While I’m going to have plenty of good stuff to say about the Xbox One X in articles over the coming days, I’ve unfortunately got to kick off with some seriously bad news. Namely that at the time of writing, the Xbox One X’s 4K Blu-ray drive is a bit of a mess. To say the least.
As anyone who reads my Forbes channel regularly will know, I spend an unhealthy amount of time testing TVs and 4K Blu-ray players, as well as reviewing 4K Blu-ray discs. And as it stands right now, the Xbox One X’s 4K Blu-ray drive is by far the worse 4K Blu-ray player around. Except, sadly, for the Xbox One S – something I’ll come back to later.
We’re not just talking about a small difference here, either; the Xbox One X’s 4K Blu-ray playback is off enough to be considered more or less broken if you’re any sort of home cinema enthusiast.
The problem is raised black levels when playing high dynamic range images (which are the star attraction of pretty much all 4K Blu-ray discs) into HDR-capable TVs. Watch a dark 4K Blu-ray scene, such as the one in Spider-Man: Homecoming where Spidey is rescued from a lake at night by Iron Man, and the HDR night sky looks much brighter, much more infused with blue and much noisier than it does if I watch the same scene on other 4K Blu-ray players such as the Panasonic UB900 or Oppo 203. Even the black bars above and below wide aspect ratio films look markedly greyer from the Xbox One X than they do via any other 4K Blu-ray player.
This is because something about the way the Xbox One X is outputting its video seems to be raising the base luminance level of the entire high dynamic range image.
The issue also affects color and detail, with some tones looking washed out compared with how they look on other 4K Blu-ray decks. Some very bright shots look flared and bleached, too, and noise levels are consistently elevated rather than this issue only affecting dark scenes. Which is all exactly what you would expect to see if an image isn’t being presented with the correct luminance information.
When I first started looking at the Xbox One X’s 4K Blu-ray picture quality on my Samsung UE65KS9800 (KS9500 in the UK) TV, the problem was spectacularly bad. Fortunately I was able to improve things greatly by manually adjusting the Black Level setting for the HDMI the X was connected to from its Normal default setting to Low or Auto. This at least made the black bars around wide aspect ratio pictures look something approaching black rather than washed out grey, and improved the general sense of dynamic range in the image.
However, even after making this change black levels still look washed out relative to how they should look, colors still routinely look wrong, and noise levels are still routinely substantially higher than they should be. It’s the same deal, too, with an LG OLED65E7 TV (though since this TV runs much less brightly than the Samsung set, the noise, at least, is less obvious).
It’s worth adding that the HDMI Black Level setting is set to Auto and greyed out when I use other 4K Blu-ray players on the Samsung TV, whereas it’s still open for adjustment when using the Xbox One X. So this would seem to be another issue that Microsoft needs to fix.
Comparing the Xbox One X with the Xbox One S, I was quite surprised to see similar issues on the S; I don’t remember the S looking quite so problematic when I looked at its 4K Blu-ray abilities in the summer of 2016. Maybe something Microsoft has done since the console launched has made 4K Blu-ray playback worse? Though it’s also true that stand-alone 4K Blu-ray players since the S was launched (I use other players for my disc testing and day to day 4K BD viewing) have raised the picture quality bar for the 4K Blu-ray format.
However, the issues don’t seem to me as consistently damaging to picture quality on the S as they are on the X (I’d welcome feedback on this on my Twitter channel from anyone who’s got both consoles and can have a look for themselves). Plus, of course, the S can now be had for as little as $239 (£199), which makes its UHD BD playback limitations at least easier to tolerate than they are on the $499 (£450) Xbox One X.
Normally I would be hopeful that the issues we’re currently seeing with the Xbox One X’s 4K Blu-ray drive might be fairly easily addressed by a software update. Needless to say I’ve contacted Microsoft about the problem and will report back as soon as I hear a reply. However, the fact that the S is still exhibiting some similar behaviors despite owners starting to report problems as far back as September 2016 is concerning.
It’s also more than a little disappointing to see Microsoft letting its bleeding edge new console out with such an obvious – and seemingly known – issue in play. Especially when that issue relates to one of the Xbox One X’s key advantages over the HD Blu-ray-only PS4 Pro.
Basically, if you’re thinking of getting an Xbox One X for its home theater as well as gaming capabilities, I reluctantly have to suggest that you hold fire until we’ve had confirmation that this issue is definitely going to be fixed.
If you liked this article, you might also like these: