Xbox One S - UHD Blu-ray, HDR and Verdict

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Xbox One S – A fine UHD Blu-ray player

The Xbox One S doubles as a UHD Blu-ray player. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the real reason to consider getting one.

It’s a far more affordable option than the two dedicated UHD Blu-ray players currently on the market. The Samsung UBD-K8500 costs £430 and the Panasonic DMP-UB900 costs £600. Sony has one on the way, which is nice because the PS4 Pro doesn’t do 4K Blu-rays. As for the Xbox One S? The base 500GB model costs £250, while the 2TB model (reviewed here) costs £350.

It isn’t simply a price thing either, since the performance is more than respectable for the money. The Xbox One S does a fine job handling 4K Blu-rays. Load times are fast and it produced decent pictures across all three of my test discs (Mad Max: Fury Road, X-Men: Days of Future Past and San Andreas).

The console shows off the advantages of 4K: remarkable clarity, minute details and lifelike textures. I could make out the consistency of the motor oil Charlize Theron smears across her face as war paint.

You also get a noticeably higher dynamic range. It isn’t just about fierce bright areas and inky blacks: the fine increments between are subtly drawn too, and you get plenty of shadow detail. You also get the wider colour gamut that HDR promises. There’s a part in Mad Max: Fury Road where somebody gets shot with a flare gun. When the reddish-orange smoke explodes, it’s hard not to marvel.

Related: No Ultra HD Blu-ray for the PS4 Pro? WTF, Sony?

Xbox One S

UHD Blu-rays represent the pinnacle of home-cinema picture quality, and this console can wield them as well as a dedicated player. The Panasonic does look better, with more subtle processing. The finer details look sharper and the colours are more neutral, but there isn’t a huge difference considering the price gap.

The only clear disadvantage to using the Xbox One S as a 4K Blu-ray player is that it doesn’t support Dolby Atmos audio. Well not yet, anyway – Microsoft has promised an update. For now, you’ll have to settle for regular surround sound. It’s a small price, considering how much cheaper the console is. I’d also argue that anyone who can afford a home Dolby Atmos is likely to shell out for the premium dedicated player anyway.

Overall, the Xbox One S’ UHD Blu-ray player will be a big selling point for AV fans. UHD Blu-ray is still in its infancy, and this console might just help it grow. The Xbox One S’ features and performance make it the best-value UHD Blu-ray player on the market.

And don’t worry too much if your 4K Blu-rays haven’t arrived in the post yet. The Xbox One S’ Netflix app is compatible with 4K and HDR straight off the bat, so you can get ogling straight away. No such luck with the Amazon Video app, which is awaiting an update.

Related: What is Ultra HD Blu-ray?

Xbox One S

Should I buy the Xbox One S?

The Xbox One S is far better than the original Xbox One, with improvements on every front. It’s smaller, it’s prettier and it includes a greater number of features. Sure, the gaming element is almost unchanged, but HDR gaming compatibility means at least a degree of future-proofing. Then there’s the 4K output: although it’s upscaled, rather than native, right now this is the best you’ll get from a console.

But the real worth is the ability to play UHD Blu-rays. This is the most affordable 4K Blu-ray player on the market, and it’s a competent performer to boot. If you own a 4K TV and you want your movies and games looking their best, the Xbox One S is a no-brainer.

Microsoft faces competition from Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro. While the Sony offers 4K and HDR in gaming, it doesn’t play UHD Blu-rays. That’s a major omission in my book, leaving an open goal for the Xbox One S.

It’s only timing that’s an issue. The upcoming Xbox Project Scorpio is due next year, which will be a proper step up. As a happy first-generation Xbox One owner, I’m tempted to wait for that. By the time it launches, I might even own a 4K TV full time.

Verdict

A better Xbox all round, but essential only for 4K TV owners.

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