Xbox One S is a Cheap Entry Level 4K Blu-ray UHD Player but Not for Audiophiles
UPDATE – I have since secured and Xbox One S and did a review on it, which provides some pictures of how the audio signal gets sent to a receiver when using the 4K UHD Blu-ray player. I can confirm once again that the Xbox One S can’t stream Dolby Atmos, nor a true DTS TrueHD signal. Atmos gets processed as Dolby Digital 5.1, while DTS TrueHD 7.1 gets processed as DTS. While the system still sounds great, it’s not delivering the true potential of the newer audio codecs, just like the Xbox One before it.
Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One S a week ago at its E3 press event, and for the most part it’s a damn good looking piece of gaming hardware with impressive advances over the first generation Xbox One. The native 4K gaming support and upscaling for old games makes my UHD TV very happy to be alive, and I can’t wait to see what games will look like on it. I was also pleased to hear about its 4K Blu-ray support, because I’ve been looking for an excuse to adopt the latest UHD home movie format for close to a year now, but unfortunately–as the saying goes–you get what you pay for when it comes to the Xbox One S’s abilities to faithfully showcase the visual and audio capabilities of the burgeoning format.
While at E3 I had a meeting with the Xbox One S Platforms team, and one of the items we discussed was the Xbox One S. While they were touting its 4K video capabilities and the fact that for $299 it’s a mega-value as just as 4K Blu-ray player–it most definitely is at that price–I had to prod them about its audio capabilities. Unfortunately for audiophiles Microsoft confirmed that the Xbox One S–just like the Xbox One–won’t be able to bitstream HD audio codecs for Blu-rays such as 7.1 Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Atmos. This effectively limits the Xbox One S’s ability to provide a true 4K/UHD movie watching experience since it won’t bitstream some of today’s awesome new HD audio codecs. When it comes to properly bitstreamed Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Atmos these codecs can truly change the way you experience a movie from the comfort of your home, so the fact that the Xbox One S doesn’t support them in a bitstreamed fashion is a bit of a bummer for the first game console to go all-in with 4K video support.
Crystal clear HD visuals are fantastic to behold in film and in gaming, but thanks to the new HD audio codecs mentioned above, the sound design featured in games and film can be as equally impressive. I’m a bit of an audiophile myself and recently installed a 4K 7.1 home theater receiver to compliment my 4K display, and the pairing offers amazing visuals and audio to boot, but I quickly found out that using a game console to play Blu-rays with HD audio codecs doesn’t provide an ideal movie listening experience, because they can’t bitstream them. The audio gets processed as multichannel PCM, which sounds fine, but not as impressive as true bitstreamed HD audio codecs. I now use a cheap LG 3D Blu-ray player with my 4K setup so I can watch The Force Awakens with Dolby TrueHD support, or The Hunger Games with Dolby Atmos support, and the audio presentation is profoundly different than it is when viewing these films on a PS4 or Xbox One (PS4 much better, but not perfect in my opinion). I’m talking blow out your ear drums and melt your faces with surround sound different, not just a minimal gain in quality, so it’s worth it to someone like me to have a player that can support these audio formats.
Now if you don’t own a high-end home theater system this conundrum probably doesn’t resonate with you whatsoever, so getting a 4K Blu-ray player for just $299 sounds like a helluva deal, and it really is. Just don’t expect the Xbox One S to stand up to a standard 4K Blu-ray player when it comes to its audio capabilities. I’m sure it will still sound competent with the Xbox One S’s multichannel PCM audio output, but if you’ve ever experienced a film with bitstreamed HD audio support in a home theater you’ll have a problem transitioning back to the less punchy audio that game consoles provide for Blu-ray watching.
I still plan on getting the Xbox One S, but its lack of bitstreamed HD audio support for Blu-ray playback is a bummer to say the least. Now I’ll have to eventually pony up for a standard 4K Blu-ray player that supports all of the film world’s awesome sounding HD audio codecs, so it would have been nice to knock out two birds with one game console-sized stone. In the end this is a minor gripe against the very sexy and enticing Xbox One S, so unless you’re an audiophile who has invested in a solid home theater setup, I wouldn’t worry too much about its Blu-ray player’s audio output capabilities.
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