Pros: Literally, 20 terabytes of space. Consolidation/organization of media. Automatic retrieval of metadata. Price.
Cons: Physical size. Disc retreival Speed (relative to a media player only).
Instead, I'd like to pit it against its real competition: the ever-evolving, increasingly popular, home media players.
From a pure functionality standpoint both are likely more similar than unalike. Both have a primary objective of playing back movies (I heard that "duh", by the way). But how they go about that business is very much fundamentally different.
To the surprise of no one, Sony's BDP CX960 basically acts as a warehouse for 400 discs...oh but what an organized, gigantic, and FUN warehouse it is! That's FOUR-HUNDRED discs in case you missed it. Granted, there are indeed collections that exceed that total- even those that FAR exceed it- on AVS, but the better question would likely be: just what percentage of folks own collections surpassing 200 films/discs, never mind 400? My money would be placed on a figure securely residing in the single digits.
So then, it's likely a safe bet that the 960 will accommodate the majority of collections- a very important reality when you consider that once the all of the cabinet's slots are taken there's a permanent "NO VACANCY" sign illuminated. No, you cannot even daisy chain these units together for increased capacity. You're stuck with "just" 400 movies. Don't worry, you'll have most of those who lay eyes on this beast wishing they had your problem.
And that should be one of the only problems you'll encounter with the unit as it's fantastically straight forward to operate and maintain. For as much as I'd like flower-up the initial set-up process, I simply have to lay it on you for what it is: infinitely simple.
Load up your discs, tap the "LOAD" button, and off she goes. Now, while the process is anything but instantaneous, you will likely be pleasantly surprised at the speed when you consider it's grabbing each disc, reading it and retrieving the appropriate metadata. I'd say about 30 seconds per title is a pretty safe (but certainly internet speed dependent ) bet, as my initial load of ~150 took just over an hour. Set it and forget it kind of methodology here. Go ahead, cut the grass and take that nap- there's a darn good chance she will have finished her own chores upon your return.
A quick word about the accuracy of that metadata that's being sought and retained: I'd rate it as "very good" overall, especially regarding movie titles. It retrieved correct data for all but four of my 150 titles and those remaining four were easily set into place after running them again individually and selecting from the list of title options that were provided. Now, new releases may take a spell to enter in the Gracenote database to be found, but I have seen that time span decrease every 6 months or so, with many titles being available within a matter of days after release. Hard to complain, then.
So you now have your library loaded and ready for playback: how bout the meat and potatoes in that department, then?
Well, in a word, it's fantastic.
First let's consider the loading time and methodology. Many will find the Sony xross media bar immediately familiar if not immediately loved or loathed. I seem to be much more apathetic towards it than most. Basically, it works. Yes, there's probably a better way, but there's nothing about it that I would term particularly egregious, and I actually find it to be fairly intuitive and speedy for most functionality. As always, your mileage may vary.
The movie menu/title screen will likely be one of the unit's most glaring "fall-downs", especially when contrasted with that of some of the nicer-looking screens offered up by the better media players. Cover images, while again, very accurate, will be too small for most anyone's tastes, even on a larger 60" screen. It was speculated early after its release that Sony would go ahead and increase the size of the images, but years later I think it's pretty safe to say this is the way it's gonna be. Deal-breaker? Hardly, in this reviewer's opinion, but it would be nice, no doubt about it. The changer lists titles vertically, in alphabetical order, by default, but the user can also sort by actor, director, and genre- a nice little feature to avoid sifting through hundreds of titles at a time.
Upon selecting a tile by pushing "play" you can expect it to load in about 30 seconds. I say "about" because it will depend on where the title rests in the carousel. I timed about 20 different titles and found all of them to fall between 22 and 36 seconds. Now, with nearly instant/5 second playback times, this is another shot in the arm for a media player, although as the owner of two media players and the changer, I would urge those who tend to overvalue this particular trait to consider one imperative fact: you're about to sit down and watch a 1 1/2 to 3 hour movie, is the extra couple dozen seconds really so crucial? My personal feeling is not at all. If it helps, consider how long it would take to:
1. Get off the couch.
2. Walk to where your discs are stored.
3. Select desired title.
4. Remove said title from case.
5. Walk to BD player.
6. Open BD player drawer.
7. Insert disc.
8. Walk back to couch.
Perform inverse upon completion of film.
A bit of an extrapolated list, admittedly, but you get the point; it almost certainly WELL eclipses 30 seconds, never mind falls woefully short of the increase in convenience the changer offers.
Onward, so you're watching your movie, how about the audio and video quality?
It too is excellent. And as one who believes- for better and for worse in the varied opinion of folks, I realize- that properly operating blu ray players perform VERY similarly in BOTH regards (especially so for 1080/BD content/discs), I'm happy to report the CX 960 is not a departure from that norm.
It happily bitstreams or LPCMs both Dolby True Hd and DTS MA lossless codecs, so you'll be covered on both fronts with exceptional sound.
Video quality was superb on all of the usual reference discs I threw in. No noticeable artifacting, detail was excellent as was contrast and color. I do not own many DVD's but I'd rate the up-scaling ability of the unit to be at least on par with the other 4 BD players I've owned. In short, you're going to have superb audio and video playback quality with the unit.
So you now have a centralized locale for your movies, great! But, as I said earlier, how does it compare with the "new direction" or "future" of movie playback in media players? Let's examine (with some semblance of brevity, hopefully ):
Cost: Since this usually is the number one factor in determining what we can (or are allowed ) to purchase, let's get righ to it. For comparison purposes we'll compare full HD, uncompressed BD rips in the case of the files for playback on the media player.
Sony BDP-CX 960 Changer:
$700. Plug it in. Barring theft or an odd degradation of the discs, you need not back anything up. At least a decades worth of playback..and that's likely conservative.
Media player: it's a bit more complicated...
You'll need a suitable media player. Many (again, suitable units) are available at varying price-points (~$100-$300+), but let's say you select a vary capable, and versatile player in the Western Digital WDTV Live. Very nice player (I own it) with a nice GUI and software that will fetch you files/films data.
Now you'll need storage for those discs you need to rip into usable files. This is where it gets tricky, or perhaps "variable" is a better word.
At 35 movies per terabyte (a very reasonable figure for full BD rips with no additional features/bonus content) you're going to need (3) 4TB hard drives to match the capacity of the 960. If you look hard enough and are smart about it you can come in at about $140 apiece for external 4 TB HDDs. So then, three are going to put you at about $420.
If you're playing along, that's $100 + $420 = $520
Ok, now though you have no back up of these hard drives that are GUARANTEED to fail at some point. It may be 2 months, it may be 6 years, but they will fail. So what do you do? Well, you have a couple of options:
1. The brute force method: simply buy another (3) HDDs for $420 and duplicate the files from the original 3 drives onto them. That is of course another $420
2. You select a NAS or server: here you can set up a RAID array to "somewhat" back up your data (99% of the CPU community will tell you that it's not enough though and you should also include #1 in ADDITION to this option). But, let's just say you want to go this route alone, and live dangerously.
A 4 bay (bays denoting the total number of hard drives the NAS can accept) NAS will cost you $300-$700, just depends on how fancy you want to get and the quality level. But let's take $300 just to play the low-side of the range. I believe most of the pro-MP camp will find that to be reasonable.
Ok, you now have your NAS and need to set up a RAID 5 configuration. Basically that means you'll have one extra drive that will safeguard you from losing any of your movies if a single drive fails. So then, you'll need FOUR (4) TB drives (don't forget the fourth's for redundancy) totaling ~$700 at today's prices.
Imperatively, ALL of the above assume you already own a CPU and have a BD drive and software to "rip" your discs into usable digital files. Probably not the case for most (especially the BD drive and software), but we'll assume so for the sake of this comparison.
Now, where do we stand?
Going with option #1: Player $100 + Plus 3 primary 4 TB HDDs $420 + 3 back-up 4 TB HDDs $420 = $960
Option #2: Player $100 + NAS $300 + (4) 4 TB HDDS $700 = $1100
Again, going with option 2 leaves you with no real back up and it's highly recommended that you either back up off site with another NAS, or additional HDDs.
So cost then: $700 vs $960 or $1100.
One last point just to reiterate: HDDs do NOT live forever... they will ALL need to be replaced, eventually. I won't count this in the total cost of the MP as I have no crystal ball as to what HDD prices or reliability will look like in 5 years or how long our "fictitious" drives will last, but I can all-but assure you that you'll have drives that will fail within the next 5/6 years. Just something to think about. I know I do.
Ok so the changer's cheaper, what about convenience?
Getting started? Changer. No contest. As soon as you can load your discs into the the changer, add an hour or three and you'll be done. "Done" as in ready to watch ANY movie you have in your collection. Simple as that.
Media player? Again, much more complicated, or at least certainly more time consuming. You'll need to rip every disc you own of course. How long will this take? Well, there's more variables involved than we need to discuss, but some include the drive's speed, CPU power, HDD read/write speeds and disc size...never mind what additional content you want over just the film. Got that?
Without getting too deep lets just say 30-90 minutes per title. Again, in the interest of balance, I believe most would say 45 minutes is pretty darn near average for a typical movie/hardware arrangement.
So then let's say you can spend 8 hours a day (you take your laptop to work, right?) ripping discs (the nice thing is you can start it and walk away), that will put you at around 15 titles per day which would be darn good compared to me, lol. So, keep up at that pace everyday, and you'll be done in a month, Congrats, it took me almost 2.
Now though, when you're all DONE with the aforementioned, what about the convenience factor?
Media player. No contest. Accessing all of your films nearly instantaneously is the definition of "digital sexy", no doubt about it. And again, while I'd say some are a bit over the top in railing against the changer in this regard, there's no question it's clearly behind the MP.
Versatility: You have to respect a methodology that can send 2-4 DIFFERENT streams to 2-4 different rooms and that's precisely what a media player can accomplish...just add more players to your network. On the other hand, it's the glaring chink in the changer armor when it comes to a side-by-side with a media player. It is simply outgunned.
Crucially though, does it matter to YOU is the real question. If you simply want to play back films in your living room or theater, the point is utterly moot, it truly is.
And just to note: I'm not ignoring the fact that many media players have other functionality in offering Netflix, Amazon, and other content offerings, but this review is focused on consolidating one's movie library, so if that aspect is mucho importante to you (and not duplicated by your ps3, appletv, sat or cable box, etc, ) then by all means let it weigh into your decision where it needs to.
Interface/GUI: Again, the media player wins a round. And again, it really is not much of a fight. Virtually any modern MP either has a wonderful media library built in or at least has one available to it through an app or upload. And while the changer's movie tile visual is certainly of an agreeable aesthetic, it simple looks amateurish next to a typical MP.
Ease of use/set-up: well, assuming someone can get through the ripping process/software (that's really not that difficult), set up a RAID array if necessary (also not the end of the world) the media player will pay dividends...so long as all is operating as it should.
There is NO such thing as a bug-free player. Just take a cursory glance through every media player thread on AVS. From networking issues, hardware failures, and even problems connecting with local content, it is extremely presumptuous to assume you will enjoy a bump-free ride with any media player available- although they have improved considerably, by and large, over the last few years and are getting better, still. On the changer side, outside of a player failure- which of course is not out of the question- such issues with the changer are mostly impossible, if not at least very infrequent.
A/V quality: easiest of them all. A tie as far as I'm concerned. There's no reason why bit-for-bit copies should have anything but identical audio or video data to their disc-cousins and therefore you should be seeing identical audio and video quality...at least as far as either units output's are concerned.
Overall: what a tough, tough, if not impossible call to make. Inescapably, it comes down to user budget, preference, and comfort level as far as I'm concerned. Surely, disc-less playback is the future. That doesn't mean discs will cease to exist in the next 5 years, it simply means it won't be the primary methodology for people playing back their content. Heck, it already isn't for a considerable sum.
To me the real question is: is that future, now?
Well, I've seen both sides of the fence now, and I have to say that for every plus the media player has in its corner (and they are considerable in both number and scope), it's impossible for me to ignore its initial (and ongoing) costs, time demands (especially initially) and maintenance (some worse than others). Basically, it's one badmamajamma if you want to put the work, money and time into it, but it's NOT for everyone. The 960 definitely has its place and to me, it's a shame Sony no longer produces this unit as it offers an extremely suitable plug n play option for those with large libraries who simply are not prepared to allocate the aforementioned attributes that a media player demands.
So then, amongst the constantly expanding crowd of media players the BDP-CX960 still stands as a very formidable opponent and actually defeats them in important battles...when contrasted against its single tray BD player counterparts: it's a county fair vs Disney World...with all due respect to the wonderful county fairs of America. We all love them, but ask the kids where they'd rather go this summer.
This is a big box of fun, my friends.