The UBP-X1100ES is Sony's premium 4K UHD Blu-ray offering, replacing the X1000ES that came before it, a higher-end stablemate to the unfeasibly fine UBP-X800m2 ($400). In terms of performance and value, the latter is one of the best value UHD Blu-ray players available, so clearly this more expensive sibling needs to be truly special to warrant a premium $900 price.
A quick glance would suggest that these units are cut from the same cloth, thanks to a shared chassis design and stippled matte finish just like the X800m2 its predecessors, the X800 and X1000ES. But there are some significant differences.
The UBP-X1100ES incorporates a high-end 192kHz/ 32bit DAC and offers a gold-plated phono analogue audio output on the rear. It also has a more substantial power supply plus an FL status display. Even its feet have been upgraded to provide better isolation.
Less obviously, the UBP-X1100ES supports all the major smart home control protocols, specifically Control4, Savant, and Crestron. While this alone could be a clincher if you have a custom installed AV smart home system that you want to integrate the deck into, you can also use an IR blaster from respective home automation system to control the much more affordable X800m2.
In addition to the amply spaced RCA audio output, there are two HDMIs, one offering full AV HDMI 2.0b, the second audio only using HDMI 1.4. The idea here is to provide a pure audio HDMI feed for those who choose to use one or need it when using legacy receivers/processors. There's also coaxial and optical digital outputs, USB, IR remote port, and wired Ethernet as an alternative to the onboard dual band Wi-Fi.
Audio output options are comprehensive. PCM can be output from the digital outputs at 48KHz, 96KHz, or 192KHz. There's also a DSEE HX audio upscaler for low-bitrate audio content such as MP3 and regular audio CD. I don't recommend using it because while it makes dull recordings sound decent, it makes good recordings (or better) sound a tad shrill.
Usability is identical to the X800m2. The Home page offers quick tiled access to featured apps, which include Amazon, Netflix, and YouTube (all of which stream in 4K when available). There are thumbnails for connected USB devices, media servers, and screen mirroring. Wireless connectivity is good, with Bluetooth plus LDAC, and MiraCast is available for compatible smartphones.
When it comes to UHD playback, this flagship is nearly perfect. Images are supremely detailed (test patterns from Spears & Munsil Benchmark disc play with absolute fidelity and no obvious artifacts), while colour gradations are smooth without banding. The deck also does a fine job upscaling regular HD Blu-rays although I still prefer the upscaling of the much more affordable Panasonic UB820 ($500).
Oddly, the player only supports Dolby Vision via manual toggling. This means every time you want to watch a movie in Dolby Vision, you have first make sure the movie is actually Dolby Vision encoded, go to the player's settings, change the Dolby Vision option to the on position, get out of the settings menu, then play the movie. It's not that big of a deal in terms of process but it gets old very quickly. Especially when most other brands, if not all, can enable Dolby Vision on the fly just by reading the metadata of the disc. If a $300 LG can do this, there is no excuse for Sony at $900 to not have Dolby Vision auto switching. In fact, this problem seems to be the "signature" of Sony 4K UHD players as none of their offerings offers Dolby Vision auto switching.
The player can interpolate UHD with 4:4:4 subsampling. But still the Panasonic's much cheaper UB820 does chroma up-sampling from the discs' 4:2:0 to 4:4:4 better than this unit.
On the positive side, this player is a true universal player that can also play SACD and DVD-A which not even my reference player, the Panasonic UB9000 ($1,200), can do.
As an ES music player, the player is fine. The DAC used here is a quality item, offering an analogue output that's crisp, airy and musical. It does a superb job with Metallica - the beautifully engineered "Back In Black" (AC/DC) sounds sensational - and lighter acoustical pieces alike.
Like the UBP-X800, it sounds excellent over HDMI, too. Stevie Wonder's "Living in the City" (Blu-ray) is grindingly rhythmic and musical. The deck paints sonic detail across a wide, believable soundstage.
In addition to high-res file support (which includes AAC, ALAC, DSD up to up to 11.2MHz, FLAC, WMA, MP3/MKV and MPEG), the X1000ES is compatible with both SACD and DVD-Audio. It rewards audiophile archivists with a level of high-fidelity playback that remains as good as it generally gets. The multichannel mix of Sting's "Brand New Day" DTS-audio album, for example, is entirely uplifting.
Sony has done a good job with the UBP-X1100ES. If you want good UHD video and audiophile grade sonic, this is it. The unit delivers pristine UHD Blu-ray images and its audio performance is excellent, be it via HDMI or two-channel analogue. The player is also nicely built, and if you have a custom install smart home system, it'll fit right in.
There are a few snags that chip away at the value of this premium player. The lack of Dolby Vision auto switching and less-than-amazing chroma up-sampling (although very good) are disappointing when the Panasonic UB820, the $500 alternative, can do better. The lack of MQA for an ES series also disappoints. Plus, this player is also lacking HDR10+ capability.
The provision of a high-end DAC and integrated smart home support clearly warrant a premium over Sony's hard to resist X800m2. But at more than twice the price, the X1100ES can hardly be described as a bargain. This player is highly recommended as a universal player. But if you're looking for the ultimate in picture quality and convenience, you might want to consider some other options or see if you can live with the few negatives I've mentioned.