Review: Sony’s 400-disc BDP-CX7000ES Blu-ray Megachanger

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Blu-ray goes mega as Sony's new player makes collecting discs worth it.


Sep. 01, 2009 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

The gaping hole in the Blu-ray market has been the lack of a multidisc changer. Finally Sony has deposited two on the field, and the flagship BDP-CX7000ES comes from the company’s Elevated Standard line. It’s a 400-disc changer—Sony calls it a megachanger—equipped with a network connection that pulls disc art and title information from a database so you can scroll through your high-def collection with the ease of an iPod.

This isn’t Sony’s first Blu-ray megachanger. In 2007 the company launched the HES-V1000, a 200-disc player with a 500GB hard drive and network streaming capability. That $3,500 product didn’t last long in Sony’s catalog, though, and the company hasn’t come out with an upgraded version yet.

Features
So why a megachanger anyway? Aren’t we so past discs? That depends on what you value for the home theater. Currently there are several media servers, downloaders and streamers that can provide you with an endless parade of high-definition video. But if you compare the quality of streamed or downloaded content to that from a 1080p Blu-ray disc you’ll wonder how the other stuff gets away with calling itself high definition. And streamed movies don’t come with actor commentaries, deleted scenes and silly games.

Because it’s part of Sony’s ES line, the company packed it with high-end processing specs, yet it left out some of the fun features you see in a few of the more plebian BD players (see sidebar for the Cons). On the video side, it upscales 480 resolution DVDs to 1080p and outputs them through HDMI. Rather than just let BD movies slide though in their native glory, it also greases them with something Sony calls Super Bit Mapping, which turns 8-bit video content into 14-bit content in an effort to smooth surfaces.

For audio, the player can handle all the current formats (DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD) and send their bitstreams flowing out via HDMI. You can also take advantage of analog 7.1 jacks or the digital optical/coax outputs if your preamp or receiver is a pre-HDMI vintage. Under the hood there’s a 192kHz/24bit digital-to-analog converter.

The megachanger includes both an RS-232 port and an IR port on the back panel allowing connection to control systems. The 31-pound monolith is almost 9.5 inches high—that’s three times the size of a standard DVD player—so expect it to take up as much room in an equipment rack as a big receiver.

Setup
Setting up this dishwasher is pleasantly simple for such a high-end unit. I just ran one HDMI cable from the player to my Onkyo receiver, then connected an Ethernet cable from my nearby router to the Sony, plugged it in and turned it on.

The player is no speed demon when it comes to booting up, but it’s not terrible either. From a cold start it takes about 50 seconds for the home screen to come on. If you engage the quick start mode, the start time is cut down to about 25 seconds, but you may still hear the cooling fan when the player is in standby. If you only watch moves once or twice a week, you’re probably better off leaving the quick start mode off.

The player uses Sony’s Xross media bar on-screen guide for all system settings and for navigating your disc library. This is the same guide that originally showed up in the handheld PSP and the PS3 game systems. It’s an exceedingly user-friendly menu that allows fast, intuitive access to the player’s controls.

Being a 400 disc changer means you can stuff a large collection of movies in it, but without a good system for navigating that collection, you’re stuck trying to remember which slot out of 400 held “Dark Knight.” As pointed out earlier, this unit allows you to cycle through an onscreen guide of disc box art much like you would with an iPhone or video on demand.

Each time you load in a new disc, the player jumps online to access the Gracenote database to retrieve the disc’s meta data. It works the same for DVDs and CDs as with Blu-ray discs.

Individually it takes about 40 seconds for the player to pull down the box art and store it in the system. If you’re loading several movies, or 400, all at once you can instruct the machine to get all the box art in one swoop. If you do it that way, be prepared to leave the room and occupy yourself for a while. For some reason the player refused to identify the Blu-ray version of “Bolt,” despite repeated attempts.

Playing a single disc in this megachanger isn’t much different from playing a disc in any other player. From a cold start (with quick start turned on), the player took just over a minute to turn on and load a freshly inserted disc. That time is cut down to about to about 40 seconds for a disc that’s already in the player and cataloged. If you’re searching for a movie you previously loaded, just use the up and down buttons on the remote to cycle through all the titles.

If you loaded a movie that comes with two discs (one for the movie and one for the bonus features), they’re labeled disc 1 and disc 2. Simply scroll to the disc you want, and press enter. Then the player will load it and act just like a single disc player. The machine reserves slot one for rental movies, and there’s even a rental button on the remote that opens the player directly to slot one.

Performance
Video performance is what you’d expect from Sony’s ES line. During the stop-motion animation “Coraline,” the picture was nearly flawless. In only a few scenes did I notice some slight shimmer that shouldn’t have been there in panning shots. Detail was superb, and color gradations were smooth, possibly due to the 14-bit processing.

The BD version of “Transformers” also looked good, though some of the faster action scenes that relied heavily on CGI seemed less distinct. The player handled jaggies and resolution test patterns from a Silicon Optix HQV disc very well, showing no problems on either.

As a BD-Live player (profile 2.0), the BDP-CX7000ES can access online content associated with BD movies. Surprisingly, this player doesn’t come with built-in memory as do several other, less expensive ones, so you need to insert a USB flash drive into a slot in the back of the unit. For a $1,900 player, you’d think Sony could cough up $5 worth of memory. Other than that gripe, BD Live worked fine. The speed at which a player accesses BD Live content is more dependent on the connection and the movie studio’s server, but this player did connect quickly nevertheless.

So who needs a 400-disc Blu-ray player? Anyone who intends to collect (or already has) 400 Blu-ray discs is a good candidate. It stores DVDs and CDs, as well, so you can feed it those collections. And if you go over that amount, you can link them together and access all the content from one on-screen interface.

While I like the convenience of hard-drive based servers and streaming video boxes, there’s no overlooking the picture quality difference of a Blu-ray disc. Besides, hard drives fail, optical discs don’t—unless you mishandle them, a problem you won’t have with this player.


AT A GLANCE
Specifications:
BD-Live
Plays BD/DVD/CD/MP3
Super Bit Mapping
HD Reality Enhancement
1080p Upconverting
Film Grain Reducer
Noise Reduction
HDMI/Component/S-video output
Bravia Sync (HDMI CEC)
Dolby TrueHD
Dolby Digital Plus
DTS HD High Resolution
DTS HD Master Audio
Quick Start Mode
RS232
Gracenote-enabled
$1,900

Pros:
Excellent video quality
Easy onscreen navigation

Cons:
No built-in BD-Live memory
No Netflix or DLNA
No Wi-Fi



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