(Pocket-lint) - Panasonic made its pitch with one of the first Ultra HD Blu-ray players in 2016 with the UB900. It was masterful, designed to be the highest quality for early adopters and to satisfy the demands of serious AV enthusiasts looking for their 4K fix.
The UB900's barrier was its £600 price, which is perhaps why the half-price UB700 saw a late-2016 launch with a price that more closely matched the rival Samsung K8500.
To hit its £300 price point the UB700 loses some of its audio prowess, but retains its knockout punch - stunning 4K Blu-ray visuals.
Panasonic DMP-UB700 review: Diluted, conventional design
- Glossy deep black finish
- 430 x 199 x 61mm
- Front fold-down flap
- Plays UHD Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD
One of the biggest things to set apart the first two Ultra HD Blu-ray players was design. Panasonic went serious and conventional, while Samsung went for a curved player to match its (then) preference for curved TVs.
Panasonic in many ways is more elegant and has the advantage of looking more normal stacked alongside your other high-end AV kit, but one of the changes in the UB700 is the feet and that deep grained finish from the UB900. The UB700 is glossy and black but otherwise inoffensive, although it scratches easily, so don't put anything on top of this player, and it also attracts a lot of dust.
It looks like many other Panasonic players, with a full front flap that folds down to reveal the disc tray when you hit the eject button (this also reveals the SD card slot and front USB for additional media options).
There's a display behind this panel too, shining through to pass on information. We couldn't find a way to turn it off during playback though.
The remote that comes with this player isn't the best. Panasonic calls it the "simple" remote in its specs for obvious reason: you lose the fun illumination of the UB900's excellent remote. The simple remote is smaller and more compact overall, offering fewer direct button controls; some you won't miss, like the 3D controls, the one you will miss is our favourite - the playback info button. You can get details on the screen by digging in the menu, where you can see what quality is being output both for audio and video. One of the direct buttons it retains is the Netflix button, so if you're a fan of that service, you get direct access.
Panasonic DMP-UB700 review: Setup and connections
- 2x HDMI, one for dedicated audio
- Optical audio
- Ethernet and Wi-Fi
The big difference between the UB700 and the UB900 really comes down to the connections on the rear and the corresponding audio support. The UB700 offers two HDMI outputs - so you have the option to split the audio into a dedicated HDMI, especially useful if you want to run it to a receiver, while the video heads straight to your 4K HDR TV.
There's optical audio too, if you have legacy equipment, but whereas the UB900 offers a full run of analogue audio connections, the UB700 does not. For your average home cinema user, that may be of no concern at all, but that also defines the positioning of these two players: the UB900 is designed to do everything across audio and visual entertainment, the UB700 has a leaning toward being an Ultra HD Blu-ray player first and foremost.
Connection is quick and easy and we hooked it up to the LG OLED B6 TV and had things up and running in no time - remembering, of course, to enable the HDMI Deep Colour (or equivalent) on your TV's HDMI you've connected to.
You can change the picture settings when playing standard Blu-ray, although Ultra HD Blu-ray is more restricted to preserve the HDR parameters that the player is dictating to the TV. HDMI audio suits us fine too, with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X supported via bitstream, along with a full run of other audio formats.
There's Wi-Fi for connecting to the internet, as well as an Ethernet port. If you've ambitions to use the streaming services that are bundled in then a wired connection is usually preferable. That said, if you're hooking this up to one of the latest smart TVs, you'll probably find yourself slightly better catered for through those apps - saving the need to have this box powered on.
Anecdotally, we found that the Wi-Fi performance in the UB700 was fairly poor - achieving only around half the data speeds of the TV we connected it to - and that's important for streaming, so go with wire.
Panasonic DMP-UB700 review: Performance and playback
- 3840 x 2160 playback with HDR
- No Dolby Vision support
The good news is that the UB700 is every bit as good as the UB900 when it comes to playback of your Ultra HD Blu-ray discs. You're rewarded with clear and sharp pictures with wonderful HDR when you feed it the new format of higher quality Blu-ray discs. So despite the cut price there's no drop in visual performance.
This is a quiet player too and that's one of the advantages of opting for a dedicated Ultra HD Blu-ray player over something like the Xbox One S, which is altogether a noisier experience.
We've mentioned that HDR is excellent, but the UB700 misses out on Dolby Vision support. That's something of a new trend for 2017, with LG announcing the first (and only) compatible player (at the time of writing). If you're planning on buying a Vision compatible TV, you'll need a player that supports it too.
Each time we encounter Ultra HD Blu-ray we talk about the stunning visuals, but these skills aren't limited to those discs along. Blu-ray is very well handled too. You'll miss the HDR, but there's plenty of clarity and detail, so much so that you'll forget, for a moment, just how much better Ultra HD Blu-ray is, until you load a new disc and get that jaw-dropping picture again.
We'll talk about the streaming services in a second, but first we'll touch on a small negative. The Panasonic UB700 can take a long time to turn on and off. There's no sense of an instant-on experience, so be prepared to wait when you hit the power button. That said, loading discs isn't too slow once they are in the tray.
Panasonic DMP-UB700 review: User interface and streaming services
- User interface a little dated
- Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube all offer 4K content
When we reviewed the UB900 there was one thing in particular we didn't like and that was the user interface. It feels a little dated, especially when you get to the "network services" options which is where you'll find the apps.
The home menu offers major sections for video, music, photo and home network before you get to this section for apps. The real problem isn't the services provided (Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Video, BBC iPlayer covers most bases), it's that getting to them is a chore and the user interface is ugly.
You jump from mono of the main menu with linear scrolling to a sort-of 3D layered array on a blue background when you hit the apps - it couldn't be more inconsistent. Then there's the screensaver, which looks like the sort of thing that you might have had on Windows XP, moving and flipping the picture around the screen.
We mentioned before that the Wi-Fi is rather weak too. The real-world impact of this is that the UB700 won't always get to the top resolution on some services. Fire up a YouTube 4K video, for example, and it might only play at 1440p, rather than 2160p (that the same video on the TV appeared at moments later).
There's a trick to remember for services like Netflix or YouTube however. Thanks to those services supporting casting protocols, you can just hit the cast button from the app on your phone, select your UB700 from the list, the app opens and away you go - no messy user interface needed.
If you're not an audiophile then there's no reason to buy the UB900. If you are an audiophile, there's every chance you have audio covered already, so you can save yourself the cash and select the UB700 instead: it's every bit as competent on the visual performance front. That's where the UB700 shines, offering wonderful handling of Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, giving you that warm embrace of this future format.
The player's user interface could be better and the jarring inconsistency in design between the menu and the app screen could be easily fixed. The remote isn't as good as the UB900's, but given the effective cut in price, we can't complain about that.
The remaining consideration, however, is that Panasonic has subsequently announced more Ultra HD Blu-ray players. They're not on the market yet, but it might be worth waiting and seeing what they offer.
Buy the Panasonic DMP-UB700 from Amazon.co.uk for £290.
Alternatives to consider
Samsung's first Ultra HD Blu-ray player, and currently one of the cheapest on the market is the K8500. This will not only spin your 4K HDR discs, but also serve up a range of streaming content too, from services like Netflix and Amazon Video. Its quirk is the curved design which is unconventional, meaning it probably won't match any other device you own. However, it still offers great quality and performance for very little money.
- Samsung UBD-K8500 review: Beautiful Ultra HD Blu-ray
- Buy the Samsung K8500 on Amazon.co.uk for £209 or on Amazon.com for $275
Xbox One S
The Xbox One S is not only a fully-featured gaming machine, but it's also an Ultra HD Blu-ray player, capable of handling the latest discs and outputting 4K HDR content to your TV. It's a little noisier than some of the dedicated players and it's not quite as fully-featured, but for the asking price, you get not only an Ultra HD Blu-ray player, but one of the best entertainment devices on the market.
- Xbox One S review: Great console and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player, what else?
- Buy the Xbox One S on Amazon.co.uk for £229 or on Amazon.com for $274