Hands-on review: CES 2016: Panasonic DMP-UB900 Ultra-HD Blu-ray player

Having the latest and greatest home entertainment tech is a labor of love. You spend years building up a collection of the newest media only to have the next standard come in and ruin the years of investment you’ve put into your collection.

But while it’s always painful carting off your box of DVDs, VHSs and now Blu-rays to your local consignment shop, a brighter, sharper and more colorful future awaits.

That future, namely, is Ultra-HD Blu-ray.

To display the future in all its 4K UHD glory, Panasonic is launching an Ultra-HD Blu-ray ready player, the DMP-UB900.

Panasonic Ultra-HD Blu-ray player

Capable of playing HDR (High Dynamic Range) content on up to 10,000nit TVs, the player will support the BT.2020 wide color gamut and interpolate the decoded 4K (4:2:0) signals of Ultra-HD Blu-ray content to 4K (4:4:4).

If that sounds like jargon-heavy A/V techie talk, don’t worry. In the most simplistic terms, the UB900 will play the latest standard of discs in the highest resolution possible while still playing the Blu-rays you already own marginally better than your current player can.

If you’re on the other end of the knowledge spectrum and want to know all the nitty gritty details, however, read on.

Specs, fidelity and processing power

For anyone coming from a standard Blu-ray player, the immensity of how big of an upgrade the UB900 is might not be apparent on first glance. (The 3D glass cut design with a mirrored front panel is really an evolution on the standard Blu-ray players that are on the market now rather than a wholly new design.)

But while the shell isn’t much to look at, the inside of the UB900 is all business.

Inside, a new 4K High-Precision Chroma Processor equipped with imaging technologies such as chroma processing for more vivid and realistic colors and high-gradation processing used to display HDR content serves as the brain of the machine.

Panasonic Ultra-HD Blu-ray player

In a side-by-side comparison done at CES, the UB900 put out a color-rich autumn forest with vibrant yellows, striking reds and bountiful greens while the competition, running the same scene on a different player, looked washed out and drab. Panasonic says the UB900 will help you see scenes closer to how the director and colorists originally intended them to look.

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On the audio side of things, the UB900 supports high-resolution audio formats such as DSD and ALAC, alongside conventional WAV/FLAC/MP3/AAC/WMA formats. The audio will be put through a 192kHz/32bit DAC, before getting pumped out a speaker system or A/V receiver.

What the UB900 can’t do, as far as I can tell, is output Dolby Atmos or DTS:X surround signal to speakers and is instead optimized for 7.1 channel systems.

Content: served streaming or disc

So where is all this Ultra-HD content going to come from? Ideally from new 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray discs that can store up to 100GB of data and will slowly replace current Blu-rays on store shelves.

Until that happens however, the UB900 will support Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video’s Ultra-HD streaming and HDR content natively. Besides those two apps, the UB900 will feature a web browser and a smattering of music services.

Panasonic Ultra-HD Blu-ray player

Should neither streaming or physical media strike your fancy (seriously? Why buy a Blu-ray player if you’re not going to buy Blu-rays?) then you can use the built-in Miracast to stream content from your device to the big screen hassle-free. Though you should probably re-think your life choices should it come down to this as your sole reason to buy a brand-new player.

Early verdict

The UB900 looks like it will be a great supplement to a 4K UHD TV purchase. Offering both digital and physical gateways to the realm of 4K and HDR, it’s not only versatile, but can almost comprehensively cover every pipeline for content coming down the road.

But, unfortunately, “coming down the road” is a phrase you’ll need to use a lot when talking about Pana’s new player. At a press event held here in Las Vegas, a representative from the company said that while the product will certainly see a launch in Europe sometime later this year, a US, Australia or any other territory launch won’t be for some time. The bright side is that at least when it gets here, UHD Blu-rays will have fully come to store shelves meaning more options on Day One and less disappointment.

Otherwise, the UB900 has a non-offensive design, but as far as features are concerned it would’ve been nice to see Dolby Atmos make it past the cutting room floor.

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