Samsung UBD-M9500 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player Review
It would appear they've been listening to our feedback
What is the Samsung UBD-M9500?Samsung were the first to market with a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player in the shape of their UBD-K8500 which was released in April of last year. Although we were impressed by the player's performance and its 'plug and play' simplicity we did feel that, at the time, it was a little over-priced. That particular player has had a number of price reductions since its release and can now be picked up for around £200, making it a bit of a bargain. One of the reasons that the K8500 is now so cheap is the arrival of Samsung's new flagship player the UBD-M9500. We had a few minor issues with the earlier player, largely related to the lack of display, the remote control and the fan noise, so it will be interesting to see if Samsung has addressed these points in the new model. The M9500 isn't cheap and has a retail price of around £390 as at the time of writing (July 2017), which makes it one of the more expensive players available. So does the Samsung M9500 do enough to justify its price tag and how does it compare to the earlier model? Let's find out...
Since publishing our review, Samsung have significantly reduced the price of the M9500 in direct response to our comments about the relative cost. The suggested retail price is now £349, although we have seen online deals for less than £290, and if you buy the M9500 with any new Ultra HD TV (that's for all brands, not just Samsung) then you can get the M9500 for just £249.
DesignAt first glance the new M9500 appears almost identical to the earlier K8500 but once you start to look closer you begin to realise there are subtle differences. The M9500 has a similar curved chassis but the build quality is better and there is an attractive brushed metal black finish. We know that design is very subjective but we really like the look of the M9500, just as we appreciated the K8500's sleek appearance. The USB port that was at the front of the K8500, behind a removable rubber cover, is now at the side which makes access easier and over on the left hand side is the disc tray.There is a matte black angled lip along the front of the player and over on the right hand side there are touch sensitive controls to open and close the disc tray and to turn the player on and off. The play/pause and stop buttons found on the K8500 have been dropped but they were largely redundant. At the centre of this angled lip is a small OLED display that provides you with basic information. One of our complaints about the K8500 was the lack of a display, so it's good to see that Samsung are responding to feedback about this as well as our comments relating to the build quality of the previous model. The M9500 measures 406 x 45 x 226mm (WxHxD) and weighs in at 1.90kg.
It retains the curved design of Samsung's previous player but adds a small display
Connections & ControlThe rear of the M9500 is virtually identical to that of the K8500, which means you get two HDMI outputs – the first is HDMI 2.0a with HDCP 2.2 and Anynet+, whilst the second is HDMI 1.4 which allows you to connect the M9500 to soundbars and AV receivers that don't support HDR or HDCP 2.2, thus meaning you can 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. At the rear you will also find an optical digital output and a LAN port for a wired connection, although there is also 2x2 dual WiFi (802.11ac). Finally at the rear there is a two-pin connector for the provided power cable.One of our biggest complaints about the K8500 related to its remote control, which we found small and fiddly. The buttons were often difficult to locate, especially in the dark, and some were annoying to use. For example the skip and scan buttons were the same, which meant we often ended up skipping to the beginning or end of a chapter when what we actually wanted to do was scan through to a specific point. Thankfully Samsung have clearly been listening to our feedback in this area as well because the M9500 comes with a new remote that is fashioned after the One controllers provided with their TVs and higher-end soundbars.
The new remote is larger and more comfortable to hold, with a sensible button layout that is intuitive to use. All the main buttons that you'll need are present and correct, along with separate buttons for both skip and scan which is good news. You can control your TV using the M9500 remote or alternatively you can control the player using your Samsung TV remote if you have one. Our only complaint would be the lack of any backlight, which made it tricky to use the controller in the dark, but otherwise we were very happy with the remote control provided with the M9500.
The remote control, menu system and smart platform have all had a make-over
Features & SpecsThe remote control isn't the only aspect of the M9500 to get a make-over because the new player also sports an updated user interface that is based on the operating system found on Samsung's latest TVs. There is a launcher bar at the bottom of the home screen where you can access any disc loaded into the player, as well as the most commonly used apps. You can also access all the apps, with more than 300 available to install of which you could actually install around 220 at any one time based on an average size of 4MB and a built-in memory of 900MB. The choice of apps is fairly comprehensive with Amazon, Netflix, YouTube, Wuaki TV, Google Play, Plex, BBC iPlayer, All 4, My5 and STV Player (although strangely no ITV Player) available on the video side of things and Spotify, TuneIn and Deezer providing the audio services. The apps are quick to access and easy to launch and the Amazon, Netflix and YouTube apps all support 4K and HDR. The entire user interface is sleek, intuitive and responsive and for those that have an older 4K HDR TV it might be a way of updating your TV's smart platform.
In terms of actual features the main one is clearly support for 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, with its increased resolution, 10-bit video, wider colour gamut, high dynamic range (specifically HDR 10) and HEVC decoding. The M9500 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. This year Samsung have added the ability to adjust the SDR to HDR conversion with three options – Low Gamma, Medium Gamma and High Gamma – depending on the actual brightness of your non-HDR display. Whilst the M9500 supports HDR10, it shouldn't come as a surprise to discover that it doesn't support Dolby Vision but then Samsung don't support this version of HDR on their TVs either. The player also supports regular Blu-ray, DVD, both of which can be upscaled to 4K, and CD (which can be ripped) but there's no support for 3D Blu-ray. This is sure to prove controversial but the reality is with no new TVs supporting the feature it was only a matter of time before 3D support was dropped from players as well.
The M9500 includes support for Samsung's Anynet+ (HDMI-CEC) and BD Wise features, as well as their Multiroom Link system. There is also support for DLNA and HD Audio up to 24-bit/192kHz, which you can access via USB or your home network. The player gets good throughput from a router and in terms of file support can handle just about everything including MPEG2/4, DivX, DivX HD, AVCHD, MKV, WMV, WMA, WAV, FLAC, OGG, MP3, AIFF, ALAC, JPEG, PNG, BMP and MPO. There is Bluetooth (Tx and Rx) support allowing you to stream audio from a smart device, as well as watch a film using Bluetooth headphones thanks to the Private Cinema mode. In terms of other features there is support for 360 degree content, Blu-ray to mobile which allows you to watch content playing on your M9500 even when the TV is off, as well as screen mirroring content from your smart device to your TV via the player. Finally the M9500 supports Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, which means you can enjoy Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and Auro-3D via bitstream which the player can automatically detect.
Samsung have also given the menu system an update, keeping the easy to setup approach of the K8500 but adding a few new features as well. The basic menu layout is similar and crucially all of the key options default to their auto settings, 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 EDID information delivered by the display. Although you can select things like resolution and colour format separately we would simply recommended leaving the settings on Auto because the M9500 did an excellent job of optimising itself for all the displays with which we tested the player.
Whilst you can choose different colour formats like YCbCr (4:4:4) or YCbCr (4:2:2), we found if you selected the former and the TV didn't support 4:4:4 properly then the player would default to SDR mode even if the display supported HDR. Although interestingly the SDR output still used the Rec. 2020 colour gamut. As with other Samsung players there is a Tools sub-menu available during playback, which includes a useful information section showing you what the disc is encoded at and what the player is outputting. This information also appears when first start playing a disc or skip chapters. In Tools you'll also find the Picture Modes and we would recommend using the Standard or User modes, with the Sharpness, Noise Reduction, Contrast, Brightness, Colour and Tint controls on the latter 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, although you can also select either HDMI Audio or Bluetooth Audio. In terms of the Audio Output Format (HDMI or Optical) the player gives you a choice of outputting PCM, Bitstream (Uncompressed), Bitstream (Re-encoded to DTS) or Bitstream (Re-encoded to Dolby Digital), which those with soundbars that don't support multi-channel DTS may well find very useful. There's also PCM Downsampling, Dynamic Range Control (which is best left off), Downmixing Mode, DTS Neo:6 Mode, Audio Sync and Sound Mirroring. Finally there's WiFi Speaker Surround Setup which is used to configure a stereo or surround system using a Samsung soundbar and wireless speakers connected via WiFi.
Samsung UBD-M9500 Video Review
PerformanceIn terms of its performance the M9500 didn't put a foot wrong but then we hardly expected it to based on our experiences with the K8500. However the first thing that we noticed was that the fan on the M9500 is much quieter than on the K8500 and in fact we couldn't really hear it at all unless we put our head up to the player. The slightly better build quality was apparent in terms of the disc tray and there was also very little noise in terms of playback or disc navigation. The M9500 is also a speedy loader, with Ultra HD Blu-rays arriving at their menu screens in about 30 to 40 seconds and Blu-rays and DVDs doing so considerably faster. The M9500 didn't have any problems with the various discs that we tried and they all loaded and played with no problems.
Of course we would expect flawless playback from any Ultra HD Blu-ray player, assuming it wasn't doing anything it shouldn't, but what impressed us was how effective the M9500 was at detecting the capabilities of the display and optimising its output accordingly. The results were superb and the Samsung delivered perfect 4K and HDR (High Dynamic Range) images on the various displays with which we tried the player. The M9500 also did an excellent job of converting HDR to SDR (Standard Dynamic Range) and thanks to the three HDR Conversion options you can also tailor the output to suit your particular display, the lower the gamma the brighter the overall image.
If you leave the M9500 in its default settings it 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 M9500 with high definition content (both disc and steaming) as well as standard definition content from DVD and the player proved to be a very capable performer. Samsung's scaling has always been excellent and the M9500 handled high definition content extremely well, delivering images that were detailed and free of unwanted artefacts, whilst it also upscaled DVDs very effectively.
As with any regular Blu-ray player we would expect the M9500 to be able to handle high definition Blu-rays effectively, taking what is on the disc and delivering it without changing the signal in any way. Where the player can add value is in terms of the quality of its scaling to 4K and here the Samsung proved to be a very capable performer. The M9500 played all the discs we tried with ease, delivering lovely looking images that were free of any judder. Overall this is a great Blu-ray player, although the lack of 3D support is sure to disappoint many enthusiasts but the reality is that its absence will go unnoticed by most consumers who are neither interested in 3D nor own a TV that even supports it.
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 M9500 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.
If there's one area where Samsung players are superior to the competition it's in terms of streaming video playback with the M9500 supporting both Full HD and Ultra HD video content. The player 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 video streaming content, whether Full HD, 4K or HDR, and the images were often lovely, making the M9500 a very capable single source for all your disc and streaming video needs, be that standard, high or ultra high definition.
There are now more setup options but it remains an excellent plug-and-play performer
- Flawless playback
- Superb 4K upscaling
- Auto correct frame rate with streaming
- Twin HDMI outputs
- Excellent features set
- Easy to setup
- No Dolby Vision support
- No 3D Blu-ray support
Samsung UBD-M9500 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player Review
Should I buy one?There's no doubt that the M9500 is a very capable 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player that can be setup with the minimum of fuss. If you simply leave it in its default auto settings it will optimise its output to suit your display and deliver a flawless performance with UHD Blu-ray discs. If your display can't support HDR (High Dynamic Range) then the player will very effectively convert the image to SDR (Standard Dynamic Range) and you now have three different options depending on the brightness of your display. The M9500 also plays Blu-rays superbly, scaling the images with precision, whilst the deinterlacing and scaling of DVDs was equally as effective. The Samsung is also an excellent source of streaming video content, with the player automatically outputting the correct frame rate. The audio performance was just as good and the M9500 supports both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, which means you can also enjoy immersive audio formats like Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and Auro-3D.
We were pleased to discover that Samsung have taken our feedback on board and made various improvements compared to the previous UBD-K8500. So there is now a small display on the front of the player and the build quality is better with a quieter fan and disc mechanism. The remote control has also been improved and the user interface is now based on the operating system that Samsung use in their current TVs which offers more choice and is faster and more responsive. The M9500 includes plenty of features, although the absence of Dolby Vision support shouldn't come as a surprise given that Samsung don't support that HDR format on their TVs. What is more surprising is the absence of 3D Blu-ray support, which is sure to disappoint enthusiasts even though new TVs no longer support the format. However those two points aside, and to be fair most players don't support Dolby Vision, the Samsung UBD-M9500 doesn't put a foot wrong and is deserving of a Recommended award.
What are my alternatives?The only reason that the M9500 didn't get a Highly Recommended badge is that it's simply too expensive when compared to the competition. In fact excluding the ludicrously expensive Oppo machines, the Samsung is currently the most expensive 4K Blu-ray player available with a price of around £390. To put that into perspective, you can buy the superb Panasonic DMP-UB900 for £370 and that includes THX certification, 3D support and analogue outputs. Alternatively you can buy the excellent Sony UBP-X800 for just £349 and that player not only supports 3D but also SACD and DVD-Audio, whilst the LG UP970 will set you back a mere £280 with support for both 3D and Dolby Vision. So as you can see, whilst the UBD-M9500 is an excellent Ultra HD Blu-ray player, it really needs to be a lot cheaper.
Since publishing this review Samsung has made major reductions in the cost of the M9500, which now has a suggested retail price of £349, but can actually be bought online for as little as £290, and if you buy one with an Ultra HD TV (any brand, not just Samsung) you can get the M9500 for just £249. In the paragraph above we specifically state that the only reason the M9500 didn't receive a Highly Recommended badge was its relative price compared to the competition. However now that Samsung has significantly dropped the price in a direct response to our comments, we are happy to award a Highly Recommended badge.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £349.00
Ease Of Use9
Value For Money9
Our Review Ethos
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