Panasonic announced a new reference grade Ultra HD Blu-ray player, the DP-UB9000 which has a substantial chassis and a range of other technologies to ensure supreme audio and visual performance. It was announced in February and more recently we've had the chance to see and listen to it in action - although availability is still some way off.
The new player is not only substantially build to reduce vibration and distortion, but it's packed full of technologies to get the most out of the latest generation of Blu-ray discs.
It's all about HDR optimisation
The second-gen HCX (Hollywood Cinema Experience) processor leverages Panasonic's connections with Hollywood movie makers to ensure that visual processing delivers rich and full picture quality.
HDR gets special attention, supporting not only the standard HDR10, but expanding this to the dynamic standards of HDR10+ and Dolby Vision. The new HCX chip brings some powerful HDR processing to the player, looking to boost the HDR delivery of static metadata sources - that is HDR10, which is currently the majority of content out there.
The HDR optimiser can be matched to the type of display you are using. Working at a standard of 1000 nits, an important part of that the Optimiser does is shift the tone mapping in the content so that it hits the right brightness. This stops highlight colours getting lost because things are too bright, for example, returning richness that your TV might otherwise lose.
You can manually change the settings to be equivalent of 500 or 1500 nits according to the type of display you might have; 500 nits is designed for low grade TVs or projectors, while 1500 nits is for those brighter flagship spec TVs. From what we've seen, this can improve the colour and gradation, but it doesn't sacrifice the shadows in the process. You can turn the processing off if you don't want it, but also, if you have an HDR10+ or Dolby Vision source, then the HDR Optimiser switches itself off so the original dynamic metadata can be used.
This HDR Optimiser technology is part of the new HCX processor, so aside from the UB9000, these video enhancements will come to the new UB820 and UB420 too, so if it's picture quality you're after, you have choices for lower cost players too. There might be more coming on the picture enhancement front for the UB9000, but Panasonic wouldn't be drawn on saying what that might be.
THX certification is in the pipeline for this new player, as is HDR10+ and Dolby Vision, although Panasonic tells us that everything is working as it should - it's just the certification process that's still to take place. Panasonic also said that on the video front, it was better to have the player doing the HDR optimisation rather than the display.
Reference grade audio
Where the UB9000 really wants to sell itself into the high end is in its audio capabilities. Firstly there's a substantial build quality here. The chassis is steel and aluminium, with a steel plate under the central drive. This cuts down vibration and disc noise. Steel plates reinforce the top and bottom of the UB9000 casing too, so it's a substantial build with a low centre of gravity.
There's a dedicated audio power circuit and a new DAC with Panasonic saying that it results in lower noise than the UB900. It's setup to play most audio formats, but some things like MQA won't be supported. We listened to some CD tracks via a Technics amp and speakers, as well as Hi-Res digital tracks from USB and it certainly sounded great.
Along with the dual HDMI outputs, there are also analogue 7.1 connections for your sound system as well as balanced left and right stereo connections to connect to your amp.
Not forgetting the convenience of streaming, the player will also support 4K streaming services, as well as offering future compatibility with Amazon Alexa and Google Home, meaning you'll get voice control for your player too - although we've not seen any of these latter elements in action.
The UB9000 leads the new line-up of three UHD Blu-ray players for 2018, joining the UB820 which was announced earlier in the year.
The Panasonic UB9000 is expected to be available from October 2018 and should cost around £900.