(Pocket-lint) - The sudden departure of Oppo from the Ultra HD Blu-ray player market has left Panasonic's new flagship DP-UB9000 with little in the way of competition when it comes to high-end 4K disc spinners.
The new Panasonic deck slots neatly into the space left by the missing Oppo UDP-203 (although you can still buy it, even if it's not being made any more), offering a similar mix of stellar build quality, flawless performance, and extensive imaging features.
Is this the new premium Blu-ray player of choice?
Built like a proverbial tank
- Dimensions: 430 x 81 x 300mm
- Weight: 7.8kg
It's sometimes hard to justify the inflated price tags on these high-end machines, but there are no such concerns with the UB9000. It's built like a tank, with a dual-layer metal construction and aluminium front and side panels. The result is a seriously heavy deck with an isolated centrally-mounted disc drive that minimises vibrations and noise.
There's a large and informative display directly above the disc tray, and a lovely brushed metal finish. The player only comes in black, and has a contemporary appearance, with only a few buttons and a USB port on what is otherwise a clean and minimalist front panel.
Connections and control
- 2x HDMI; 2x USB; LAN & Wi-Fi
- Built-in audio decoder (8 x phono line-outs)
- Optical and coaxial digital audio outputs
- Stereo phono and XLR analogue outputs
Panasonic offers a few buttons on the front of the UB9000, providing basic control if you happen to be right next to the player or can't find the remote. The provided zapper is essentially the same one included with the UB900, which is good news. It's well laid out, intuitive to operate, and includes a backlight which is handy when watching movies at night.
Aside from a single USB port on the front, all the other connections are at the rear. It's a comprehensive selection, with twin HDMI outputs – one for your 4K HDR display and a second in case your soundbar or AV receiver doesn't support HDCP 2.2 – and there are optical and coaxial digital outputs, Ethernet, alongside a second USB port.
If analogue is your thing, then this player is right up your street with built-in decoding and 7.1-channel analogue outputs, a dedicated stereo output using phono connectors, and even balanced XLR outputs.
- UHD Blu-ray; 2D & 3D Blu-ray; DVD; CD
- HDR10; HLG; HDR10+; Dolby Vision
- 4K HDR Netflix, Amazon, YouTube
- Audiophile analogue playback
In terms of disc playback the Panasonic UB9000 can handle 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, 2D and 3D Blu-ray, DVD, and CD. That's a decent range of platters, but unlike the Oppo there's no support for SACD (Super Audio CD) and DVD-Audio.
The UB9000 is a jack of all trades when it comes to high dynamic range (HDR). Naturally there's support for the standard HDR10 format, and even Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG), which is primarily aimed at broadcast TV. The two competing dynamic HDR formats are also catered for, with the UB9000 being one of the few players to support HDR10+ and Dolby Vision.
There's also support for video streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and YouTube, with both 4K and HDR10. Amazon and Netflix also offer support for Dolby Vision, and even Dolby Atmos in the case of the latter.
On the audio side of things this spinner includes an HDMI low clock jitter process and supports high-resolution formats, including DSD (11.2MHz/5.5MHz/2.8MHz), ALAC, FLAC, WAV and AIFF. It can also boost the sound quality of lower-resolution content, thanks to High Clarity Sound Premium, Digital Tube Sound with upsampling and 192kHz/96kHz Surround Re-master.
However, it's the UB9000's analogue audio capabilities that sets it apart from the rest of Panasonic's range, with dedicated audio power supplies, and an isolated local power supply for the high-quality 768kHz/32-bit DAC. There are audiophile components used throughout and it's features like these that make this player so expensive.
Optimised picture quality
- HCX 4K Processor
- HDR Optimiser
The UB9000 uses the second-generation of Panasonic's HCX (Hollywood Cinema Experience) processor, which has been developed specifically for 4K playback and includes improved chroma upsampling for better colour detail during playback.
The big new feature on the UB9000 is Panasonic's HDR Optimiser, which is designed to tone map content to match the capabilities of a display. Panasonic is confident the tone mapping in its players is better than many TVs, and this feature takes advantage of that.
The menu offers a choice of self-explanatory options: OLED, High Luminance Projector, Basic Luminance Projector, Super High Luminance LCD, Middle or High Luminance LCD, and Basic Luminance LCD. You simply choose the most appropriate option, based on your type of display.
The HDR Optimiser only works with HDR10 content and is disabled for HDR10+ and Dolby Vision. How effective the HDR Optimiser is really depends on the capabilities of your display and the sophistication of its tone mapping.
The Panasonic UB9000 certainly delivers the goods as a disc player, with a flawless performance in terms of both picture and sound. The solid build quality means that loading, playing and navigating discs is not only fast and responsive, but also nearly silent. It's little things like this that help justify the deck's price tag.
As soon as you start watching a Blu-ray, you realise that the player's scaling is first class, with a detailed and accurate image that is both natural and well defined. The contrast is also impressive and blacks are deep and solid. Watching a well-mastered Blu-ray like Tomorrowland reveals the UB9000's ability to render every last pixel of detail and display it with unerring fidelity.
The performance with Ultra HD Blu-rays is even more impressive. A native 4K disc like The Revenant sees the Panasonic deliver an image bursting with detail. The colours look completely natural, and the moments of peak brightness are breathtakingly realistic. The playback of Blu-ray and 4K discs is also free of unwanted artefacts or unnecessary processing.
The UB9000 has no issues playing Dolby Vision from UHD Blu-ray, as well as from the Amazon and Netflix apps. The Dolby Vision performance with discs is very impressive, revealing a marginal improvement in detail and colour accuracy over HDR10. Black Panther looks superb in Dolby Vision, as does Iron Fist on Netflix, and Jack Ryan on Amazon.
The UB9000 is equally as adept when it comes to audio, bitstreaming immersive soundtracks like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X with no issues. If you need the player to internally decode Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio tracks, then the Panasonic can do that too and either output via HDMI or the 7.1-channel analogue connectors.
However, it's with analogue audio that the UB9000 really stands apart, using high-end DACs (digital-to-analogue converters) to deliver a superb performance where two-channel music is concerned. The dedicated stereo phono outputs are excellent, but it's the balanced XLR outputs that really impress, with a gorgeous analogue sound. Not many people will use XLR, granted, but that's the high-end proposition this player offers.
Aside from the obvious fact that the UB9000 isn't exactly cheap, there are very few issues with this player.
Unlike the now departed Oppo or the recently released Pioneer players, the Panasonic doesn't support SACD or DVD-Audio playback. As a result it can't be considered a universal disc spinner, but few are likely to lament the absence of those two formats.
Despite giving the home page a cheeky makeover, the rest of the user interface is getting a little long in the tooth, especially the smart platform which is beginning to look very dated.
Speaking of smart features, the Netflix app plays everything in Dolby Vision when it's turned on. Panasonic claims that this is deliberate but that makes no sense, and we would rather the Netflix app showed SDR, HDR and Dolby Vision as intended, just like the Amazon app.
The Panasonic DP-UB9000 quite isn't perfect as it's not a universal player and the Netflix app needs work – but its picture, sound, and build quality go a long way towards justifying its hefty price tag.
The disc playback is flawless, the analogue audio performance is impressive, and it's one of the few players to support both HDR10+ and Dolby VIsion. It's a jack-of-all-trades and a master of many, with state-of-the-art image processing that will get the best from your HDR display.
The departure of Oppo from the Blu-ray market has left a gap when it comes to high-end players – one that the UB9000 perfectly fills, making it the deck of choice for discerning AV fans.