Blu-ray players have been criticized for taking too long to load discs, and while this Sony is far from the slowest, it isn't exactly speedy. Power-up took 47 seconds in regular mode and 30 seconds in the Quick Start mode. After I pressed Play, it took 25 seconds for CDs, 35 seconds for DVDs, and 45 seconds for most Blu-ray Discs to start playing. The changer mechanism is much quieter than in Sony's previous models; I was never distracted by any motor or fan sounds during use.
Once discs have been loaded and recognized by the Gracenote ID process, you are presented with a thumbnail cover-art image along with the movie's title, rating, release year, director, cast (in reality, only the name of a single actor), and genre. By using the Group button, you can sort movies by genre, cast, or director. And by pressing Sort, you can view movies either by slot number, alphabetized by title, or by year of release.
Text info including director, rating, title, and genre can be edited, but there's no way to add or change cover art. The Sony did a great job IDing all of the discs that I loaded. However, it was only successful in grabbing about 80-85% of my collection's cover art. Some omissions were real head scratchers, like missing art for Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon or getting information for the movie Cars for Blu-ray but not DVD.
While the Sony's GUI can scroll very fast through your collection if you push and hold the up or down arrows, I was disappointed that the menus don't wrap around from Z back to A, or from A to Z - a really handy feature when browsing a large media collection. Also, even though I can't imagine anyone buying this Sony to use as a CD jukebox in the iPod age, I have some comments in this regard. First, the shuffle play implementation is lame. It will randomly pick the next disc but not shuffle songs on a particular disc, let alone randomly play songs from all discs. And while it would have been great to be able to select a genre or artist and have the 7000ES play just those discs, that didn't work either. You can create up to eight playlists, but, seriously, having used numerous hard-disk-based media servers, I found the near-30-second break as the Sony changed discs to be interminable.
Although the 7000ES has limited frontpanel controls, you can scroll through disc titles on its LED display - an outstanding feature for either finding and playing CDs or locating a disc you want to eject without having to power on your TV. The remote has a fair amount of buttons, but only three nonessential buttons are backlit, so using any third-party universal control would be a far better option here. (The Sony also allows for RS-232 control by advanced system controllers.) As far as video performance goes, this player is a stunner, offering up some of the very best DVD upconversion I've seen. It sailed through all of the Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark DVD tests, as well as those on the Spears & Munsil High-Definition Benchmark Blu-ray Disc. More important, pictures looked terrific during real-world viewing.
One of my favorite test scenes involves Mac, the big rig from the movie Cars. As Mac is driving down the road, the fine lines in his grille provide a real challenge for a video processor, but the Sony kept them looking stable and free of jaggies. Even when watching concerts or TV shows originally shot on video, the Sony stamped those jaggies into extinction.
Honestly, I've never seen a Blu-ray picture that actually looks bad, but with the 7000ES, discs looked just perfect. Every subtle detail was visible, and there was no performance-degrading picture over-enhancement. Many scenes in the Monsters vs. Aliens Blu-ray had so much depth and razor-sharp detail that it looked like you could reach through the screen. The Sony's crisp detail also laid bare poor CGI, such as a scene in X-Men Origins: Wolverine where Logan's claws looked laughably fake.
This player offers a ton of picture adjustments for tweaking less-than-perfect transfers. Noise Reduction options include film grain, random picture noise, block noise, and mosquito noise. You can also play with settings for contrast, brightness, color, and multi-point gamma. And it can store your settings for up to 50 individual discs.
Unlike Major League Baseball, this Sony has a totally legit performance-enhancer - a feature called Super Bit Mapping (SBM). This feature processes a 14-bit video signal from the original 8-bit on discs. SBM eliminated banding effects as colors shifted from light to dark. I really noticed the improvement any time the moon or sun appeared onscreen: In such scenes, rough gradations are normally visible radiating away from the brightest part of the image. But with SBM engaged, the same transitions looked smoother and more natural - something that helps to separate this as a flagship player.
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