It doesn't have as many ports as its Panasonic rival, but the UBD-K8500 is still a highly capable Ultra HD Blu-ray player
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If you want to start watching Ultra HD Blu-rays right now, you have two options. There’s the wallet-breaking Panasonic DMP-UB900, which is currently available for £600, or the slightly less eye-watering Samsung UBD-K8500, which costs £430.
Both cost a lot more than your typical Blu-ray player, but in some respects it actually makes your buying decision a whole lot easier. However, while most might immediately make a beeline for Samsung’s player, there’s a reason why Panasonic’s is so much more. The Samsung UBD-K8500, for instance, doesn’t have many of the more advanced cinephile features that come with the Panasonic DMP-UB900, so those after the very best that Ultra HD has to offer should definitely take this into account. However, that’s not to say Samsung’s UBD-K8500 isn’t a great Ultra HD Blu-ray player in its own right, as it’s arguably a better fit for more regular viewers.
Design and Connections
The KB8500 is arguably the slicker-looking of the two players, coming in at a much lower profile due to its streamlined set of connections round the back. It also has a slightly curved design to match many of Samsung’s similarly-curved TVs.
A small remote control is included, which is pleasing in its simplicity but the buttons themselves can be a bit fiddly, especially the navigation buttons. All too often I would press the select button rather than a direction, but it’s a minor quibble overall.
Like the Panasonic DMP-UB900, there are two HDMI outputs on the UBD-K8500. One is designed for carrying both video and audio, whereas the second can be used purely for audio if you want to connect to a separate receiver. Otherwise, there’s just an optical S/PDIF output and Ethernet connection on the rear, and a USB port is hidden away behind a cheap-feeling flap on the front. Panasonic’s player, on the other hand, comes with full 7.1-channel analogue audio outputs, making it a much more tempting prospect for those with existing surround sound systems that don’t have HDMI inputs.
If you don’t fall into this category, though, then there’s probably little reason to go with the Panasonic player, as the UBD-K8500 is just as capable of getting the best out of Ultra HD Blu-rays as the DMP-UB900 when it comes to picture quality.
Not only has it been certified to meet the UHD Alliance’s Ultra HD Premium standard, which sets strict performance standards for high dynamic range (HDR) and wide colour spectrum support, but it also has built-in app support for Netflix and Amazon Instant Video, allowing you to stream 4K content as well as watch it on a disc.
Of course, it goes without saying that if you’re considering an Ultra HD Blu-ray player, chances are you already have an Ultra HD TV or at least have plans to get one very soon. Ideally, you’ll also need a TV that supports HDR to truly reap the benefits of Ultra HD Blu-ray, as this is one of the key reasons to buy Ultra HD Blu-ray discs apart from the obvious increase in resolution.
With HDR enabled, images are brighter, richer and more detailed, as the TV panel is capable of producing a wider brightness range between the whitest whites and blackest blacks. HDR also uses the same DCI colour space as digital cinema projectors, which opens up a much wider colour palette than traditional, non-HDR TVs to make images appear more vibrant and realistic.
Without HDR, you’re missing out on all this vital image information, and so far almost every Ultra HD Blu-ray disc we’ve seen has HDR built-in, so you really are wasting both the disc and the player’s potential if you don’t have the right TV.
It showed in our testing, too, as films were far more detailed with HDR switched on. There wasn’t nearly as much clipping evident in the shadows and highlights, and you could see much further into The Martian’s solar flares, for instance (which comes bundled in the box with the UBD-K8500), than when I ran the same scene again with HDR turned off. Here, the light was crushed into a kind of white halo effect and it blocked out a lot of the extra detail. The Mars landscape also had a richer, warmer and more natural tone with HDR turned on, as it became flat and lifeless as soon as I switched it off again.
Compared to the Panasonic DMP-UB900, there wasn’t a lot of difference in picture quality either. Under very close scrutiny, the colours on the DMP-UB900 were marginally more pleasing, especially in the green foliage of a San Andreas scene I used for a direct comparison, but it’s pretty subtle and you’d be easily pleased no matter which player you eventually plumbed for.
Much like the Panasonic deck, though, you may well have to dive into your TV’s settings menu in order to enable HDR for individual HDMI inputs. It works automatically with Samsung’s new crop of 2016 TVs (2015 SUHD models will be getting a free software update in the coming weeks to enable this automatic transition as well), but plug the UBD-K8500 into a Panasonic TV, for instance, and you’ll have to turn it on manually.
Smart Features and Interface
The UBD-K8500’s interface will be familiar to anyone who has a Samsung smart television and is much more visually engaging than the drab UI used by Panasonic. For a start, you get cover art to tell you what disc currently resides in the disc drive, which is annoyingly absent on the Panasonic player, and the menu screen gives you quick access to multimedia from USB drives as well as on network storage.
Samsung’s app catalogue is also very respectable. You have Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and YouTube, all of which are good sources of streamable Ultra HD content, but you also get apps for Plex, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and Spotify. These all load very quickly and the player’s general performance was pretty nippy. It only takes 10 seconds from powering on to arrive at the main menu, and then another 6 seconds to begin playing a Blu-ray disc.
The Samsung UBD-K8500 is a highly capable Ultra HD Blu-ray player and will be more than enough for most people looking to make the leap to Ultra HD. The Panasonic DMP-UB900 is arguably a better player overall, with more features geared towards cinephiles, but it does cost significantly more – almost 8 or 9 Ultra HD Blu-ray disc worth to put it in a different light.
As a result, those desperate to join the UHD revolution should probably opt for the UBD-K8500. However, there’s also a very strong case to be made for waiting for a year or so until prices fall, which they’re bound to do once more manufacturers start releasing different models. While more content is inevitably on its way, there are precious few films you can buy right now, and 4K streaming content is still pretty thin on the ground as well. You’d have to be planning on spending thousands of pounds on 4K Blu-ray discs over the next couple of years to really justify buying a player right now, and even then it’s a pretty hard sell.
However, if you absolutely need Ultra HD right now and don’t require the extra audio features on Panasonic’s DMP-U900, then the Samsung UBD-K8500 is definitely the 4K Blu-ray player to buy.
|Yes (upscaling, Blu-ray 4K)
|1 x HDMI, 1x optical S/PDIF
|1x HDMI 2.0
|Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi
|Memory card reader
|Video playback formats
|MPEG-2, MPEG-4, MKV, WMV
|Image viewing formats
|Audio playback formats
|Smart TV apps
|Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube, Spotify, All 4, BBC iPlayer
|Price including VAT
|One year RTB