So you’ve got your 4K TV all set up, you’ve upgraded your Netflix subscription and you think you’re ready to enjoy all that 4K has to offer, right? Well, not quite.
While 4K and HDR streaming is a really accessible way to experience the joys of 4K, the very best performance in terms of both picture and audio quality is going to come from a 4K disc played on a 4K Blu-ray player.
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- Sensational 4K UHD image quality
- Dolby Vision and HDR10+ compatible
- Breathtaking build quality
- Streaming app portal
Panasonic’s DMP-UB900 was one of the first 4K Blu-ray players on the market, and the DP-UB9000 replaces it as Panasonic8217;s flagship player. It8217;s the most ambitious player we8217;ve seen from the Japanese brand, one uniquely suited to coping with the many variants of HDR.
From a picture point of view the UB9000 may well have the best picture quality of any UHD disc spinner so far. It has a picture that8217;s both smooth but filled with an astonishing amount of detail. When it comes to audio it sounds good, perhaps not audiophile quality but impressive nonetheless.
A 4K player that8217;s assured with both video and audio
- Meticulous design
- Excellent picture quality
- SACD and DVD-Audio compatible
With Oppo vacating the 4K player arena (though you can still buy the UDP-203), Pioneer entered the frame with its first effort in the UDP-LX500.
And what a first effort it is. It8217;s a tank of player, weighing the scales at 10.3kg. It8217;s 1.6mm chassis base is reinforced by a secondary 3mm steel plate ensuring that the disc inside is not affected by any vibration during operation. It8217;s whisper-quiet during playback.
But what about the picture? 4K films look pristine, with a vibrancy to their colour palette and excellent contrast. It8217;s just a shade less good than the DP-UB9000 above, but it bests that player in terms of audio quality. The LX500 is a superb player if you have a grand to spend.
- The best 4K Blu-ray picture quality yet
- Good sound and build quality
- Dolby Vision
- No built-in online streaming apps
- High audio lag and no HDR on HDMI input
It doesn’t scrimp on connectivity with built-in Wi-Fi and a full set of phono audio-line jacks for 7.1-channel audio. There8217;s support for Dolby Vision, as well as just about any file or disc format, including SACDs and high-res audio files up to 32-bit/192kHz and multichannel DSD64/128.
HDR images look punchier, peak bright detail more extreme, and deepest blacks darker and more nuanced. Colour reproduction is also richer without looking unnatural, and detail is sharper and more defined.
However, Oppo announced in 2018 that it ceased production of the player. The Oppo is still available, but stock is low. Warranties will still be honoured and updates made available (from time to time), so if you8217;re still interested, the time to get one is now.
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- Superb UHD picture performance
- High Res Audio file compatibility
- Excellent build quality
- Netflix, Amazon Video and YouTube 4K streaming
Connectivity is extensive, although it8217;s strictly a digital affair here. There are separate HDMI outputs for audio and video, a coaxial output plus Bluetooth and dual-band Wi-Fi to boot. There’s also support for high-res music playback and an extensive range of both video and audio formats, including SACD.
This deck only has support for HDR10 and comes with plenty of apps in Amazon Prime, Netflix, YouTube and numerous catch-up services.
Images are astoundingly sharp, with no undue artefacts or distractions and colour rendering is supremely accurate. The UBP-X800 does an equally great job with standard Blu-rays too, and sounds superb with music. All in all, a bit of a bargain then, for film and music lovers alike.
If Sony8217;s X800 ranks as more of a premium offering, the UBP-X700 brings 4K down to a more affordable level.
Boasting an excellent picture performance, UHD discs are flawlessly reproduced with excellent detail and natural looking colours. It even performs brilliantly with SDR content, squeezing every last pixel out of the image. It8217;s the most accomplished 4K player under £200.
- Dazzling 4K HDR pictures
- Hassle-free setup and easy ‘one remote’ operation
- Extensive feature list
- Fast, quiet operation
- OLED display
- Build lacks luxury for the money
- No 3D Blu-ray, SACD or DVD-Audio playback
- No Dolby Vision support
Connectivity is a limited than some others, but still offers two HDMI outputs for splitting the video and audio signals and an optical out. There’s also built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a USB port for connecting thumb drives.
Format compatibility is a little stricter. There’s no support for 3D Blu-ray, nor SACD or DVD-Audio discs, although it can play high-res files up to 24-bit/192kHz. There8217;s no Dolby Vision, but there is support for Samsung’s preferred HDR10+.
As for its performance, the UBD-M9500 is quick to load discs and serves up enjoyable UHD Blu-ray pictures, with masses of fine detail and truly life-like colours. Clarity and colour purity are top-drawer too, and we weren’t able to make out any banding, block noise or other artefacts.
As well as being two of the best gaming consoles on the market, the Xbox One X and the Xbox One S also double as good UHD Blu-ray players. If you’re a film fan as well as a gamer, that8217;s a reason to consider getting one over the PS4 Pro.
Load times are fast and both consoles have no problem showing off all the advantages of 4K, with remarkable clarity, minute details and lifelike textures. You also get noticeably higher dynamic range, which isn’t just about bright highlights and inky blacks. It’s also about the detail in between, which the Xbox picks out with precision, making HDR images look outstanding.
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This is a copy protection technology aimed to prevent piracy. Ultimately all elements in your setup need to support it in order for 4K content to play. All of the 4K Blu-ray players in our round-up do that – but just be sure the HDMI port you use on your TV or AV receiver does as well.
HDMI 2.0 is the most recent HDMI standard, which brought with it a few upgrades that will make a difference to viewing in 4K. This includes 50Hz and 60Hz refresh rates, 10-bit and 12-bit colour depth, plus improved audio support. As with HDCP2.2, you’ll want to ensure all components in your system feature it – some devices may only have certain ports that use it, so double check you8217;re using the right one.
There are several formats now – the standard HDR10, the broadcast standard HLG and the two competing advanced frame-by-frame formats, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision. Most Blu-ray players and TVs support the first two, but if you have a preference on the more advanced format, be sure to check both your Blu-ray player and TV support it.
To help you decide, Dolby Vision has made it to a number of discs so far, but there are no HDR10+ compatible discs available at the moment. But with growing support, including the thumbs up from Warner Bros, we’d expect that to change by the end of 2018.
From a streaming perspective, it’s split down the middle, with Amazon Prime’s video catalogue supporting the former, and Netflix featuring the latter (though it hasn’t ruled out HDR10+ support in the future).
Abbreviations aside, you’ll want to think about what else you’d like your Blu-ray player to be able to do aside from playing Blu-ray discs. Some double up as a media player to play back your CDs or even SACDs, and others have support for high-res streaming, including DSD files.
At the other end of the spectrum, more expensive players will give you more options when it comes to connecting your Blu-ray player to your AV receiver, including separate video and audio outs, or a full set of 7.1-channel analogue audio outputs.
A lot of Blu-ray players also have built-in smart TV or OTT (over-the-air) apps for streaming 4K content from the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube. It’s very likely your TV also supports this, but if you don’t like the interface, or it’s missing a few things, look out for a Blu-ray player that can fill in the gaps.
Finally, a display on the front of a Blu-ray player can sometimes make all the difference when it comes to operating it. Not all of them have them, so it’s worth double checking if ease of use is important to you.
We watch a lot of 4K Blu-rays, obviously. But before we get there there8217;s the matter of plugging things in, and we spend time checking out whether a 4K Blu-ray player has the barebones single HDMI, or twin HDMI to separate out sound and vision, plus multi-channel analogue audio output. All that stuff matters if you8217;re going to set up a home cinema.
When we do get to the discs, there8217;s the matter of loading. We care how quickly the disc tray loads, and whether it rattles. We care about loading times, how quickly you go from disc insertion to getting to the main menu. While things load, we8217;ll also take the time to scour the specs sheets to check for format compatibility.
Then it8217;s time to watch 4K Blu-rays, and we pay attention to the picture and sound quality. No, they8217;re not the same. The discs all put out the same information but every 4K Blu-ray player processes them differently. We look out for the best balance of detail, subtlety, vibrancy and realism. If there are promises such as Dolby Atmos, we pay special attention to the precision of effects placement.
After all this, we sweat the small stuff. Is the remote easy to use, particularly in dark rooms? Is the system interface easy to navigate? Finally, every element is judged against the price. If a machine represents good value generally, we8217;ll be a little more lenient on a bad remote. Pricier machines, however, had better be stunning.