Xbox Series X|S: Blu-Ray

Posted on November 15, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Xbox Series S, Xbox Series X with 12 Comments

The Xbox Series X includes a Blu-ray player, enabling the ultimate in video quality at the expense of having to deal with physical discs. Because this feature is not included with the smaller Xbox Series S, that means that the Series X—despite its awkward size—is the better Xbox for those looking for a living room entertainment box that can literally do it all.

So, yeah, I did abandon physical media—for videogames, books, music, and video content—year ago. But there’s no denying that those who want the ultimate level of visual quality will want to stick with 4K/HDR Blu-ray discs for the foreseeable future: In one test, I pitted the Ultra HD version of “Mad Max: Fury Road” against the digital download, and it wasn’t even close. Here, for example, you can clearly see a distracting banding effect in the clear blue of the sky in the streaming version of the movie.

But when you switch to Blu-ray, the skies in this same scene are perfectly gradiated and clean, with no banding, and there’s even a pleasant and more obvious film grain effect to the visuals.

That said, you pay a big price for going the Blu-ray route, and not just for the obvious literal reason: For those accustomed to the immediacy of digital media, the slow loading times, ponderous menus, and copy protection notices of Blu-ray is an unwelcome step back into the past. Like a lot of things these days, the digital option is easier but perhaps less refined, and that’s why most find that the correct compromise. But it’s nice that Blu-ray is at least available as an option for those that want it on Xbox Series X.

Curiously, you’ll need to download Microsoft’s middling Blu-ray Player app before you can play Blu-ray or DVD movies. I seem to recall that this was semi-automated in that you’d be prompted to do so when you inserted a compatible disc, but I didn’t see that and just found in the store manually. (The first time I inserted the disc, however, I apparently did so upside down. It’s unclear why this never generated an error message.)

The Blu-ray player can also be used to install games, but I’ve not purchased a single Xbox title on disc since the Xbox 360 and I don’t intend to. Here, I’ll just say that going with a disc-based game comes with only one real nicety over a digital download: You can install a game from disc more quickly than you can via an online download. That said, any modern title will still require you to download updates, and some of those will be humongous and thus time-consuming anyway.

Finally, I should mention that some Xbox Series X customers have already reported reliability issues with the system’s Blu-ray drive that include loud clicking sounds and other issues. I can’t say that I’ve experienced this per se, but when I started the app again to take some screenshots, I did notice that it makes a continual whirring sound that I find distracting. It’s not very loud, but it’s noticeable, and it didn’t happen the previous times I used the app. I’d keep on eye on this, but I’m probably never going to use the drive again.

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Comments (14)

14 responses to “Xbox Series X|S: Blu-Ray”

  1. panjjj

    Note also that the Blu-ray player in the Series X does not support Dolby Vision, though it is supported in games and streaming. Perhaps there will be an upgrade down the road.

    • melich13

      In reply to panjjj:

      That is odd isn’t it? I’ve found the One X is a great 4K media device, but to not have Dolby Vision supported for physical media seems like a future-proofing miss. I guess “future-proving” usually doesn’t include physical media. Ha.

  2. rossdelliott

    Per the IFixIt tear down, the Blu-ray drive is the exact same one found in the Xbox One S and One X. Which is not surprising and so any reliability issues you would think would be consistent with those models, though this is designed to be placed vertically more so than the previous consoles.

  3. matsan

    In these corona-times we have started to revisit our big collection of bluerays and playing them on the PS3 and watching on our Full-HD projector and sound through the home theater. BD in full HD on 107" screen and DTS sound from 7 speakers and a subwoofer blows Netflix HD out of the water.

  4. remc86007

    I'm glad you took the time to do this Paul. I have cringed every time in the past two years that you have criticized the inclusion of optical drives in the Xboxs on First Ring Daily and Windows Weekly. Although a large percentage of the population probably doesn't care about the difference between streamed video and the much higher bitrate of optical, it is extremely important to those of us who have invested thousands of dollars in our TVs to get large 4k sets with decent HDR. I think the tech press owes it to consumers to make them aware just how poor quality most streamed content is. It's a waste of consumers' money to tell them buy a $1k+ television just for them to watch Netflix content.

    I hope in the future you and Brad will experience the massive advantage that optical media provides to sound too. This probably won't happen unless one of you invests in a real home theater system, which neither of you seem to be inclined to do having both said in the past that you think Sonos sounds good... It was funny to listen to you on FRD talk about the advantages that headphones provide like they have some sort of inherent advantage over speakers. If you think headphones are great, you should try a serious home theater system. The spatial awareness and detail that my sound system provides is equal or better to any headphone setup, plus I get the full dynamic range that the game developers and movie producers intended. You should try it some time; you'll be amazed.

  5. jules75

    As a movie fan, the optical drive is still something I look for in a console. The less black boxes under the TV the better. As Paul has shown the quality between digital download/streaming is noticeable (as is the sound quality). I also agree that they are also a bit of a faff, but I'm willing to live with that.

    As for games...yeah, I can't see myself buying a physical disc game anymore. It's not as if you save any time downloading data if you have it on physical disc. The disc is just a physical license these days.

  6. kshsystems

    Those interested in Dobly Vision, HDR10+ or high fidelity audio like Dolby Atmos, there is no substitute for a Bluray Ultra HD disc

  7. Mark Bussell Jr

    Crazy question, could you use one of the ports to attach an external optical drive to the Series S? While I've gone mostly digital I still have a large library of disks accumulated, and not all of them are available for re-purchase (or are available at an unreasonable price). I like the Series X, but I have Series S money...

  8. glenn8878

    You can buy a blu-ray player for less than $100. It's almost an extra throwaway feature that you don't mind included to get the bigger storage capability of the Xbox Series X. Nonetheless, I haven't used my blu-ray for over 2 years since I unboxed it from moving to my new home. Since I don't have a blu-ray disc collection, it isn't missed. I used to use it for Redbox rentals. I relied on Netflix and Amazon Prime streaming since. Amazon Prime actually gotten better lately with a lot of movies that I would otherwise never see since they are direct to video releases or foreign films. Most casual gamers are better off with the Series S if it's on sale.

  9. jgraebner

    The need to download the Blu-Ray app from the store probably allows Microsoft to only pay royalties to The Blu-Ray Disc Association if the customer actually uses the Blu-Ray feature. That's also why the Blu-Ray player isn't a built-in app on Windows 10 too.

  10. brownnote71

    If it's the same physical drive, it looks like Microsoft engineers have some work to do on the Blu Ray software, as in addition to no Dolby Vision or HDR10+, it's not outputting accurate blacks:

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