posted on Tuesday, 26th July 2016 by Steve May
As the most affordable of the first generation 4K UHD Blu-ray players, Samsung’s BD-K8500 is likely to become a relatively common sight in 4K home entertainment systems. It undercuts the rival Panasonic DMP-UB900 player by several hundred pounds, but just how good a content source is it?
Samsung UBD-K8500: Build quality and features
Cosmetically, the K8500 is very much a workaday model with mass market aesthetics. Its curved fascia is an unusual affectation, and it feels weighty enough, but there’s no sense of this being a premium proposition. A look at the underside of the player reveals pressed metal feet, which is about as cheap as you can get.
The deck sports two HDMI outputs, in a Main and Sub (Audio Only) configuration. This is useful for those installing the deck with legacy non-4K compatible AV receivers. The Main output can be routed direct to the display, while the sub delivers immersive audio to the sound system. There's an optical digital audio output but no analogue audio outputs. You can network the deck through Ethernet and Wi-Fi. There’s also a USB port.
The player comes with a rather insubstantial little remote control, powered by a coin battery. In addition to new fangled 4K UHD Blu-rays, the deck is also backwards compatible with 1080p discs (that includes 3D), DVD and CD. It’s not a universal SACD/Blu-ray Audio player though.
The deck does more than just spin plastic of course. It’s decent media player with a number of network streaming services onboard. There are Netflix and Amazon Instant Video 4K clients, plus YouTube, Spotify, Deezer, the BFI Player, Daily Motion and more. During our audition though the deck was missing BBC iPlayer.
It doesn’t use Tizen smart TV platform, but Samsung’s older Smart Hub. Still, it’s snappy and graphical.
The player impresses with its loading speed. Our resident Java heavy Blu-ray disc went from tray to menu in just 36 seconds. A stripped back concert disc was ready to watch in just 25 seconds.
Samsung UBD-K8500: Performance
So what of 4K Blu-ray image quality? In short, it looks tremendous. Native 4K Blu-rays are a visible step up from UHD streams as offered by Netflix and Amazon. The biggest difference between 4K Blu-ray movies discs and their 1080p equivalent isn’t necessarily image sharpness though, it’s in the colour grading. The two Blu-ray versions of Mad Max Fury Road look quite different, as does San Andreas.
When it comes to HDR source calibration, you might thinks there’s not a lot that needs to be done. After all, the player will typically work within a largely locked down HDR viewing mode on the TV. However it is possible to optimise image quality source-side.
The K8500 has a number of picture presets available, via the Tools menu. Specifically, Dynamic, Standard, Movie and User. You might well assume that the Movie mode is the best choice, however a run through with 4K test patterns reveal that the player actually mutes high frequency information in this playback mode. If you want to put every detail from 4K discs onscreen, the Standard setting that does the best job.
That said, the Movie mode does arguably offer the nicest contrast/brightness balance, so ultimately a matter of preference and content choice. For sheer UHD impact I think Standard is the best catch-all setting
There is a caveat. If you watch a standard Blu-ray on this deck, via the same HDR-enabled HDMI input, the image is likely to look worse than on a standard 1080p Blu-ray deck. I auditioned this player with a Samsung JS900 TV, and without any HDR10 metadata for guidance, the picture from HD Blu-rays looked inelegantly bright. The opening sequence in The Man from U.N.C.L.E (Blu-ray), set in East Berlin Berlin, lost key detail in its shadowy cinematography.
One way to address this is via the player's User setting which allows you to manage brightness and contrast for 1080p discs (-5 and 0 respectively works on this screen, but other displays will probably differ). The hassle is remembering to switch viewing modes depending on the disc format viewed.
In larger home theatres, I think there’s an argument to run both 1080p Blu-ray players and 4K UHD machines.
One obvious point of difference between the Samsung and the Panasonic is their audio performance. As a music source, the K8500 is distinctly unremarkable, sounding vaguely metallic and harsh with stereo PCM. If you’re hooking up via a soundbase or soundbar, that’s not going to be a real problem, but with decent amplification and speakers, its sonic limitations are clear.
This only applies to stereo listening. With the K8500 bistreaming multichannel sound out to an AV receiver, there’s no issue to address. Just make sure that Dynamic Range Control is set to Off.
Samsung UBD-K8500: Verdict
The K8500 does a fine job setting the tone for 4K UHD Blu-ray. 2160p image quality is high, and its media functionality is good. Having the 4K OTT streaming services in the box also makes perfect sense. The deck, which launched in the UK at an inflated £430, is now typically available for £350.
But the K8500 is not likely to have the budget market to itself for long. The Xbox One S, which comes with 4K Blu-ray playback, looks likely to out-value it pretty smartish - and second generation 4K UHD players are likely to shave away that premium even further.
The Samsung UBD-K8500 is available now
Typical retail price: £350
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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