There seems to be a consensus that physical media is still more qualified to deliver the audio and video goods in a home theater than streamed content. Even with a super-bandwidth internet connection, whether you’re playing a Netflix blockbuster or a YouTube 4K demo, you will always wonder if that random motion artefact or over-bleeding color is embedded in the source or the result of densely-packed data struggling to find their way to your state-of-the-art display.
But with that said, most consumers are content to opt for the convenience of streamed media, its instant access and highly watchable pictures. Just as the majority used to pick up VHS tapes from Blockbuster stores while a small band of enthusiasts were poring over their laser disc collections, the separation between casual viewer and movie fan has always been marked. For these reasons we have selected our six best 4K UHD players for those still considering making the leap from their previous world of streaming, or playing lower resolution discs.
There are a couple of other points worth considering. Because of the proliferation of 4K TVs now dominating the market, we have decided to omit 1080p-only Blu-ray players from the list, as we figure most people on this forum either have, or will shortly have, moved into the world of 2160p and HDR. Our list only musters a paltry six players, rather than the usual top ten face-off, simply because few manufacturers are producing decks. Disc collectors still mourn the recent exits from the stage of high-end players by Oppo, Pioneer (what happened to them?) and Cambridge Audio, preceded by Korean giant Samsung throwing in the towel of physical media in 2017.
We have also left out both Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X from the equation. Not only have the new and competing game consoles barely seen three months on the shelves, but there has already been a January firmware update for the latter to elevate low-scoring black levels. Furthermore, although the PS5 is considered the superior BD player of the two, neither supports Dolby Vision for UHD Blu-ray at this stage, thus making the $499 price tags significant if gaming is not the priority.
Sony UBP-X700 $195
Although not supporting HDR10+, the Sony UBP-X700 does include Dolby Vision which – take note – needs to be activated and deactivated manually. However, this Sony deck can deliver 4K and 1080p pictures which are highly detailed with corresponding excellent audio performance. As well as WiFi and ethernet for streaming apps, there is hi-res music support and multiple audio disc playback options, including SACD (but not DVD-A). At only 12 inches wide, it might not be the first choice for those with a dedicated rack and there is no Bluetooth functionality either. On the plus side, though, this solid-performing Sony comes in at the bargain price of $180, the cheapest of the 4K players we include here, and several pundits consider it to be the best value of the lot.
LG UBK90 $199.99
Even though it only offers a pared back range of disc spinners, Korean manufacturer LG tops out its 4K UHD playback with the UBK90, a competent if slightly feature-diminished model. This is probably not the player for a dedicated room, and this is reflected in the below-$200 price tag. As a plus over the Sony X700, the LG does detect Dolby Vision automatically, but there is no HDR to SDR conversion, universal disc support, or tone mapping feature. On the upside, the unit does include Wi-Fi, Ethernet, an optical audio output and robust immersive audio performance. Images from 4K UHD content with Dolby Vision particularly are considered natural-looking and accurate, so you shouldn’t rule out this player if you are building out an AV setup on a budget.
Panasonic DP-UB420 $199.10
Panasonic manages three entries in our Six of the Best rundown. Perhaps this is to be expected given the Japanese company’s legacy of producing exceptional audiovisual playback equipment. The DP-UB420, although the most expensive of our ‘budget’ players list, still provides substantial bang-for-buck with several of the features of the DP-UB820 ported into this more affordable chassis. These include the invaluable HDR Optimizer tone mapping for customizing potentially problematic HDR content to your display, 4K direct chroma upscaling and several streaming options. While you must forego 7.1 analogue outs and Dolby Vision features of the UB820 (see below), the HCX processor – found in all Panasonic models further up the price scale – will guarantee pristine images on your screen. Note that while multi-channel audio playback is impressive, the deck is considered a little harsh sounding on CDs.
Sony UBP-X1100ES $598.00
Sony’s top-of-the range spinner, the UBP-X1100ES – the last two letters of which signify a product from the Japanese company’s ‘Elevated Standard’ line – uses a similar processing chip to that used in the former Oppo machines. Picture quality is therefore full of exquisite detail and nuance, and the conveniently low-rise unit can play any disc on the market, including SACD, DVD-A and 3D Blu-ray. The player shines on music sources, too. However, like Sony’s X700 (see above) and X800M2, a user must still manually select Dolby Vision. This could become a headache over time given that some UHD discs do not always include the logo on packaging. Furthermore, unless DV is disabled, the processing will be applied to the next piece of content you show. Despite this reservation, the Sony sports a low-profile 17-inch design, a front panel display, analogue and digital outs, a satisfying remote and already-mentioned class-leading performance.
Panasonic DP-UB820 $399.10
There is hardly a Panasonic player in its current range that does not represent a compelling price/performance proposition, and the DP-UB820 is no exception. The player is nothing short of a star act and delivers gloriously detailed 4K images, startling color and terrific audio with settings straight out of the box. If you want to tweak your 4K images and immersive audio even further, there is a panoply of on-screen menus and features to help you along the way. Taking on board much of the audio and picture delivery finesse from its big sister, the UB9000, the 820 supports Dolby Vision, HDR10+, HLG and a truly high-end bonus in the form of the HDR Optimizer. You might find you have to overlook the unremarkable build quality and standard Panny remote, but for the moment, the UB820 represents the high bar for performance in a mid-price package.
Panasonic DP-UB9000 $997.00
If you need to find a replacement for your Oppo, just about the only place you can go now is to Panasonic and its DP-UB9000. With a handsome brushed aluminum faceplate, anti-vibration feet and hi-fi-style steel chassis, this is more like the kind of rugged kit to complement an equipment rack. Some suggest that the 9000 even has the edge over the former Oppo players in terms of color reproduction, contrast and detail, making it a new force to be reckoned with. As well as support for all disc types, there are two balanced XLR outputs for two-channel media, cementing the Panasonic’s credentials as a premium music player as well. Before you splash out, though, remember that a software player is the most likely component in your home theater to require an upgrade within a three-to-five-year lifespan due to fast-evolving tech or obsolescence. At just half the price, that could make the Panasonic DP-UB820 (see above) a far more attractive option for some.
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