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Panasonic DMP-UB900 review

John Archer

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Panasonic DMP-UB900
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  • Panasonic DMP-UB900
  • Panasonic DMP-UB900
  • Panasonic DMP-UB900
  • Panasonic DMP-UB900
  • Panasonic DMP-UB900
  • Panasonic DMP-UB900
  • Panasonic DMP-UB900

Summary

Our Score:

10

User Score:

Pros

  • Stunning picture quality
  • Impressive audio
  • Clever scaling features
  • Looks great

Cons

  • High price
  • Cumbersome remote

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Key Features

  • 4K playback from disc
  • HDR playback from disc
  • Proprietary chroma processing
  • High-end audio components and features
  • HDR-to-SDR and HD-to-UHD remapping
  • Manufacturer: Panasonic
  • Review Price: £600.00

What is the Panasonic DMP-UB900?

The UB900 is essentially the posh half of Ultra HD Blu-ray’s UK launch. Ultra HD Blu-ray, for those new to all this, is the next-generation of Blu-ray that supports 4K and High Dynamic Range (HDR) – a new standard for colour and picture brightness and promises a whole new dimension of colour and contrast.

The UB900 costs £600 versus £429 for the Samsung UBD-K8500 deck, and sports a number of premium audio and video features which Panasonic reckons will enable it to unlock UHD Blu-ray’s full potential.

That's a pretty bold claim. So has Panasonic really got it right first time? That'll be a yes. Read on to find out why.

Video: Trusted Explains – Everything you need to know about 4K and HDR

Panasonic DMP-UB900 – Design and Features

The UB900 sets a suitably premium tone right from the off, thanks to an eye-catchingly glamorous design and impressive build quality. The top plate has an appealing brushed metallic finish, while the fascia is fronted by a drop-down smoked-glass-effect cover that does a sharp job of hiding the UB900’s disc tray, along with front-mounted USB and SD card slots.

Overall, the UB900 presents a much more handsome face to the world than the slightly clumsy and plasticky look of Samsung’s K8500 deck. This, at least, explains some of the difference in price, though my in-depth tech overview later on explains the real reasons.

The SD card slot and USB port can be used for playing video, photo and music files through the UB900 on your TV/AV audio system, while connections on the deck’s rear include 7.1-channel analogue audio outputs and two HDMI outputs – one capable of delivering both pictures and sound to a TV; the other designed to ship audio only to a compatible AV receiver.

The main HDMI is built to the v2.0a HDMI specification, and if you want to experience the full picture quality potential the UHD BD format has to offer, you’ll need a TV equipped with v2.0a inputs.

The UB900’s HDMI sockets introduce one of the deck’s premium features. Panasonic's designed them so that if the deck detects audio being output through the secondary HDMI, it'll automatically turn off the audio part of the main HDMI output, reducing the potential for interference between the audio and video signals.

Related: Ultra HD Blu-ray: All you need to know

Panasonic DMP-UB900

Panasonic’s bid to minimise interference in the audio and video paths doesn’t stop there, though. The UB900 can also automatically turn off its connection circuitry for its coaxial, optical and analogue audio output ports if they’re not being used. Or if the deck detects you’re listening to music rather than watching a video disc, it can completely turn off its video circuitry as well as any audio outputs you’re not using.

Joining this unexpected ability to divide the labour of the UB900’s electronics is its ability to upscale CDs to 192kHz, and a seriously ‘Hi-Fi’ roster of internal audio components. For the sake of your sanity I won’t list them in full, but experience suggests that the sort of gear the UB900 is fitted with across its analogue, digital and power supply sections should deliver tangible sonic benefits, particularly when it comes to bass depth, timing, detail, clarity and simple musicality.

To underline this point, the UB900 features a ‘Sound Effects’ menu with options to resample audio to suit specific music types (jazz, pop/rock and classical). There are even six ‘Digital Tube’ presets designed to recreate the sort of sound you might expect from an old vacuum tube amp.

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The UB900 can play CD, DVD, and HD/3D Blu-ray discs, though I guess you could feel a bit disappointed given its clear interest in audio quality that its disc compatibility doesn’t extend to SACD or DVD-Audio discs. However, the player can handle high-resolution audio file formats (including FLAC and DSD) delivered via NAS drives or USB sticks, which is more important these days.

The fact that I’ve spent so long discussing the audio features of a Blu-ray player speaks volumes about just how far Panasonic has gone to make this a truly premium product. Yes, it's an Ultra HD Blu-ray player, but Panasonic's squeezing out as much value as possible. It's not just a disc player but a serious piece of AV gear for all your needs.

Related: What is 4K TV and Ultra HD?

Panasonic DMP-UB900

Panasonic DMP-UB900 – In-depth tech overview

Now, if you just care about the picture quality then I suggest you head to the performance section of this review now, because I'm about to dive very deep into the inner workings of the UB900.

Here comes the science, but I really mean that.

Obviously, the UB900 delivers the basic Ultra HD Blu-ray requirements of 4K/UHD resolution – high dynamic range (HDR) and an expanded colour gamut. But for the UB900 that’s just the start, with Panasonic’s engineers identifying three key picture quality areas where they believe they can make a difference.

First, since Ultra HD Blu-ray only mandates chroma sampling at the 4:2:0 standard, it needs to be upsampled to 4:4:4 to deliver the best results on high-quality TVs.

Second, since Ultra HD Blu-rays carry 10-bit video masters, the player ought to be capable of delivering more than 10-bit accuracy to deliver optimal performance.

Finally, since not all TVs support every aspect of Ultra HD Blu-ray’s video feast – not actually 4K, or no support for HDR or the BT.2020 colour ‘container’ – an Ultra HD Blu-ray player needs to be able to automatically recognise a TV’s limitations and convert the UHD BD video signal into something the TV can handle.

Related: HDR TV: What is it and should you care?

Similarly, as not all discs you’ll put into the UB900 will likely be Ultra HD Blu-rays, the player needs to be able to offer high-quality 4K upscaling.

Panasonic’s chroma upsampling system, delivered via the brand’s proprietary new 4K High-Precision Chroma Processor, is the most exciting of the UB900’s video innovations, as it works to improve Ultra HD Blu-ray’s 4K HDR experience.

The UB900’s Chroma Processor replaces the typical ‘two-tap’ chroma filter with a multi-tap one that delivers colours more accurately, and then applies unique edge adaptive processing to reduce colour errors even more. The result should be ultra-crisp edges within the image and, as a result, an increased perception of sharpness.

Panasonic DMP-UB900

The UB900’s Chroma Processor system is also used to ensure that Ultra HD Blu-ray signals are delivered to TVs with the latest HDMI sockets in 12-bit form, guaranteeing 10-bit levels of gradation in the UHD BD pictures.

When it comes to converting Ultra HD Blu-ray video to TVs that might not support its full capabilities, it automatically detects your TV’s capabilities – or, more specifically, the capabilities of your TV’s HDMIs – and selects the correct output mode.

More importantly, and unusually, when converting HDR sources to SDR (standard dynamic range) ones, the UB900 goes to the trouble of converting the HDR tone curve and colour primaries in linear RGB, so that they can be remapped to SDR’s lower dynamics more effectively.

The UB900 even allows you to manually adjust the brightness component of the final converted SDR signal for output, to match the brightness of your screen, ensuring you should still get a great experience ahead of upgrading to an HDR TV.

The UB900’s upscaling of HD sources to 4K for output to 4K TVs, meanwhile, differs from typical systems in two ways. First, it upscales the video in a single stage rather than pushing it through multiple stages that may introduce errors to the process. Second, it doesn’t just add more pixels, it also doubles the picture’s luminance and quadruples the colour resolution.

One more straightforward, but still potentially useful feature of the UB900, is the option it provides to completely turn off the HDR component of an Ultra HD Blu-ray output. You might wonder why anyone would want to do this, but actually I found a compelling reason for just such a feature during my recent review of the JVC DLA-X7000 projector.

While this projector is great with 4K sources, it actually performs better with non-HDR feeds than HDR ones. Yet because it 'tells' any Ultra HD Blu-ray player connected to it that it's HDR-capable, Ultra HD Blu-ray players will default to feeding the projector an HDR signal.

This makes the UB900's manual on/off option very useful if dealing with a TV or projector that claims to be HDR capable, but don't do a very good job of it.

This run down of the UB900’s features might seem a little bewildering, but these are the sort of waters you’re operating in when you’re tackling the high-end of the brave new 4K/HDR video world.

With so many picture and sound quality features at its disposal, it’s really no surprise that the UB900 has been certified for its 4K video and audio performance by the independent THX quality-assurance programme.

It's also earned the Ultra HD Premium badge of honour from the AV industry’s Ultra HD Alliance, showing that it managed to pass a series of tests designed by the UHDA to assure consumers that it’s a product capable of delivering an uncompromised and uncompromising 4K HDR video performance.

One last handy feature to mention here is that the UB900 carries a selection of ‘smart TV’ apps, including the BBC iPlayer and the 4K versions of Amazon Video and Netflix.

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goaheads

January 11, 2016, 6:19 am

As a home theater/audio nut, I am waiting for Oppo to release their 4K player. They replied to me that they are shooting for mid 2016!
I am hoping that it will have XLR output!

jk

January 24, 2016, 11:23 pm

i just brought a £65 panasonic play to tide me over, first time i have brought a bluray payer, as ditched discs several years ago in preference for netflix. On my LG OLED 4k HDR tv, 4k upscaled bluray looks sensational, i compared native 4k, spiderman on amazon instant vs 1080p upscaled and the difference was really not so breathtaking, what did blow me away was the colors and sharpness of the image, and the tv 2d to 3d rendering worked really well here.

Bugblatter

January 26, 2016, 9:40 pm

A great 1080p blu-ray will easily blow away streamed 4K because the compression on the 4K robs it of so much. I've got a 4K OLED too and if I want to show it off it's blu-ray I turn to.

Joe Ellington

March 22, 2016, 7:34 am

Mid 2016 would be great for Oppo. But I recently heard that they've said they won't be releasing one until sometime after the end of the year.

jk

March 29, 2016, 9:41 am

Precisely. Although i recently got my hands on a couple of decent 4k HDR demos with decent bitstream, one was the life of pi, and the other a samsung 4k hdr promo. Both under 5 mins and 1gb each.

Bugblatter

March 29, 2016, 11:53 am

There are a few more here: http://demo-uhd3d.com/

PB

April 16, 2016, 10:41 pm

So this panasonic has some chroma upscaling, that upscales 4:2:0 to 4:4:4, and because of that picture quality on UHD discs are much better compared to samsung UHD player. But how it's possible to see 4:4:4 benefits on current HDTV's that display 4:2:2 in most modes?? In my HDTV in order to enable 4:4:4 I have to switch my tv into "PC mode", and only then I can see 4:4:4 chroma, but then most options in regards to motion are disabled. I hope someone can explain that to me, because maybe these UHD HDTV can can indeed display 4:4:4 in useful way

Bugblatter

April 22, 2016, 11:27 pm

I don't know about TVs in general but my LG UHD TV handles ycbr 4:4:4 24fps at 10 bit. If I go to 60fps I have to drop down to 8 bit. I think that's a limitation of HDMI bandwidth rather than the TV.

Perhaps your TV doesn't have HDMI 2.0a ports? Anything lower won't be able to handle quite as much data.

Bugblatter

April 22, 2016, 11:31 pm

People are experiencing brief drop-outs (a few milliseconds) for TrueHD and Atmos where the bluray uses seamless branching, at the point of the branching. Hopefully fixable via a firmware update.

Also the Netflix app plays everything at 60fps, which makes motion look rubbish on much of the content. The Samsung UHD player plays at the correct fps for the material (e.g. 24fps).

The Panny is still the better player (and the Sammy is giving many people issues with HDR content) but these points are still worth bearing in mind.

I should probably mention that I don't have the player but will probably buy one, so I've been reading up on it.

Bugblatter

April 24, 2016, 10:35 pm

I've got one. Man it's sloooooooooow!

The 90's called and they'd like their UI back please. Maybe I'm spoiled by WebOS 2.0 but it's really pretty poor; looks like it hasn't changed in over a decade.

It's very fussy about what files it plays; it's played exactly one of my many 4K files (it says resolution not supported on most of them).

It doesn't upscale 3D blurays and so far I haven't been able to get it to play AVCHD 3D files even though the manual says they're supported (I'm still working on it).

Quality-wise my LG TV is already very good at upscaling to 4K so it's hard to see any improvement having the player do it, but it probably is better. Mad Max - Fury Road looks pretty good but it's an upscaled 2K so not really showing 4K off to its full extent. Also in that film HDR has been used as a gimmick rather than to add realism; that's ok for this sort of film (and I think there are genuinely some colours there that I've never seen on a TV before) but it's not really showcasing what HDR should generally be used for.

No Spotify app. Even my fridge has a Spotify app!

The Amazon Prime app doesn't give HDR whereas the app on my TV does. The Netflix app doesn't give HDR either but nor does the TV app so far.

Stan Woolley

June 11, 2016, 3:29 pm

I live in the US. Anyone have an idea when they will be for sell here?u

FL Guy

June 14, 2016, 9:05 pm

Disappointed. At this price point & target audience, I would expect SACD and /or DVD-A support

Ronald Berk

June 17, 2016, 6:51 pm

I have a samsung 48HU7500, yet my bluray discs get an output format of 4k/24p, while my uhd blu ray discs get an output format of 1080p/24. Does anyone know how to fix that.

Dave Hare

June 23, 2016, 12:57 pm

I have this player combined with the Samsung KS9000. I started to notice small glitches whilst watching bluray and 4K bluray, Its like the frame rate is all wrong.

The player worked perfectly on my LG but now on the Samsung its pretty bad. I contacted Panasonic and they told me there was playback issues between the TV and the player, but they never said if an update would sort this out. Very annoying as the picture quality from this player is stunning. .

Rob_Zohn

July 3, 2016, 3:52 pm

If all goes as planned Best Buy and our store will receive our first allocation end of August. USA Nationwide delivered price is $699.

Panasonic lent us 5 DMP-UB900 4K BD players for Value Electronics 2016 TV Shootout and they performed flawlessly.

Shane D

July 6, 2016, 11:51 pm

Ronald you have to change the setting for the HDMI port your using the Panasonic with. So if your using Port 1 you have to go into your Samsung Picture Settings find where the HDMI settings are and then enable it for UHD or 4K viewing like most TVs it doesn't do this automatically, I've had to do it manually on my Samsung and LG, I'm not sure where the settings might be so check your instruction manual, hope this helps

Fred

July 8, 2016, 9:23 am

John Archer writes:"One more straightforward, but still potentially useful feature of the UB900, is the option it provides to completely turn off the HDR component of an Ultra HD Blu-ray output."

Where in the menus can I find this setting?

Darren

August 22, 2016, 1:41 pm

are these 4K players multi region? just wondered if they would play all Blu Ray discs as i know the UHD discs dont have region codes/

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