If you want 4K and HDR just plug and play!
What is the Samsung UBD-K8500?The Samsung UBD-K8500 is an Ultra HD Blu-ray player which means that, along with all the usual disc formats like CD, DVD and Blu-ray (both 2D and 3D), it can also handle the new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray format with a resolution of 3840 x 2160 and support for wider colour gamuts and High Dynamic Range (HDR). Samsung have designed the K8500 to be as simple to setup and operate as possible, allowing users to plug their new player into their 4K TV and immediately start enjoying the benefits.
The K8500 also includes support for 4K streaming from services like Netflix, Amazon and YouTube, allowing you to use the player as a single 4K Ultra HD video source. There are two HDMI outputs in case your soundbar or AV receiver doesn't support HDMI 2.0a and HDCP 2.2, as well as built-in WiFi and a remote control. The K8500 costs £429 as at the time of writing (April 2016) and whilst that might appear expensive to some, it seems fair enough for cutting-edge new technology and it comes with a complimentary copy of The Martian on Ultra HD Blu-ray. So let's see if the K8500 delivers a performance to justify its price.
What is 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray?Ultra HD Blu-ray is a 4K extension of the existing Blu-ray format that can deliver a 3840 x 2160 pixel image and allow for a Wider Colour Gamut (WCG) of up to Rec.2020 with a higher bit rate of up to 100Mbps. The format also specifies a 10-bit video depth, HEVC encoding, HDCP 2.2 copy protection, HDMI 2.0a and support for both HDR and Higher Frame Rates (HFR). The Ultra HD Blu-ray discs themselves will not use regional coding and have a capacity of 66GB and 100GB of data on dual and triple layer discs respectively. There is no support for 3D within the 4K Ultra HD specifications, primarily because 3D films aren't even finished in 4K for the cinema. However there is no reason why a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player can't playback Full HD 3D Blu-rays, just like existing Blu-ray players.
Design & ConnectionsThe Samsung K8500 uses a simple but quite sleek design that has a slight curve to the front and rear. We're not sure why Samsung seem so obsessed with curves but we do think that the K8500 is actually rather attractive, with it's black brushed metal finish. The construction is actually made from metal, so the build quality is better than it might first appear, and the player certainly feels solid when picked up. The player is reasonably quiet in operation but the disc tray is quite noisy as it goes in and out and you can hear the disc being navigated. There is also a fan at the rear that could be audible, depending where the player is positioned and the volume at which you watch content. The player itself actually measures 406 x 45 x 230mm (WxHxD) and it weighs in at 1.9kg.
The K8500's design is actually quite attractive and the build quality is decent but there's no display.
There is an angled lip along the front of the player and on the right hand side you'll find touch-sensitive eject, stop, play/pause and power buttons. There are also two little LED indicators that show when the player is powered up and when it receives a command. However there is no actual display on the front, although some might find this a good thing as a display can be distracting in a darkened room and many people routinely turn off the display on their players. If you need to find out any playback information you can just press the info button on the remote control, the player will then display disc information on the screen. There is another angled section to the front of the player and on the left hand side is the disc tray and towards the middle you'll find a USB port behind a removable rubber cover.Samsung have also wisely kept things simple at the rear of the player and given that most people will probably just use HDMI, that's where the emphasis is placed. So you get two HDMI outputs, the first is HDMI 2.0a with HDCP 2.2 which you can connect directly to your compliant display, soundbar or AV receiver; this output also supports Anynet+. The second is an HDMI output that uses HDCP 1.4, thus allowing you to connect the K8500 to soundbars and AV receivers that don't support HDMI 2.0a or HDCP 2.2 and still enjoy lossless audio. You can either send both video and audio via the Main HDMI output or video via the Main and audio via the Sub HDMI output. However we should point out that the Sub HDMI output only outputs audio, it doesn't support video. At the rear you will also find an optical digital output and a LAN port for a wired connection, although there is a very effective built-in wireless capability. Finally at the rear there is a two-pin connector for the provided power cable.
Control & InterfaceAside from the basic controls on the K8500 itself, the player comes with a provided remote control that is a bit small and fiddly to use but it gets the job done. Depending on how big your hands are, you will either find the remote comfortable to hold and easy to use or rather frustrating. In general we didn't have any problems using the remote and all the necessary buttons are included, making playing discs and navigating the menu and smart features relatively straightforward. We suspect that the design of the remote mirrors the rest of the K8500 and it's all about making the player accessible and easy to operate for all users, regardless of their knowledge or experience. Unfortunately there isn't a remote app available for the Samsung, which is a shame as it would have been very useful for operating the player in a darkened home cinema.
The remote is somewhat small and fiddly but the K8500 is easy to set up and control.
Along with the simplified front panel, intuitive remote and minimal rear connections, Samsung have also designed the K8500 to be very easy to setup and operate. The menu system is essentially the same as their normal Blu-ray players in terms of layout and navigation but obviously there are some differences in terms of Picture options. However all of the key options default to their auto setting, which means that the player will just optimise the output automatically to match the capabilities of your display. What this means in practice is that the resolution, the frame rate, the HDR and the colour gamut will all be set by the player depending on the metadata and EDID information delivered by your display.
All you need to do is make sure that HDMI Deep Colour is off, which it should be by default, and that you have turned on the HDMI UHD colour setting on your display if applicable. This will be automatic with 2016 Samsung TVs but you will need to check with older models or TVs from other manufacturers. Aside from that it's all very straightforward and, if you don't want to, you really don't have to do anything else because the player will optimise the performance for you.One point worth mentioning is that there is a Tools sub-menu available during playback and here you'll find a Picture Mode setting. The player defaults to Standard, which as far as we can tell has no affect on the image, but both the Dynamic and Movie settings do alter the picture. So we would either recommend leaving the setting on Standard or, just to be on the safe side, choosing the User mode with Sharpness, Noise Reduction, Contrast, Brightness, Colour and Tint all left at zero. This will ensure you have the most accurate image being produced by the player.
The same simple approach to setup also applies to the audio menus and if you have HDMI Audio Output set to Auto, the player will detect which HDMI outputs are being used and set itself up accordingly. In terms of the Digital Output the player gives you a choice of outputting PCM, Bitstream (Uncompressed), Bitstream (Re-encoded to DTS) or Bitstream (Re-encoded to Dolby Digital), which some people may well find useful. There's also PCM Downsampling, Dynamic Range Control (which is best left off), Downmixing Mode, DTS Neo:6 Mode and Speaker Settings which you would use if you had any Samsung speakers that support Multiroom Link connected to your network.
Features & SpecsIn terms of features the obvious main one is that the K8500 supports 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, with increased resolution, 10-bit video, wider colour gamuts, high dynamic range (specifically HDR 10) and HEVC decoding. It will optimise Ultra HD content to the native capabilities of your display and also down convert HDR automatically if your TV doesn't support that feature. Although it isn't relevant at the moment because there's no content and very few displays that support it, we should point out that the K8500 doesn't include Dolby Vision, which is another version of HDR. The player also supports regular Blu-ray (both 2D and 3D), as well as DVD (along with DVD-R and DVD-RW) and CD (along with CD-R and CD-RW). There's upscaling for lower resolution video content and the K8500 has twin HDMI outputs, built-in WiFi with DLNA support and 7.1-channel audio decoding for both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.
The K8500 includes support for Samsung's Anynet+ (HDMI-CEC) and BD Wise features, as well as their Multiroom Link system. The player also includes various smart features that can be accessed from a home page, which is broken down into three main areas. The first is for playback of any disc that is loaded into the player. The second is for accessing multimedia content, whether that is from a connected USB drive or from your home network. The player gets good throughput from a router and in terms of file support can handle MPEG2/4, DivX, DivX HD, AVCHD, MKV, WMV, WMA, WAV, FLAC, OGG, MP3, AIFF, ALAC, JPEG, PNG, BMP and MPO. The third is for accessing all the apps, which include Netflix, Amazon and YouTube, thus allowing you to use the K8500 as a single source for all Ultra HD 4K video. Along the bottom of the Home page you will find Recommended apps (Netflix, Amazon and YouTube), My Apps which you can customise, Screen Mirroring and the Settings menus.
The K8500 delivered an effective smart platform with all the key 4K services and good network support.
4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Playback
This is of course the main reason for buying the K8500 and, as it's the first Ultra HD Blu-ray player released, it's also the first player we have actually reviewed. Our initial impressions are very positive, with the player having no trouble playing any of the Ultra HD Blu-ray discs that we have bought so far which include Mad Max: Fury Road, Chappie, The Martian and Sicario. We have a selection of discs from each of the studios that has released titles to date and the player handled them all with ease, producing lovely 4K images with 10-bit video depth, wonderfully realistic colours and a high dynamic range that gave the images genuine impact.
We tested the K8500 on the Samsung UE55KS9000 and the JVC DLA-X5000 and naturally it was with the KS9000 that the player was able to really shine taking full advantage of the TV's 1000 nits of peak brightness and a native colour space that is 96% of DCI-P3. The player was able to deliver all of the increased resolution of Ultra HD, which was apparent when comparing a film that was actually finished in 4K with its 1080p Blu-ray version. The same was true of the colours which appeared more saturated and realistic, whilst the HDR brought out details in the darker parts of the image and the highlights that weren't apparent on the Blu-ray.
We would expect any Ultra HD Blu-ray player to be able to deliver all the new features found on a UHD Blu-ray and we were impressed at the way the K8500 could automatically detect the display's native capabilities and optimise its output accordingly. This was especially true in the case of the X5000 which, although it supports HDR, is obviously nowhere near as bright as the KS9000. The Samsung was still able to deliver the Ultra HD HDR content to the projector, although the peak highlights were obviously less apparent and the overall picture was a little darker due to the increased latitude in the lower part of the image. The K8500 also delivered the wider colour gamut on the Ultra HD Blu-rays to the X5000's native colour space very effectively.
When a 4K display doesn't support HDR at all, the K8500 automatically detects this and down converts the HDR to Standard Dynamic Range (SDR). We have seen tests with the K8500 and TVs that don't support HDR and the player did an excellent job of down converting the content. We did find that the lower end was slightly crushed and the top end was slightly clipped but this is probably deliberate on the part of Samsung, to give the resulting SDR image a more contrasty look that will doubtless appeal to many consumers. This approach is actually quite sensible because although the player knows the 4K TV doesn't support HDR, it doesn't know the brightness capabilities of the panel. So what Samsung are trying to do is create an SDR experience that looks good on as many non-HDR 4K TVs as possible.
What the K8500 did prove above all else its that it can handle any type of Ultra HD content and still automatically produce a lovely image, without the consumer having to really do anything. This is important because most people probably won't understand HDR and wider colour gamuts, which makes the Samsung a great choice for the majority of consumers.
Depending on how you setup your K8500 you can either let the player or your Ultra HD TV do the upscaling to 4K. If you go for the easiest option then the Samsung will automatically set its output to match the native resolution of your display. So if your TV has a native resolution of 4K, the player will upscale all lower resolution content to match that resolution. We tested the upscaling of the K8500 with high definition content (both disc and steaming) as well as standard definition content from DVD and it proved to be a very capable performer. Samsung's scaling has always been excellent and the K8500 handled high definition content exceptionally well, delivering images that were detailed and free of unwanted artefacts. The player also managed to upscale DVDs effectively which, when you consider how much of the image the processing is effectively guessing, is impressive.
As with any regular Blu-ray player we would expect the K8500 to be able to handle any high definition Blu-ray effectively, taking what is on the disc and delivering it without changing the signal in any way. Whether it was 2D or 3D, the Samsung played all the discs we tried with ease, delivering lovely looking images that were free of any judder. As mentioned in the previous section the upscaling to 4K was also excellent, resulting in images that revealed every last detail of the original source but without creating scaling artefacts. We watched recent Blu-ray purchases like Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the results were impressive, whilst a 3D disc like The Good Dinosaur was delivered without introducing any issues. Overall the K8500 makes for a great 2D and 3D Blu-ray player.
Standard Definition Playback
Whilst its debatable that someone investing in an Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray player will be watching many DVDs, the good news is that the K8500 had no problems playing both PAL and NTSC DVDs. The player had very effective deinterlacing and cadence detection, with the interlaced signals being handle well regardless of whether it was film or video based or even a mixture of the two. The motion produced from the test DVDs we used was also very good and free of unwanted judder or other issues. As mentioned in the section on 4K upscaling, the player was also able to take this deinterlaced standard definition signal and upscale it with genuine skill, delivering images that were free of unwanted artefacts and surprisingly watchable when you consider the resolution of the source.
When it came to streaming the K8500 proved to be a great source of Full HD and Ultra HD video content and the player got excellent throughput from Mark's router with the Netflix speed test showing 78mbps. The Samsung includes video streaming services from Netflix, Amazon and YouTube and it handled all three extremely well, automatically switching refresh rates at 24/25/30/50/60 fps depending on the content, which resulted in great looking motion. We had no issues when watching Full HD content, although Mark reported that with Ultra HD content on Netflix the audio could lose synchronisation, resulting in him needing to restart Netflix. However overall the K8500 still made a very capable one-stop shop for all your video sources, be that standard, high or ultra high definition.
Samsung UBD-K8500 Video Review
Sound PerformanceSince the K8500 only has HDMI outputs and an optical digital output, it obviously can't be used as a source for analogue audio, but as a digital transport it proved very capable. Whilst no one is claiming the player has audiophile credentials, it can certainly deliver a perfectly good audio performance for most people. We tested the K8500 using the Main HDMI output only and the Main and Sub outputs together and not only was it very effective at handling the Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks from both Ultra HD and regular Blu-rays but it also had no problems when it came to the Dolby Atmos and DTS:X immersive audio tracks as well. The K8500 was an effective CD player and handled both Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks from DVDs with ease, whilst it also handled all the various audio formats that we streamed to it. In fact overall we found it to be an extremely capable digital source that is sure to please most consumers. As an added bonus the K8500 can rip CDs to USB using WAV Lossless, MP3 320 kbps and MP3 192 kbps, as well as support Samsung's Multiroom Link system.
Disc Loading & Energy ConsumptionThe K8500 proved to be quite quick when it came to booting up and loading discs. The player was on and showing its home page within 8 seconds of pressing the power button and a regular Blu-ray was loaded within 20 seconds and a Ultra HD Blu-ray within 40 seconds, whilst a DVD was playing within about 5 seconds. The disc navigation was reasonably quick and responsive, although you could hear the player skipping tracks and moving back to the menu. The power consumption was also low with the player drawing less than 0.5W in standby, 22W when idle and 25W when actually playing a disc.
The K8500 delivered fantastic images from Ultra HD Blu-ray with plenty of detail and dynamic range.
- Perfect playback
- Excellent 4K upscaling
- Twin HDMI outputs
- Decent features set
- Simple setup
- No Dolby Vision support
- The fan is quite noisy
- Remote is small and fiddly
- No display
Samsung UBD-K8500 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player Review
Should I buy one?
The Samsung UBD-K8500 is a great Ultra HD Blu-ray player that has been designed to offer a comprehensive set of features in an easy-to-use package. The player itself is nicely designed and reasonably well made and 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 it can also access your home network to stream other content. We found that in general the K8500 proved a highly effective performer when it came to streaming content, with the emphasis again on ease-of-use. The player was also very capable in terms of digital audio, supporting an extensive number of file formats and including some useful sound features.
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. It also handled 3D Blu-ray without any issues, so if you're still a fan of the format then the player will allow you to continue watching your favourite 3D movies. 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 dynamic 4K experience. The Samsung UBD-K8500 does everything you could want it to do and it does it well. It's also 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.
What are my alternatives?
At present there is only one alternative to the K8500 and that's the Panasonic DMP-UB900. However the two players are very different and are largely aimed at entirely different segments of the market. The K8500 is a plug and play option with limited choices in terms of connections and setup. That makes it ideal for those who just want to enjoy Ultra HD Blu-ray with the minimum of fuss. Whilst the UB900, with its THX certification and audiophile components, is aimed more at the enthusiast who wants plenty of controls to tweak. The UB900 reflects it higher-end status in its price, costing more than the K8500 at £599, and also it's overall build quality. We should point out that neither player supports Dolby Vision, so if you feel that might be important to you then you'll have to wait until later this year for suitably capable players.
However when playing back Ultra HD Blu-rays both are great players and both are capable of delivering HDR content to the display's native capabilities. The UB900 may just have the edge with its chroma up sampling and ability to down-convert HDR to non-HDR devices slightly more accurately. However many consumers will actually prefer the slightly more contrasty down-conversion of the K8500 and will probably be more than happy to save themselves the £170 price difference to spend on UHD blu-ray discs. Although in the freebie stakes you get the Ultra HD Blu-ray of The Martian included with the K8500, whilst the UB900 comes with Mad Max: Fury Road and San Andreas. However you certainly won't be disappointed if you decide to buy the Samsung UBD-K8500 and the player's user-friendly nature means you can just sit back and enjoy all that Ultra HD Blu-ray has to offer.
Ease Of Use8
Value For Money8
Our Review Ethos
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