted HDMI input that allows you to pass a set top box through the console. That way, you can use the system’s OneGuide to control TV watching. Sounds awesome, right? Except, sadly, it doesn’t support 4K passthrough though, so if you own a set top box capable of outputting 4K, you can’t feed 4K content into your TV through the HDMI passthrough. For some users, this is going to be a big issue. Especially if, like me, you want to keep everything under your TV unit neat and tidy, and have limited spare ports on your TV.
Although it does have a few shortcomings, overall the Xbox One S is a really great value as a 4K Blu-ray player when you factor in all the additional benefits you get from it. Instead of your disc player purchase sitting around in between uses, when you buy an Xbox One S, you get a versatile device that plays games, supports streaming apps and local media playback, gets frequent updates, and will play all your disc-based media too.
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