Panasonic DMP-UB400 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player Review
A high quality player with mass market appeal
What is the Panasonic UB400?Although there a number of manufacturers making Ultra HD Blu-ray players these days, including Samsung, Sony, LG and Oppo, it's Panasonic that offer the most options with no less than four different models. All their 4K players deliver the same basic video performance and the same smart platform, so the differences are largely related to cosmetics, build quality, connections and analogue audio capabilities. The DMP-UB400EB is the latest addition to this extensive line-up, sitting just below the excellent DMP-UB700EB and just above the entry-level DMP-UB300EB. The UB400 has a list price of £299 as at the time of writing (June 2017) but you can pick one up for as little as £240 if you shop around, so the question is does the UB400 do enough to distinguish itself from its stablemates. Let's find out...
DesignThe UB400 has a similar basic design to the more expensive UB700, although the dimensions of the cheaper machine are smaller. However it has the same angled edges and glossy black finish as the more expensive model, with a drop down flap that covers the entire front, behind which there's a disc tray on the left hand side and a USB 2.0 port in the middle. That's it as far as the front of the player goes, so there isn't the display or SD card slot found on the UB700. The UB400 has the same eject and power controls on the top right of the chassis but these are physical buttons rather than touch sensitive, which might not be as cool but does make them easier to find in the dark. The UB400 isn't quite as well made as the UB700 but it's solid enough to avoid feeling like a budget model, measuring 320 x 199 x 45mm (WxDxH) and weighing in at 1.5kg.
The basic design is similar to the UB700 but it's smaller, simpler and there's no display
Connections & ControlAside from the USB 2.0 port on the front the remaining connections are at the rear and here you'll find twin HDMI outputs – a main HDMI 2.0a output (video/audio) and a secondary HDMI 1.4 (audio) output. Assuming your soundbar or AV receiver supports 4K, HDR and HDCP 2.2 then you should use the main HDMI 2.0a output. However if your audio equipment can't support 4K, HDR and HDCP 2.2 then connect the main HDMI output to your display and use the HDMI 1.4 output for audio only. The UB400 is an all-digital player with no analogue connections but there is an optical digital output and an Ethernet port, along with a built-in wireless capability. Overall these connections are the same as the UB700 but the cheaper player does add one more USB 3.0 port at the rear.The UB400 comes with a new remote control that is very similar to the one previously included with the UB700, so it's relatively small, made of black plastic and has no backlight. The navigation buttons are towards the bottom, which we found unbalanced the remote slightly when using it with one hand, but otherwise all the basic keys that you need are present and correct. There are playback controls towards the centre, numerical keys above them and even a button for directly accessing Netflix but this updated controller also has a couple of useful new additions.
Panasonic have removed the Exit button and replaced it with a dedicated HDR Settings button to directly access the HDR presets and they've also removed the Mirroring button (the UB400 doesn't support this fairly useless feature) and instead added a Playback Info button. This was present on the UB900 remote but missing on the UB700 controller, so we're glad Panasonic have added it to the new remote because being able to quickly access information about how the disc was encoded (resolution, colour gamut, bit depth etc.) and what the player is actually outputting is very handy.
The UB400 has an extra USB 3.0 port at the rear and a new remote with a dedicated HDR button
Features & SpecsThe UB400 can playback 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, which means it supports a resolution of 3840 x 2160, as well as the HEVC codec, 10-bit video, Rec.2020 and HDR 10. It can also playback 2D and 3D Blu-ray discs, along with DVDs and CDs. The player includes the same 4K High Precision Chroma Processing, Direct Chroma Upscaling and 4K 60p/4:4:4 output found on Panasonic's more expensive players. Other key features include High Clarity Sound Premium and Hi-Res Audio support, whilst the UB400 is also certified as Ultra HD Premium by the UHD Alliance. Since Panasonic don't support Dolby Vision on their TVs it shouldn't come as a surprise to discover that, like their other models, neither does the UB400. However in all other respects it is a feature-packed player and the only thing missing compared to the UB700 appears to be the ability to mirror smartphones and tablets which is no great loss.The UB400 has the same simple and elegant home page found on Panasonic's other players, from which you can access all the main features. So if you want to watch video content you select Videos and the same goes for Music and Photos, whilst if you want to stream content from your Home Network you can do so via DLNA. We found in testing that the UB400 streamed content from our home network effectively and offered an extensive range of file support that includes AVCHD, MKV, FLAC (192kHz/24bit), WAV (192kHz/32bit), ALAC (192kHz/32bit), DSD (2.8MHz and 5.6MHz), WMA, AAC, MP3, JPEG and MPO. Finally under Network Services you will find all the various apps and whilst these aren't comprehensive, they do include the 4K HDR video streaming services from Netflix, Amazon and YouTube.
Panasonic DMP-UB400 Video Review
PerformanceIn terms of playback we found the UB400 to be reasonably quiet in operation and suitably quick when it came to loading the discs. There is a fan at the back of the unit but, as with Panasonic's other players, we couldn't hear it when the UB400 was in operation. If you've read any of our previous reviews of Ultra HD Blu-ray players then you'll know that as long as the player isn't doing anything it shouldn't, the digital audio and video over HDMI should be the same for all players. That's not to say that players can't add value in other areas but when playing an Ultra HD Blu-ray the player should simply be sending what's on the disc to the TV or projector, which then displays the content to the best of its ability. In this sense the UB400 was a good as all the other Ultra HD Blu-ray players we have reviewed and, more specifically, it performed just as well as the more expensive UB700 and UB900 in our various tests. The output on the UB400 was essentially flawless with no unwanted processing such as edge enhancements or noise reduction, just a detailed and pristine playback of what was on the disc.
Since we reviewed the UB900 and UB700 there have been a number of firmware updates from Panasonic and the latest version applies to all of their 4K spinners, so this section really relates to not only the UB400 but also the two earlier players and the new UB300. First of all Panasonic have now added the ability to select the bit depth of the output. Previously Panasonic players forced the output to 12-bit, despite the fact that the discs themselves are 10-bit, and some users were having problems with banding on older 4K TVs that couldn't handle the 12-bit signal correctly. We reported this issue back to Panasonic and we're glad to see that their engineers have taken our feedback on board and added the option to choose Auto (10-bit Priority) for those who would rather have a 10-bit output.
Panasonic have added a new feature that they call Dynamic Range Adjust which you can access either from the menu or directly via the new button on the remote control. This feature addresses the issue of some HDR content appearing too dark in overly bright rooms and provides the option to brighten the HDR image with a choice of four settings – Standard, Natural Environment, Light Environment and Bright Environment. Panasonic's approach is more sophisticated than simply boosting the contrast of the curve in a linear fashion, instead they take a non-linear approach to increasing the overall contrast, as a result the average picture level (APL) can be brightened without necessarily clipping the peak highlights. The feature can be very useful for HDR displays with limited brightness, such as some TVs and most projectors, helping to make darker HDR films brighter. The feature was able to increase the APL without clipping the highlights using the Natural Environment setting but we felt that too much detail was lost with the other two settings. So we would recommend sticking with Standard when possible and then perhaps using the Natural Environment setting if necessary. Although there's also a sliding scale from 0 to 12, so you could maybe choose 5 or 6 as an alternative.
Another new feature that's only available on the UB400 and UB300 is the HLG to HDR10 conversion which, as the name suggests, converts the broadcast version of HDR called Hybrid Log-Gamma into HDR10 for TVs that don't support HLG. We're not sure why you'd need this on an Ultra HD Blu-ray player but it could possibly be for streaming TV catch-up services like BBC iPlayer which might use HLG. All Ultra HD Blu-ray players can convert high dynamic range (HDR) content to standard dynamic range (SDR) content when connected to a non-HDR 4K display. The UB400 was as effective as the other Panasonic players we have tested in this capacity, providing flexibility in terms of the down-conversion process and reducing the dynamic range whilst avoiding black crush or the clipping of peak highlights and retaining correctly saturated colours.
In terms of playback of regular Blu-ray discs, either 2D or 3D, the UB400 was again identical to its stablemates with a lovely performance in this area. The images were detailed and accurate and the video processing was highly effective at scaling the 1080p Blu-rays to a 3840 x 2160 resolution with no apparent artefacts or unnecessary manipulation of the image. The same was true for standard definition DVDs, the UB400 had no issues with PAL or NTSC discs and deinterlaced and scaled both very effectively. The player also handled streaming video services like Netflix, Amazon and YouTube very well, aside from not automatically outputting at the correct refresh rates, which was restricted to 60Hz.
Finally the UB400 performed extremely well in terms of digital audio with an HDMI low clock jitter process, High Clarity Sound Premium and Hi-Res audio support. There's Digital Tube Sound and Surround Remaster at up to 192kHz/32-bit, whilst the UB400 can also support high-res audio. Perhaps more importantly from the perspective of its performance as a disc player, the Panasonic can decode or bitstream Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby TrueHD, as well as DTS-HD High Resolution and DTS-HD Master Audio. Which means that if you have a suitably equipped soundbar or AVR you can bitstream the audio and enjoy the Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and Auro-3D soundtracks found on many Ultra HD Blu-rays.
The UB400 delivered an excellent audio and video performance over HDMI
- Flawless playback
- Excellent 4K upscaling
- Twin HDMI outputs
- Plenty of features
- Nice design
- No Dolby Vision support
- No analogue audio
- No display
Panasonic DMP-UB400 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player Review
Should I buy one?The UB400 is an impressive Ultra HD Blu-ray player that combines an attractive design and an extensive set of features with a flawless digital audio and video performance over HDMI. There is no real difference between the UB400 and the more expensive UB700 in terms of performance, so the benefits of the more expensive machine really just come down to build quality and size. However the UB400 actually has a couple of handy new buttons on its remote and even an image feature not found on the UB700, although we're not entirely sure how useful the HLG to HDR10 feature will be in practice. Of far greater benefit is the ability to select a 10- or 12-bit output and the latest version of Panasonic's firmware also adds a number of HDR presets designed to adjust the dynamic range of an image when watching in brighter lighting conditions. If we were looking for areas to criticise we could say that the UB400 doesn't support Dolby Vision, but most players don't and there are currently very few discs, and the video streaming still doesn't auto-correct refresh rates. However when you take into account its price the Panasonic DMP-UB400 offers a fantastic combination of performance and value and comes highly recommended.
What are my alternatives?When you consider that the UB400 can be picked up for £240 at the moment, and that includes a copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the alternatives are limited. There's Panasonic's own DMP-UB300 which is currently available for around £190 but you don't get the free Ultra HD Blu-ray, there's only one HDMI output and no built-in WiFi. Then there's the Xbox One S 500GB which currently costs £200 and that's also a games console of course. In terms of standalone players the main competition is probably the Samsung UBD-K8500 which, after a number of price reductions, currently sells for around £220. The Panasonic has a more flexible setup compared to the Samsung but we love the simplicity of the K8500 and its auto-correct for refresh rates is very effective. Finally if Dolby Vision is something that you feel will be important then you're basically looking at the LG UP970, which can be picked up for around £280, or the Oppo UDP-203 which will set you back a hefty £650.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £299.00
Ease Of Use8
Value For Money9
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