- Review Price: £900/$1206
- Blu-ray formats: Ultra HD, Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray
- Dolby Vision support
- HDR10+ support
- HDR Optimizer
Panasonic DP-UB9000: an early look at the most advanced 4K Blu-ray player in existence
Two years is a long time in tech. Even for a relatively niche, fledgling tech such as 4K discs. Two years is how long we’ve had the excellent Panasonic DMP-UB900, the first 4K Blu-ray player. It continues to do a great job – but time waits for no tech. So now we have the Panasonic DP-UB9000, the company’s new flagship 4K Blu-ray player.
Adding a zero to a product isn’t necessarily a sign of advancement, yet in this case it really is. Its specs are much more serious. And much more expensive. Priced at £900, and expected to hit the market in October 2018, UB9000 is pitched at the high-end AV enthusiast market. It comes at an opportune moment: until recently that position was filled by Oppo, before they decided to shut up shop.
So what makes the Panasonic DP-UB9000 special? Panasonic invited me to check it out for myself at a preview event. Here are my initial impressions.
Panasonic DP-UB9000 price
It will cost £900/$1206 in the UK.
Panasonic DP-UB9000 release date
It will be on sale in October 2018.
Panasonic DP-UB9000 – Design
At its most basic level, the Panasonic DP-UB9000 boasts what all great sequels promise: more of the same but with a few new tricks.
The build quality on the UB900 was impressive – a hefty metal box wrapped in glossy plastic. The UB9000 further ramps up the emphasis on metal – there’s a lot of it. Steel plates all over for structural integrity, aluminium plates at the front and sides for that high-end look.
More importantly, it has a job to do. Rigidity reduces chassis vibration, which in turn reduces unwanted corruption of audio signals. Panasonic is taking this so seriously that the top and bottom of the chassis feature two layers of steel plates of different thicknesses.
Look inside and you’ll see the disc drive itself has its own extra steel plate to serve as a rigid base. If you think that’s overkill, then how about the fact that the disc drive has been moved to the centre of the machine? (The UB900 had the drive on the left.)
Repositioning and lowering the centre of gravity is a stability-improving technique favoured by many high-end hi-fi manufacturers. Another 1% gain in the pursuit of overall performance superiority.
That obsession extends to the circuitry. Whereas before the same power supply served all the components, the UB9000 now has dedicated power supplies. One just for the audio components, one for everything else. It’s all about cleaning up the signal path, which is key to good sonic delivery.
There’s a new high-grade DAC capable of 32bit/768kHz signals. Multi-channel analogue audio outputs make a return, only this time they’re joined by XLR balanced output. As before, there are twin HDMI outputs – one for video, one for audio.
Panasonic DP-UB9000 – Features
So the UB9000 has audiophile innards, but what else does it do?
Short answer: improved use of high dynamic range. Long answer: it more accurately maps an HDR signal to your TV’s capabilities, thanks to the HDR Optimizer feature.
Take an OLED TV, for instance, with a peak brightness of just under 1000 nits’ brightness. If it’s fed a disc mastered to 2000 nits, the TV has to manually tone-map the difference to suit its display. That usually results in ‘clipping’, or loss of detail in highlights.
The HDR Optimizer essentially takes over tone-mapping duties before it gets to the TV, which means the TV is never overwhelmed by an overabundance of brightness. On lower luminance TVs, that means you get to retain some highlight detail and saturation. That’s a neat way of dealing with the limitations of the open HDR10 format, as well as those of low-luminance TVs.
It really works. I was treated to a short demo and came away convinced that all 4K Blu-ray players need something like the HDR Optimizer. What I saw was a 4K Blu-ray disc of Pan, fed into a Panasonic EZ1002 OLED from 2017.
Without the HDR Optimizer, highlights were clearly blown out and lacking in detail. With the Optimizer turned on, there was a minor dip in overall brightness, but colour gradation was clearly improved, and there were more definite textures in clouds.
That’s not all. The Panasonic UB9000 can also handle dynamic metadata, an extra layer of information used to optimise the picture scene by scene. There are two formats out there: Dolby Vision and HDR10+. Neither format has come out on top so far, but the UB9000 supports both just in case.
Basically, this machine can make the most of the current HDR standard and properly match it to current TVs, and it’s also futureproofed against the next big formats.
Is £900/$1206 too much to spend on a 4K Blu-ray player? For most people, yes – considering the HDR Optimizer feature will also be available on the step-down Panasonic DP-UB820. Then again, there’s a clear market for high-end components. Right now, it appears the Panasonic UB9000 will be the only thing capable of top-tier picture and sound in a single box. I can’t wait to get my hands on a review sample.