Slowly but surely, after years of waiting and angst, 4K is becoming a thing. Ultra HD Blu-ray discs are already available in stores around the country -- at a moderate price premium over a standard Blu-ray or DVD -- and Netflix's repertoire of 4K content is growing and growing. The Panasonic DMP-UB900 is a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc player that not only promises amazing improvements in picture quality, but also the best sound, including for 7.1-channel home theatre systems, as well as a design that'll be at home in the most distinguished and serious home theatres.
What Is It?
The $1099 Panasonic DMP-UB900 is a 4K-compatible, Ultra HD-ready Blu-ray player. Just released onto the store shelves of your favourite high-end Aussie electronics retailers, it's the second player launched in Australia -- after the $599 Samsung UBD-K8500 -- that can read 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray discs. It's significantly larger than the slim, curved Samsung, with a conventional rectangular design, and a mirrored front that makes it look very stylish -- and that also turns it into a fingerprint magnet.
- Disc Support: DVD/Blu-ray/4K Blu-ray
- Resolution: 3840x2160 pixels, 60p
- HDR: Yes, HDR-10
- Connectivity: 2x HDMI 2.0, 1x USB 2.0, optical/coaxial/7.1-ch analogue audio output, Ethernet
- Wi-Fi: Yes
The DMP-UB900 is an incredibly versatile Blu-ray player on paper. It supports everything from old-school CDs, through 576p DVDs and regular 1080p Blu-rays, to the new 3840x2160p Ultra HD Blu-ray standard -- as well supporting the high dynamic range (HDR) HDR-10 standard and Ultra HD Premium certification, with support for the Rec.2020 wide colour gamut colour space that is far in excess of the Rec.709 standard most current Full HD TVs cover. It's also the first player to be certified by THX as a 4K source.
And, like any modern media playback device worth its salt, the DMP-UB900 supports 4K streaming directly from YouTube and Netflix, as well as H.264 and H.265 file playback from network or USB file sources. You can hook the UB900 up to your local network and the 'net using either Wi-Fi or its Ethernet port, and there's a single USB 2.0 port and SD card slot hidden away behind the player's front flip-down mirrored panel.
Twin HDMI outputs mean you can hook the DMP-UB900 up to both a TV and a HDMI high-bandwidth-capable audio/video receiver -- not two TVs at the same time, that's silly. The main HDMI port supports HDMI 2.0a, so your equally new and equally high-end TV will have to be every bit as modern -- but that means a maximum resolution of 3860x2160 pixels and a maximum refresh rate of 60Hz are supported simultaneously.
What's It Good At?
It creates beautiful, beautiful, crispy video. If you think you've seen what 4K can do when it comes to streaming video -- a nice, high quality stream from Netflix or from YouTube -- then you haven't seen 4K yet. You haven't even lived. 4K video from a high quality 4K transfer to an Ultra HD Blu-ray player, running on a TV with a good maximum and minimum brightness level, ideally some local dimming, and support for HDR video, looks incredible. And on the Panasonic DMP-UB900, it looks the best it ever has. The difference between Blu-ray players can be small but substantial, down to the difference between image processing chips, and Panasonic comes out ahead of Samsung on this one.
If you want connections, you got connections. The Panasonic DMP-UB900 has not one but two HDMI ports, so you can connect an HDMI-friendly sound system or A/V receiver to the secondary port for the maximum throughput of audio data from a 4K HDR Blu-ray at the same time as you funnel 100Mbps of 3840x2160pixel video through the primary connector. Importantly for legacy A/V users who nonetheless have high-end systems, the UB900 also has 7.1-channel analog audio connections, so along with coaxial and optical digital outputs it's able to connect to just about any home theatre setup you throw at it, no matter how complex.
The DMP-UB900, too, isn't just a Blu-ray playback machine -- but unlike its Samsung competitor, it doesn't try to be too much more than that. It can play 4K Netflix and 4K YouTube through dedicated apps for each, but it doesn't have an app store that gives you access to dozens of other, mostly mediocre, services. It has a SD card slot and a USB port and can access SMB and DLNA network shares over its Wi-Fi and Ethernet ports, but the interface it uses to do so is more Spartan than star-spangled. The entire GUI of the DMP-UB900 is simple and stylish, and it looks mature. It's easy to use, without being bland, and it's powerful without being complicated. It's the kind of machine that you could hook up in a home cinema.
It's quick to operate, too. I don't know if you can remember what it was like using a Blu-ray player or even, god forbid, a DVD player back in the bad old days, but let me remind you: it was slow. You had to wait a few seconds for the disc tray to realise that you wanted to eject the disc before it actually did so, another 30 seconds for that disc to load the main menu, and then the same time again before it actually got into the swing of displaying the movie that you set out to watch before you had grey hair. The DMP-UB900 is speedy in every aspect of its operation, more so than the competition. It's the kind of small thing that makes it enjoyable to actually watch movies on.
What's It Not Good At?
It's expensive. There's no getting around the fact that when you can buy a DVD player for $10 in a bargain bin somewhere and you can buy a pretty damn decent Internet-connected streaming-video player that also plays Blu-ray discs for as little as $100, the $1099 Panasonic DMP-UB900 seems very expensive. It's expensive, too, in comparison to the $599 Samsung UBD-K8500, which has largely the same feature-set but comes at a much much cheaper price tag. And then, of course, you need to have a similarly extremely expensive big-screen LED LCD or OLED TV with support for high dynamic range -- the more versatile a brightness range the better, too -- to get the best out of it. It's an expensive proposition overall.
And the DBP-UB900's main advantage over the Samsung is the fact that it has superior chops in the audio department -- a difference even a trained ear is unlikely to be able to distinguish in the vast majority of cases, especially with everything but the most high-resolution audio sources -- like 4K Blu-ray discs or downloaded FLAC lossless audio files -- and without anything but the best home theatre system. If you're just looking to future-proof your home cinema with the ability to play Ultra HD Blu-ray discs for the next few years, but you haven't spend five figures (or more) already on a screen and surround sound home cinema system, it's hard to justify the extra price.
If you're going to be watching some modern streaming video on your TV via your Blu-ray player, the Samsung has a superior suite of apps available -- although only Netflix and YouTube are available in 4K, the UBD-K8500 also has Presto and Stan available. This isn't much of a criticism, to be fair, since any modern smart TV worth its salt -- and especially one with 4K resolution and capable of HDR playback -- should have direct access to most of the major movie and TV streaming services out there already. But this is a comparison between the two players currently available, and one is more quote-unquote smart than the other for the time being.
And, while the UB900's interface is certainly attractive in a stark way, it does feel a little bit low-tech. I like the Spartan nature of the main grid interface, but diving deeper into the network services or internet section, things start to look a little bit outdated. If you're going to be watching files from your network shares, we've still yet to find a Blu-ray player that does it as well as the Oppo BDP-103
Should You Buy It?
- Amazing 4K image detail versus 1080p.
- Great remote.
- Good interface and extra features.
- Very expensive.
- 4K Blu-rays are expensive, too.
The $1099 Panasonic DMP-UB900 is a phenemonal media player for watching high-quality Ultra HD Blu-ray movies. It's able to pull a huge amount of detail out of the 3840x2160pixel frames as they appear, and consistently display just about as much visual information as you've ever seen from a physical or streaming media file. It's better than its main competitor when it comes to displaying video, and it has technically superior audio credentials as well. If you're the kind of person that is taking the opportunity in 2016 to invest a lot in their TV or home cinema setup, then the extra cost of the UB900 over its Samsung rival won't matter much to you.
If you're looking to buy a player that will stand the test of time, then the UB900 won't let you down in that regard. It's built incredibly well for a modern mass-market Blu-ray player, and even though its main screen and interface are a little bland, that's probably a good thing in terms of how it'll look on your TV screen in the years to come. The remote is worth mentioning for its excellent design and build quality and the fact that it includes per-key backlighting, a nod to the fact that you'll probably be using it in a dim room for the majority of the time you spend with it.
Price is always part of our consideration for how we rate and review a product, and in this case the Panasonic DMP-UB900 is an expensive product that more than justifies its extra price when taken in the context as one piece of an equally high-end home theatre system. It's an impressive gadget, and if you have the cash to splash on a top-of-the-line home cinema you won't be disappointed.