30/06/2013 10:15 | By John Archer, contributor, MSN Tech

Sony BDV-N7100W review

More 5 star action from Sony with this 4K capable home system

What is it?
The Sony BDV-N7100W is a  Blu-ray home cinema system equipped with a full 5.1-channel speaker system, 4K upscaling, 3D playback, Triluminos colour, and expansive multimedia playback features.

What’s great?
It’s a seriously cute looking system, the magnetic fluid speakers sound great, multimedia playback options are brilliant, and picture quality is excellent.

What’s not?
The 4K upscaling and Triluminos features are of limited use when you get down to it, the HDMI Control option can cause some weird issues with Sony’s own TVs.

The bottom line:
Sony has pulled off a minor miracle with the N7100W, combining a peerless feature count with unprecedented performance for a system of its size at a price that seems very reasonable indeed for what’s on offer.

Sony 4K Blu-ray reviw (© Sony)

Sony BDV-N7100W: Review

The list of features on Sony’s latest 5.1-speaker Blu-ray home cinema system, the BDV-N7100W, reads like a virtual ‘what’s what’ of the current and, indeed, future home cinema scene.

Particularly eye-catching is the system’s 4K upscaling, designed to deliver picture with four times the resolution of normal HD images to compatible TVs. But also setting our AV senses tingling are its use of Sony’s remarkable new magnetic fluid speaker technology, Sony’s colour range-expanding Triluminos technology, and all manner of multimedia playback options including NFC, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi support, as well as access to Sony’s video-rich ‘SEN’ online platform.

Looking at these key features in turn, the 4K upscaling is intriguing because every 4K TV we’ve seen in action to date has had its own 4K upscaling built in. So the system in the N7100W may only be useful with potential budget future ultra-cheap models that don’t have upscaling - or if its upscaling processing turns out to be better than that used in 4K TVs.

Sony BDV-N7100W: Magnetic speakers

By replacing the dampers normal speakers have to use (to deal with the movement of their cones) with a magnetic fluid, meanwhile, the N7100W’s speakers need much less physical depth to produce a large-scale sound. It’s no surprise, then, to find the N7100W package employing startlingly slender speakers still able to deliver a claimed 1000W of audio power.

The Triluminos feature is, like the 4K upscaling, intriguing but not necessarily useful for everyone. Essentially it’s Blu-ray’s x.v.Colour feature under a different name, meaning it can deliver an enhanced colour space when playing compatible discs on compatible screens – screens like, handily enough, Sony’s own new W905 and X9005 series.

Finally let’s quickly cover the expansive options the N7100W offers for playing your various other sources and multimedia files through it. For starters there are two HDMIs so that, say, a Sky box and games console can make use of the system’s audio talents.

Next, if you’ve got a phone or tablet with NFC support you can just touch your device up to the N7100W’s attractive Blu-ray section for instant connection and file-sharing. If you don’t have NFC in your life, the N7100W also offers Bluetooth and Wi-Fi support, along with a USB port if that suits you best.

Sony N7100W home system (© Sony)

Sony BDV-N7100W: Sound performance

Kicking off the performance part of the test with the N7100W’s audio, for the most part we were blown away by it. For starters, the dynamic range delivered by the front and rear left/right speakers is incredibly expansive and convincing for such small, slim speakers. In fact, the soundstage they produce is so potent and well dispersed that you simply forget that you’re listening to physical speakers at all, instead just getting immersed in a brilliantly full-range, widely dispersed yet still cohesive and enveloping soundstage.

Also striking for such a physically diminutive system is the accuracy and power with which it handles transitions around the soundstage, from the front speakers to the wireless rears and from side to side. Each speaker handshakes immaculately with the rest to give a seamless sense of space no matter how dynamic the effects placement.

The soundstage’s clarity is outstanding too, as the speakers exhibit enough range to handle deep bass levels and extreme trebles without the former sounding shallow or the latter sounding harsh and dominant. This huge dynamic range doesn’t sound at all forced, either, as the startling bass and treble extremes sit entirely naturally at the end of a mid-range so expansive and open – even at high volumes - that again it’s hard to reconcile with the speakers’ diminutive form.

Sony BDV-N7100W: Multimedia

Yet more evidence of the remarkable abilities of Sony’s magnetic fluid speaker tech can be heard in both the genuinely hi-fi touch the system exhibits when listening to music and the pretty much flawless way the main speakers join forces with the subwoofer during movies, handing over bass duties where appropriate with no sense of either any missing audio range or distracting bass overlap.

We were a little concerned that the relatively small centre channel speaker might sound overwhelmed when the going got tough. But actually the dialogue it produces blends well into the soundstage created by the larger left and right speakers, sounding convincing and natural.

If we were being hypercritical we might say that the centre channel’s sound seems slightly narrow at times, so that voices can sound slightly dislocated from images unless you angle the speaker slightly up or down (depending on whether you’ve got it positioned below or above your screen). But this is a marginal concern at best, and doesn’t stop the system’s overall soundstage from being substantial enough to satisfy even quite large rooms.

While using the N7100W system with one of Sony’s own spectacular new 65X9005 4K TVs, we had initial lip-synch and 4K output problems until we turned off the Blu-ray deck’s HDMI control option. While this issue is a bit weird, though, the key point is that it’s avoidable.

Sony BDV-N7100W: Picture quality

In most ways the N7100W’s picture quality is as superb as its audio. With full HD feeds images seem every bit as clean, sharp, and fluid as they do from Sony’s outstanding mid-to-upper end standalone Blu-ray players, and if you’ve got a TV and disc that supports x.v.Colour/Triluminos, the colours on show are genuinely spectacular, as well as delivering more refined colour blends.

Turn on the 4K upscaling and things get slightly more complicated. In the context of 4K upscalers generally the results from the N7100W’s X-Reality Pro engine are impressive, as the deck adds not just greater pixel density to upscaled images but also a genuine extra sense of detail. It does this, moreover, without causing the slight sense of motion smearing you get with some 4K upscalers.

Also strong is the processing’s ability to distinguish between source noise (predominantly compression artefacts) and ‘real’ image information when adding so many pixels to its upscaled images.

The complication comes when you compare the N7100W’s upscaling with that built into Sony’s new 65X9005. The TV features a more powerful processing chipset than the N7100W’s Blu-ray deck, and this can be seen in a ‘fizzier’ look to the N7100W’s upscaled pictures.

The fact that the 65X9005’s processing is better than that of the N7100W should hardly come as a surprise, though, given the vast price gulf between the two products. And the fact remains that while you will have no need of the N7100W’s 4K upscaling if you have one of Sony’s own 4K TVs, it could still come in handy with the budget 4K-resolution TVs that will doubtless appear in the coming months.

Sony N7100W components (© Sony)

Sony BDV-N7100W: Verdict

The N7100W presses just about every home cinema button with its cutting-edge spec list, while its speakers are simultaneously pretty and small enough to fit into your living room without damaging your décor.

What’s most impressive about the N7100W, though, is the way its performance comfortably surpasses even the high expectations raised by its features and looks. Thanks to Sony’s magnetic fluid speaker technology, for instance, the quality, cohesion and size of its soundstage is mindboggling considering the dimensions of the speakers producing it.

Add in beautiful full HD pictures and superior if not flawless upscaled 4K images and you’ve got an exceptionally attractive and forward-thinking home cinema package that’s worth every penny of its £650 asking price.

sony 5 stars

Sony BDV-N7100W: Available now - £650. Check the latest prices with Bing.

See also:
Top 10 TVs that money can buy
Smart TV guide: everything you need to know about connected TVs

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