Panasonic UB900 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player review

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posted on Saturday, 30th April 2016 by Steve May

home cinema  Blu-ray  4K 

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We’ve had 4K Ultra HD screens for some time, but it’s only now that we’re seeing content commensurate with the technology. 4K Netflix and Amazon Instant Video may look darn good, but Ultra HD Blu-ray takes AV performance to the next level. Indeed, it’s fair to say that the Panasonic DMP-UB900 featured here is capable of a level of image vibrancy that’s just not been possible outside a commercial digital theatre. This is the kind of tech that will sell home cinema.

Certified UHD Premium by the UHD Alliance and THX 4K Source branded, it represents a leap in performance that integrators and AV enthusiasts alike have been gagging for. But there are some surprising caveats when it comes to setup and use.

UB900 Front Trim

Panasonic DMP-UB900 4K UHD Blu-ray player: Build quality and features
Overall build quality is solid, but doesn’t quite deliver the premium construction we'cve come to expect from rivals like Oppo and Pioneer. The chassis is full width, not full-depth, and boasts a drop down translucent fascia. Anti resonance silver feet add a touch of class.

There are two HDMI outputs, designated Video/Audio and Audio. These don’t allow you to route 4K simultaneously to twin displays, but they can be used to maintain compatibility with legacy AV receivers which are not 4K HDCP 2.2 compliant. 4K video can be taken direct to a screen, while audio only is routed through the non-HDCP 2.2 receiver.

There’s also a bank of 7.1 analogue outputs, plus dedicated stereo phono pair, and optical and coaxial digital outputs. In addition to Ethernet, onboard Wi-Fi is dual band. The front fascia drawbridge hides a USB port and SD card reader. The disc tray is off-set.

The player comes with a standard IR remote control, with dedicated Netflix button, plus Internet, Media Player and Home hot keys.

Naturally, the UB900 doesn’t just spin discs. It also has network services, supporting 4K streams from Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. There are apps for YouTube, BBC iPlayer, BBC News and Sport, MySpace and DailyMotion (amongst others). As a file player, the UB900 acquits itself well. The deck will sniff out media servers on a network and codec support is extensive: MKVs, MP4, MOV and MPEG2 files all play, while audio support covers AAC, ALAC, FLAC, MP3, WAV, WMA and DSD.

In many respects, this is just another Blu-ray player, not overly different from other Panasonic models. It’s a sibling to Panasonic’s BDT-700, and has much of the same functionality. But add native 4K Blu-ray to the mix and things get rather more exciting.

Analogue Audio

Twin HDMIs

Panasonic DMP-UB900 4K UHD Blu-ray player: Performance
Image quality is outstanding. The player’s 2160p output is a celebration of fine detail and smooth colour gradation. The picture engine here is the most advanced yet offered by Panasonic, and it does an amazing job. The player can upscale all HD sources to 2160, and even extrapolates UHD Blu-ray’s 4:2:0 colour subsampling to 4:4:4. If you’re speccing a full-blown theatre, and you need the best source material, you’ll not find anything better.

The format isn’t without its challenges though. If, when you hook the player up to a new HDR TV and pop in a 4K disc into the tray, you’re greeted by a ‘This display is not HDR’  message, you’ll need to go into the TV’s picture settings menu and manually enable HDR compatibility for each HDMI input. Needless to say, 4K disc playback needs an HDMI input compatible with HDCP 2.2, so there may well be issues for users with first or second gen 4K displays.

And for 2160p 50/60 discs, an HDMI cable that supports 18Gbps is required – but most content at the moment is 24fps, which means you’ll be able to get away with something slower. Similarly, it should be noted that first gen 4K AV receivers will probably not be compatible with HDR content.

Inevitably, the viewing experience varies depending on the display. Hook the player up to an HDR TV and it will lock and auto calibrate for the correct EOTF and colour space (inter-brand teething problems not withstanding). This is one of the benefits/characteristics of HDR10’s metadata.

UHD Bluray Menu

HDMI Modes

But there’s also an adjustable dynamic range control for screens which are not HDR enabled. Selectable via the Options menu in the Picture settings, Dynamic Range Conversion offers a sliding scale of adjustment, variable between -12 and +12. Curious, I tried the player with a non-HDR 4K panel (an early Sony), but even with this adjustment control, many of the obvious benefits of 4K Blu-ray were lost. An 8-bit panel with SDR performance doesn’t show the format off to its best advantage.

Interestingly, the UB900 will also play a 4K disc into a 1080p panel, at 1080p resolution. And the results are surprisingly good. 

The UB900 isn’t just about high res video. The deck is also a superior High Res Audio music player. Onboard 192kHz upconversion of CDs is extremely impressive. The modernistic jazz of HYPS (Pony Canyon, CD) proves simply mesmerising in its clarity.

When it comes to home theatre use, there’s a Dialogue Enhancer, which lifts the centre channel output, and a High Clarity sound mode, used when the display is turned off. There’s also 7.1 channel audio reformatting available, if you play out in PCM. Anything 6.1 or less is processed. For Dolby Atmos playback, you’ll want to leave the player in its bitstream output mode though.

Disc loading times are good. A Java heavy movie disc when from tray in to menu in just 43 seconds.

Panasonic DMP-UB900 4K UHD Blu-ray player: Verdict
The 4K UHD Blu-ray format may have been a long time brewing, but its arrival, along with the first real wave of HDR ready TVs, is a reason to be very cheerful indeed. The UB900 is a fitting early champion for the format. It’s an extremely well specified disc spinner with a performance that should serve high-end home cinemas well. It comes highly recommended.

The Panasonic DMP-UB900 is available now.
Retail price £599
Distribution is via AWE.

Steve May

Steve is a veteran of the UK consumer electronics industry, having covered it for
various media outlets for more than 20 years.

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