Best Buy Ultra HD Blu-ray Players & Discs of 2016

The best AV experience you can get at home

by Steve Withers Dec 15, 2016 at 2:39 PM - Updated: Dec 22, 2016 at 7:36 AM


  • The arrival of 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, this year, was one of the biggest events in recent AV history and coincides with a revolution in television technology.
    We are now in the enviable position of having a delivery system and display technologies that can produce images that are as good as, and in some cases better than, your local cinema. The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc doesn't just promise native 4K images with 10-bit video depth but also includes a Wider Colour Gamut (WCG), High Dynamic Range (HDR) and immersive audio. When you combine this with the latest HDR TVs and projectors and an immersive audio AV receiver, the result is the best home cinema experience ever. Yes you can get 4K Ultra HD images and HDR from streaming services, like Netflix and Amazon, but they don't currently include immersive audio and are subject to you having sufficient bandwidth.

    So, if you want the best possible home video images, immersive audio formats like Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and Auro-3D and a high quality and repeatable delivery system that doesn't depend on a broadband connection, then 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray is the only game in town. The launch of 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray has been hugely successful this year, surpassing the initial sales numbers for Blu-ray's launch back in 2006 and the arrival of the Xbox One S with its built-in UHD BD drive can only help the format gain widespread appeal. We have reviewed all the stand-alone players released in the UK at the time of writing and each of them offers excellent performance at different price levels, so here's what we think in ascending order of cost.

    Please note: Unfortunately the Oppo UDP-203 was released too late in the year to be considered for this list but you can read our first look article here.

    MORE: A Guide to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray


    Samsung UBD-K8500 – £299 – Recommended

    Thanks to some recent price drops, Samsung's K8500 is the cheapest stand-alone Ultra HD Blu-ray player currently available. It's also a great 'plug-and-play' option that has been designed to offer a comprehensive set of features in an easy-to-use package. The player itself is Ultra HD Premium certified by the UHD Alliance and is nicely designed and reasonably well made. In fact, our only real compliant would be that the built-in fan can get a bit noisy. There's no display at the front and just a few simple buttons, whilst at the rear there is a simplified set of connections that includes twin HDMI outputs. These could prove very useful if your soundbar or AV receiver doesn't support HDMI 2.0a or HDCP 2.2, allowing you to still enjoy Ultra HD, HDR and lossless audio. The provided remote is a bit small and fiddly and there's no remote app but setting up and operating the K8500 couldn't be easier. The Samsung includes Netflix, Amazon and YouTube, which means it can be used as a single source for Ultra HD 4K video and automatically switches to the correct video output frequency to complement the frame rate of the content, which is very useful.

    The K8500 was a great all-round disc player, flawlessly handling all the usual formats including CD, DVD and Blu-ray. The deinterlacing and upscaling of lower resolution content was highly effective and the player could produce very impressive images from regular Blu-ray and it also handled 3D Blu-ray without any issues. Of course, the most important feature is the Ultra HD playback and here the Samsung delivered the goods with excellent 4K images that revealed plenty of detail and lovely dynamic range thanks to support for HDR 10. The wider colour gamut was also very impressive, images took on a more life-like appearance and UHD Blu-rays had a greater sense of impact when compared to regular Blu-ray. If your TV doesn't support HDR the K8500 will automatically down convert the images, so you can still enjoy a 4K experience. The Samsung UBD-K8500 does everything you could want it to do and it does it well. It's cheap, very easy to setup and extremely user-friendly, making it an ideal choice for anyone who wants to take their first steps into the world of Ultra HD Blu-ray.

    MORE: What does Ultra HD Premium Certification mean?


    Panasonic DMP-UB700 – £349 – Best Buy

    Panasonic's latest 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player is clearly designed to compete at a similar price point to the Samsung K8500 but the UB700 does include more features than its Korean rival. In fact, you get a near identical player to the more expensive UB900 and although the analogue audio support has been dropped, the chances are that you were never going to use that anyway. The THX certification may have also been dropped to save on royalties but the UB700 is still certified as Ultra HD Premium by the UHD Alliance. Our one complaint would be the remote control, which is a disappointment compared to the one included with the UB900 but we guess cost savings had to be made somewhere. Otherwise, the features are almost identical to the more expensive model, with twin HDMI outputs, the same flexibility in terms of setup, the same file support and streaming services.

    Whilst all these features are nice things to have, the main reason for buying the UB700 is to watch discs and in this aspect it's identical to its more expensive sibling. The playback of 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays was flawless, as was the 2D and 3D Blu-ray playback, whilst the scaling of DVDs was equally as impressive, although streaming output is restricted to 60Hz. The digital audio performance was equally as impressive and, as far as we can tell, you lose nothing in terms of digital playback performance between the UB700 and the UB900. The Panasonic player was quick to boot up, quiet in operation, easy to navigate and responsive in terms of playback, it's also well made, nicely designed and energy efficient. It has a front display, something the Samsung K8500 lacks and overall the Panasonic DMO-UB700 is a fantastic all-round 4K Ultra HD player and digital source for the money.

    MORE: What is High Dynamic Range (HDR)?


    Panasonic DMP-UB900 – £599 – Highly Recommended

    If you're looking for a high-end 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player that offers the best in both video and audio features, then Panasonic's UB900 should be at the top of your AV wish list. It is a state-of-the-art machine that allows you to enjoy the best sound and vision modern technology can offer. The format delivers a level of performance that is a quantum leap above what has been possible before; from the increased resolution and the improved bit depth, to the wider colour gamut and higher dynamic range, which all combine to deliver a video experience that will simply stun you. If you want, you can just leave the player to optimally configure itself but the UB900 also has plenty of flexibility in terms of setup, making it ideal for those who like to tweak the performance of their equipment. The Panasonic certainly delivered the goods in terms of video, not only as an Ultra HD Blu-ray player but also when it came to regular Blu-ray (both 2D and 3D) and DVD as well. The deinterlacing and 4K upscaling were excellent, whilst the high precision chroma processing and direct chroma upscaling also delivered impressive results.

    Since the UB900 supports all the main 4K video streaming services, it can also be a single source for all your Ultra HD content. The player has been developed to be equally adept when it comes to audio, with twin HDMI outputs and both stereo and 7.1-channel analogue outputs. There are audiophile components, 192kHz/32bit DACs and high res audio support along with a number of features designed to ensure the UB900 can keep even the most demanding sound enthusiast happy. If all that wasn't enough, you even get an attractive design, great build quality and an effective remote control. There's also an intuitive and very flexible menu system with some genuinely useful features including a very informative on-screen display. As the final cherries on an already very impressive cake, the UB900 has also been certified as a '4K Source' by THX and as Ultra HD Premium by the UHD Alliance. Ultimately Panasonic set out to build an Ultra HD Blu-ray player aimed squarely at the AV enthusiast and whilst the DMP-UB900 may be more expensive than much of the competition, they definitely succeeded.

    MORE: What is Wide Colour Gamut (WCG)?


    MORE: What is immersive Audio?


    Of course there isn't much point buying a new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player if you don't have any discs to watch on it and thankfully the majority of the studios, with the notable exception of Disney, have strongly supported the new format. There have in fact been hundreds of UHD BD titles released in various territories around the world, although the majority have been in the US. Quite a few new titles have been released day-and-date with other home video formats and although some of the catalogue titles could be better, there are still plenty of great discs to buy. Here are out top five 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc releases this year.

    Deadpool

    Deadpool's arrival on Ultra HD Blu-ray made this film the first must-have title on the new format. The movie itself had broken box-office records when it opened, thanks to its knowing combination of wit, violence and adult content. Deadpool became the most successful X-Men film to date, taking over $750 million worldwide and changing how how Hollywood looked at comic book movies. The film's debut on UHD BD was hotly anticipated and 20th Century Fox didn't disappoint with a release that used a 4K Digital Intermediate (DI) that allowed the disc to take full advantage of the increased resolution. There was also High Dynamic Range (HDR) and a Wider Colour Gamut (WCG) based on the DCI-P3 colour gamut used in the cinema. It wasn't just the picture that was stunning and the Dolby Atmos object-based audio also delivered the goods, completely immersing the viewer in a superbly designed soundtrack. An extensive set of features rounded off an excellent package, making Deadpool a must-own title on 4K disc.

    You can buy Deadpool on Ultra HD Blu-ray HERE

    The Revenant

    If ever a film was made for the new 4K disc format it was Alejandro Inarritu's Oscar-winning epic The Revenant. This simple story of survival and revenge earned Inarritu his second Best Director Oscar in as many years and won star Leonardo DiCaprio a long-overdue award for Best Actor. In a film with minimal dialogue, DiCaprio seems to spend most of it grunting, it's all about the visuals and what better way to experience them than in 4K with WCG and HDR. Much of the film was shot at 6.5K using the new Arri Alexa 65 camera and the digital intermediate was done at 4K. The result is a release that just delivers one breathtaking image after another, with incredible detail, realistic colours and remarkable dynamic range. There isn't a hint of banding on this impressive 10-bit disc and the images make full use of the potential of UHD Blu-ray. The only disappointment is 20th Century Fox's decision to not include the film's Dolby Atmos soundtrack but the included extras, whilst limited, are certainly different and interesting. If you're looking for an Ultra HD Blu-ray to show-off your new 4K display, then this is the one to choose

    You can buy The Revenant on Ultra HD Blu-ray HERE

    The Shallows

    This low budget feature was a minor hit in the summer and proved that over 40 years after Jaws, it still isn't safe to go back in the water. The story of one woman's fight to survive against a huge Great White Shark was entertaining, exciting and, at times, nail biting, although the ending was a bit silly. However, where The Shallows really surprised was in its Ultra HD Blu-ray release, which showed how the new format could completely change your viewing experience. Despite using a 2K DI the UHD Blu-ray release is vastly superior to the regular Blu-ray, with greater perceived detail, deeper and more natural colours and a much wider dynamic range. The fact that most of the film takes place under strong sunlight and at sea means that it really benefits from HDR and you can distinguish every tiny hair and grain of sand in close-ups of star Blake Lively. If that wasn't enough, Sony Pictures also remixed the soundtrack in Dolby Atmos and it really compliments the visuals, placing you right in the middle of the protagonists plight. A decent set of features round off a great package and The Shallows is definitely worth picking up.

    You can buy The Shallows on Ultra HD Blu-ray HERE

    Sicario

    Sicario tells the story of the failed 'war on drugs' and how it affects the lives of those who live just over the US border in Mexico. Emily Blunt's character is our guide into this clandestine world and she delivers a great performance, alongside Josh Brolin's shady CIA operative. However the film belongs to Benecio del Toro's mysterious consultant who has his own very personal agenda. The film was directed by Denis Villeneuve, who squeezes ever last drop of tension out of the story, and photographed by Roger Deakins, who delivers one stunning image after another. Lionsgate's superb Ultra HD Blu-ray release perfectly replicates the filmmaker's visual intent, using a 4K DI, 10-bit video, WCG and HDR to deliver a visceral viewing experience. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is equally as good, immersing the viewer in this dangerous world south of the border. A decent selection of extras provide plenty of background into the film and the world it portrays, rounding out an excellent 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray package that should be in everyone's collection.

    You can buy Sicario on Ultra HD Blu-ray HERE

    Star Trek Into Darkness

    The second entry in this rebooted film franchise reunites the new crew of the Enterprise with director J. J. Abrams, whilst Benedict Cumberbatch joins the fun as an old adversary, or a new one, depending on how you look at it. Sadly, despite some great set pieces and generally good performances the film suffers from a slow middle section, a major revelation that just doesn't really work and an over-emotional ending that these recast characters simply haven't earned yet. However, the Ultra HD Blu-ray is an absolute belter with a gorgeous picture that might use a 2K DI but, thanks to certain sequences being shot on IMAX cameras, still looks stunning. The aspect ratio of the disc changes between the 65mm and 35mm sequences, making them easy to spot, and the use of WCG and HDR really adds to the overall experience. The UHD BD also includes a Dolby Atmos soundtrack which is just as good as the images, making for a demo worthy disc in terms of picture and sound. The only disappointment is that the UK release is missing the third disc of extras that came with the US version but otherwise Star Trek Into Darkness is a great effort from Paramount Pictures.

    You can buy Star Trek Into Darkness on Ultra HD Blu-ray HERE

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