Blu-ray Players

Sony BDP-CX7000ES Blu-ray Player (Mega Changer)

ARTICLE INDEX

Introduction

I have always been attracted to the idea of a movie server. The ability to call up a title from an on-screen menu rather that looking through my large bookcase used to be the stuff of science fiction. Of course, so did the idea of putting an entire movie on something the size of a coaster. Fiction is now reality thanks to products like the Sony BDP-CX7000ES.

It is unfortunate that traditional media servers are expensive and even the best ones do not have Blu-ray support. Sony’s answer to this is the CX7000ES disc mega-changer. The CX7000ES is Sony's flagship jukebox; a changer capable of storing 400 discs of the Blu-ray, DVD or CD variety. The ES tag stands for Sony's Elevated Standard. This means top-of-the-line components are used in construction and the performance is the best you can expect to see out of their lineup. There are also features present for integrators like RS-232 control. Video processing is a cut above Sony’s other products lineup as well with a proprietary 14-bit solution being featured here.

So does this box deliver the ultimate in media playback convenience? Let’s take a look.

Specifications

  • Design: Blu-ray/DVD/CD 400-Disc Changer
  • Supported Disc Types: BD-Video, DVD-Video, CD, AVCHD, CD-R/RW, DVD±R/RW, DVD±R DL, BD-R/RE
  • Audio Codec Support: PCM, Dolby Digital, Dolby TrueHD, DTS, DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Audio Output: LPCM or Bitstream
  • BD-ROM Profile 2, Version 2.0 (Backwards Compatible with Profile 1, Versions 1.1 and 1.0)
  • Internal Storage: None
  • External Storage: USB 2.0
  • Audio Connections: 7.1 RCA, Digital Coax, Toslink
  • Video Connections: Composite, S-Video, Component
  • HDMI 1.3a
  • Supported Video Resolutions: 480i/p, 576i/p, 720p, 1080i/p
  • 24p Output: Yes, for Blu-ray Only
  • Source Direct: No
  • Additional Connections: Ethernet (100BASE-T), IR In, RS-232
  • Dimensions: 9.5" H x 17" W x 21.9" D
  • Weight: 31.3 Pounds
  • MSRP: $1,899 USA
  • Sony


Design

First off, this player is gigantic. A full six rack units tall in fact. That’s equivalent to three OPPO BDP-83s! Fortunately it's not as heavy as it looks since its interior is a huge cavity for the 400 discs it holds. I imagine if you filled it to capacity though, it would become quite heavy. The front panel has the high-placed bevel feature that all ES components have. Above the bevel is the display which shows disc type, connection and memory status, play mode, disc slot number, chapter, title and timing information and a network connection indicator. Below this is the large opening where discs are loaded. Pressing the open/close key reveals a large space, big enough for your hand, in which to load discs. Media is inserted vertically, label to the right, in small comb-like slots. It might take some fiddling with at first but it's easy once you get the hang of it. This may not be as familiar as the usual disc drawer but once you fill it up, you won’t be going in there very often.

Next to the opening are four buttons labeled Open/Close, Disc Eject, Disc Load and Rental Slot. This last one will turn the carousel to the first slot, which you should leave empty, so you can easily load rented discs. On the right side is a large dial which is used to select a particular disc slot. This works like the jog shuttle on a pro VCR with firm detents to indicate its position. You can turn this dial with the door open or closed. Above the dial are transport keys and below are changer navigation buttons. Aside from opening the door and turning the dial, I controlled everything from the player’s remote or from my Harmony 900.

Sony has always used its own solutions for disc decoding and video processing and the CX7000 is no exception. The included chipset supports 14-bit video upconversion of color from both DVD and Blu-ray. Sony calls this feature Super Bit Mapping. Video can be output from the HDMI 1.3a port at up to 1080p or up to 1080i from component. Composite and S-Video outputs top out at 480i. DVDs can only be upscaled over HDMI, as with any Blu-ray player. Blu-ray content can be output at up to 1080i over component if the disc’s Image Constraint Token has not been activated.

Audio output is handled by your choice of HDMI, 7.1 analog RCAs, or digital via coax or TOSLink. Full support for lossless codecs is included and can be output as a bitstream to a compatible receiver/processor or as LPCM. This is the first player I’ve encountered that determines compatibility without user intervention. It will detect whether your receiver or processor accepts bitstreams and adjust output accordingly. This is very nice since it removes a layer of confusion about what sound formats your particular system may support.

The back panel contains every necessary connection. In addition to the single HDMI 1.3a port there is component, composite and S-Video. Audio connectors include 7.1 analog, digital coax and TOSLink. The USB port is for external memory via thumbdrive. Unfortunately you can’t use it to view pictures or access files. As the CX7000 has no internal memory (shocking in a $1900 player) you will have to provide your own. The BD-Live required Ethernet port is also present along with RS-232 and IR in control jacks. A large fan vent is also present though I never heard this in operation during my time with the player.

The remote is a typical large wand-style with pretty much every control needed to operate the player. It is not backlit, again shocking in a player at this price point. Navigating player functions is fairly easy. You can also program it to operate a connected TV or receiver. You can do this with Sony components via the BRAVIA Sync feature or enter a code set for other brands. In the center is a large navigation keypad followed by two disc sort buttons and the transport keys. At the bottom are volume and channel rockers and controls for dimming the front display, opening the rental slot and loading discs into memory. I didn’t use the remote much and you’ll learn why in the next section.


Setup

I approached the installation of this player a little differently. Since convenience is the design goal, I decided to use it my living room system rather than in my theater. Anchored by a Pioneer PRO-111FD plasma TV, the rack includes a Denon 3806 receiver, an OPPO BDP-83 and a Scientific Atlanta 8300HD DVR. It’s all controlled with a Logitech Harmony 900 via RF. Since wife-friendliness was part of the test, I programmed the player’s functions into the Harmony and effectively replaced my OPPO temporarily. Once I loaded the discs for her, she needed no other instruction other than how to select titles using the on-screen menu.

After connecting an HDMI cable, an Ethernet cable and plugging in a thumbdrive, I was ready to fire it up. The quick setup ran me through choices for language, connection type, resolution, aspect ratio, HDMI control and BD-Live. After this, I visited the main menu also known as XMB. By now you know this stands for Xross Media Bar and is the standard on all Sony electronics since the first PS3. I’m not sure why Sony wants to deny existence of the letter “C” but there it is. The XMB has four major sections, Setup, Photos, Music and Video; represented with large icons with text labels. Though XMB is different than any other product I’ve encountered, it becomes very intuitive once you’re accustomed and navigation is quite fast. I found I could easily zero in on a choice in a matter of seconds.

After the Quick Setup, I visited the Setup menu to dial in the rest of my choices. First I hit Network Update. A new firmware version was found so I let it install before proceeding. The process took about 20 minutes. Next is Video Settings. Here you can change your aspect ratio and screen format (stretch 4:3 content or not); set deinterlacing to Auto or Video; specify the video connection (HDMI, component or composite/S-video); set the output resolution; force 24p output; choose the color space (RGB video or PC, YCbCr 4:2:2/4:4:4 or Auto); turn on Deep Color, Super Bit Mapping, and x.v.Color; choose the Pause Mode; and increase signal strength at the component output. I set the color space to YCbCr 4:4:4, and turned on Super Bit Mapping and 24p output.

Audio setup was very simple. Since my Denon receiver only accepts lossless codecs via LPCM, I left the HDMI Audio set to Auto. This worked in every instance. If I played a Dolby Digital disc, it bitstreamed; if I played a lossless codec like DTS-HD Master Audio, it output LPCM. This is a major step forward in Blu-ray player ergonomics. I find I still have to explain lossless codecs to many people who are otherwise knowledgeable about AV. Good job Sony! Other options in the Audio Setup menu are Audio Output Priority (HDMI, coax/optical, multi-channel analog, stereo analog); Speaker Settings (bass management); downmix options for Dolby Digital and DTS, secondary audio mixing, PCM sampling rate (48kHz/16-bit or 96kHz/24-bit), and dynamic range control.

The BD/DVD Viewing Settings let you control language, subtitles, parental controls, whether or not to allow an internet connection and playback memory. This feature allows you to store picture settings for up to 50 discs. Photo Settings are limited to selecting the speed of the slideshow when viewing pictures. You can view only JPEG format files from any type of data disc. The USB port is only for BD-Live storage and will not allow access to picture files.

System Settings covers the player’s ergonomics options. You can activate HDMI and RS-232 control, adjust the brightness of the front panel display or change the OSD language. Turning on the Quick Start mode will shorten the player’s startup time at the expense of slightly higher power consumption in standby. There is also an Auto Power Off function that shuts down the player after 30 minutes of inactivity. Auto Display pops up information whenever you change chapters, picture modes, audio signals and other functions. A Screen Saver can be activated to come on after 15 minutes if you wish. Three command sets are available to avoid conflicts with other Sony gear and are chosen here. Also available is a firmware update notification. Obviously you’ll need to connect the player to the internet to use this feature. A Child Lock setting can be made to protect the front opening from curious fingers. Lastly you can toggle on and off access to the Gracenote database and display the firmware version and MAC address.

Network Settings gives you the choice between DHCP or a static IP address. DHCP worked fine for me and will work on most internet connections. If you use static IP, you’ll have to enter the IP address, subnet mask, default gateway and DNS server information manually.

To get started, I loaded up about 20 discs, both Blu-ray and DVD. I left slot one, the rental slot, vacant. After inserting everything in the carousel and closing the door, I selected the video playback icon, pressed Options and chose Load All Discs. The CX7000 loaded each disc one by one accessing the Gracenote database to retrieve cover art, title, actor and genre information. The process took about 90 seconds per disc. Not every disc was found and these titles were tagged as unknown. By selecting these and pressing Options, I could manually enter the information using a texting-style interface with the remote’s numeric keypad. While a Bluetooth or USB keyboard would have been nice, I didn’t have too much trouble keying in the unknown discs. Once finished, I could sort the discs alphabetically, by slot number, or by release year. By pressing Group, I could display titles by their genre, actors, or directors. Since I had a relatively small number of discs loaded, alphabetical by title was the easiest choice for me. Pressing the up and down keys let me flip through the available discs very quickly. Making a selection loads the disc in a few seconds and you’re off and watching!


In Use

I thoroughly enjoyed using the CX7000ES. The player integrated perfectly with my living room system and control was a snap once I programmed my Harmony 900 with the correct code set. Responsiveness was about average for a Blu-ray player. Most discs were playing within 45 seconds of being selected. Power-up is also of average speed. It’s no PS3 or OPPO BDP-83 but it’s quicker than many other players I’ve experienced. Loading new titles in either the rental slot or another slot, took a little extra time as information was downloaded from the Gracenote database. This box is great for watching TV shows on disc. I loaded several season sets of shows like I Love Lucy, Dexter and the Tudors. My wife and I often have marathons where we’ll watch three or four episodes in one sitting. The CX7000 made this super-convenient as we just paged through the titles and selected what we wanted. Couch potatoes rejoice, your Blu-ray player has arrived!

Sony BDP-CX7000ES Blu-ray Player Review

Of course, I principally watched Blu-ray content and it looked fantastic as expected. Catalog titles like Pride & Prejudice (1995) and Walk the Line (2005) were beautifully rendered. Their well-preserved film grain and details jumped off the screen and color rendition was perfectly accurate to my calibrated display. I saw no artifacts of any kind. Audio reproduction was equally stellar. I have never wanted for an HDMI 1.3 receiver in this system as my venerable Denon 3806 sounds just fine with LPCM. There are some that claim to hear a difference between bitstream and LPCM but I do not count myself among them. Dynamic range was very wide with the large soundstage I’m accustomed to from lossless audio.

Sony BDP-CX7000ES Blu-ray Player Review

Other Blu-rays I watched included Dexter, Season 3 and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans. Dexter takes place in Miami and as such is presented in extremely vivid and even overblown colors. The palette is meant to portray the hot climate and it does this most effectively. I can’t say the Super Bit Mapping made a difference as I couldn’t see any whether it was on or off. Color in either case was superb with great saturation and delineation. Dark scenes showed all available shadow detail and the deep black inherent to Pioneer Kuro displays. Bad Lieutenant isn’t the best Blu-ray I’ve seen though my complaints tend more to the chosen color palette rather than the transfer itself. The Sony effectively showed the bad with the good. Most of the movie has a very filtered look which flattens the image. The CX7000 did a respectable job with not-so-great content.

Sony BDP-CX7000ES Blu-ray Player Review

DVD content included two black & white titles, I Love Lucy and The Best years of our Lives. I Love Lucy is a decent restoration and exhibits very good quality throughout. Once again the picture was clean and free of artifacts. The soundtrack is Dolby Digital 2.0, upmixed from the original mono. I matrixed it to 5.1 using DTS Neo:6. Sound from the CX7000 here was excellent with clear, tight dialog and strong detail. The Best Years of Our Lives is only a fair transfer but the Sony again did an excellent job with merely average material. Video was again clean and devoid of any garbage. There is a look to old black & white movies I find appealing and it came across very well. The audio was handled properly with clear dialog despite the very low mastering level. I had to turn up the volume much higher than usual but this was not the fault of the player.

Sony BDP-CX7000ES Blu-ray Player Review

I finished my DVD viewing with The Tudors, Season 1. This is a very high-quality transfer and I did not miss the Blu-ray version at all. This is an instance where I was forced to rent the DVD version as Netflix does not distribute Blu-rays of TV shows. It was of no matter however. The classic look and feel of the scenery, costumes and actors came across strongly. Detail was preserved very well and I saw no problems with the CX7000’s upconversion performance. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack sounded great too. Potential owners of this player with large DVD collections can rest assured that their movies will look their best despite the lower resolution.


On the Bench

The CX7000ES exhibited solid performance in our benchmark with only a couple of hiccups here and there. Measurements were taken from the component analog video outputs at 1080i resolution. The CX7000ES exhibited good results for its core measurements. The luma and chroma channels were perfectly in sync with each other and its image was displayed in full resolution without any pixel cropping issues. The player was able to pass a below black signal. The white levels measured from the CX7000ES were outside of our +/- 2 range and were measured at 103IRE giving it a failing score on our test. With a white level this hot, some video processors may end up clipping above white information. The frequency response from this player was measured to be very smooth with minute deviations which translates to excellent picture quality and accurate details. The CX7000ES tackled all of our chroma upsampling error tests with aplomb and didn't exhibit the CUE issue on any of the test patterns.

Standard DVD Performance

The CX7000ES had good overall deinterlacing performance with a few exhibited problems. It failed our 3-2 cadence mixed flags test which tests the processor's ability to stay in film mode while the material changes between film and video style flags. The player also failed the 3-2 cadence video flags test and minor artifacting was witnessed on our test patterns. While this player did pass our high detail test which uses the Super Speedway clip, it exhibited some issues on the more difficult Coliseum flyover scene from Gladiator. The player locked onto the pattern but couldn't stay locked onto it for the full duration of the sequence and some artifacting could be seen. Other than these issues the player passed the rest of our film based deinterlacing tests with flying colors.

On video based material the CX7000ES had solid performance. The player is motion adaptive, was able to recover between film and video mode hastily, and passed our 2-2 cadence tests as well, with no exhibited issues.

HD Video Performance

HD Performance on the CX7000ES was a bit of a mixed bag. On the upside the CX7000ES passed our tests for 1920x1080 pixel cropping showing that it could deliver the full hi-def image. The player employs diagonal filtering thereby allowing it to display diagonal lines without the presence of jaggies and the player was also free from any kind of banding issues. Where the CX7000ES fell short was in its lack of having any advanced noise reduction features as well as its inability to properly handle the 1080i/p conversion. This player could not properly convert either 2:2 or 3:2 cadence material which is most frequently seen on documentary and concert footage.

Usability

Usability on the CX7000ES was excellent. The player had a brisk layer change clocking under a second and the XMB interface and remote control was responsive and had speedy operation. Disc changes on this carousel clocked in at around 30 seconds.


Conclusions

While at first glance the CX7000ES may seem expensive, it’s really a bargain when compared to other media server products. Since Sony is the only company making disc changers, it has no real competition. It compares very favorably to other disc players with high quality output from both DVD and Blu-ray discs and has only a few issues when it comes to deinterlacing standard and hi-def material. It has all the latest features like full lossless codec support, 24p output and BD-Live. My only wish would be for DVD-Audio and SACD capability. I wouldn’t expect Sony to support DVD-A but I’m surprised their flagship Blu-ray changer/player doesn’t play SACDs.

If you have a large disc collection, this player can literally put it at your fingertips. Once set up, you can access your entire library from the remote. Loading discs is easy and the player has excellent ergonomics. If convenience and ease-of-use are a priority, that's where the CX7000ES shines. If you’re trying to eliminate that big bookcase with its 400 movies, then this or its sibling, the BDP-CX960, are two great choices. This is a one of a kind product with supreme convenience and decent performance. If its features are what you are looking for, I give it my highest recommendation.