After spending a few months with a Samsung 4K disc player I have come to the conclusion that blu-ray is no longer enough.
There, I said it. Yes, folks, watching 4K movies is a much more immersive experience than watching my favorite films on Blu-ray. No there isn’t a lot of content, but what’s out there is enough to say it’s time for an upgrade.
The player is the Samsung UBD-K85009, the first to be offered in the United States. It’s debatable whether it’s actually the first 4K player, however. Panasonic sold a unit in Japan last year which was far more expensive but wasn’t available anywhere else. The Samsung unit has been selling throughout the world since late March or early April.
The UBD-K8500 comes with a remote, batteries for the remote and an instruction booklet. I have to say I liked the way it was packed in the box. I kept the box just in case I move. The set up is fairly easy. It has Samsung’s Smart Hub so it must connected to an wi-fi network in order to use those functions.
The unit does not have analog connections so you have to supply your own HDMI and toslink cord. As well as the new 4K discs, the unit plays Blue-ray, 3-d Blu-ray, DVD, CD and CD-R. It decodes stereo, Dolby DTS, TrueHD, Master DTS sound formats. It will also play Dolby ATMOS encoded discs if you have a receiver that can be switched to bitstream and has that program.
The best feature of the unit is HDR, or High Dynamic Range. All those new pixels on your 4K TV screen (3840 x 2860) are great, but it’s what can be done with them that is more interesting. HDR allows those pixels to expand the color range. Reds pop, blues sooth and the detail and varying range of color is astonishing. New life is breathed into the depth and spectrum of how color can be displayed.
Let me make this point. All 4K TVs, especially those in the early stages of 4K (also known as Ultra High Definition) were made with HDR. These units can upscale things to near 4K quality but can’t display the complete color range without HDR. Sometimes they are referred to as “super high def.” Check for HDR on the brand you have.
My Samsung UHD40-6700 TV doesn’t have HDR, but it was built with some of the hardware so the UBD-K8500 will upscale it to just short of true 4K. The TV also upscales as well. I didn’t think I would be able to tell the difference between Blu-ray and 4K, but, boy, was I was I wrong. I watched the Ultra High Def version of “Star Trek: Into The Darkness” and was blown away. The opening scenes with Captain Kirk and Bones running through a red forest with stark white aliens dressed in yellow running after them was simply amazing. The difference between the 4K and Blu-ray (included with the 4K disc) was jaw-dropping. There is a later scene where Bones and a scientist are on a planet trying to disarm a torpedo that will simply make you shake your head. It’s that lifelike.
The rest of the movie benefited from deeper blacks and crisper images. I wanted to see how the player did on something that wasn’t action oriented so I watched Will Smith’s “Concussion.” The picture was crisp and life-like, which I think enhanced Smith’s Oscar-worthy performance. Great movie.
“Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice” also benefited. The 4K ultimate version wasn’t nearly as dark and grainy as it appeared in theaters. Wonder Woman’s costume looked brighter and Superman’s under roo was more vivid. (The added extra 30 minutes answered nearly every question there was about this film which was also good).
There is not a plethora of material to watch or buy, but what is out there is growing by the month. Don’t look for Marvel or other Disney titles because parent company Disney isn’t releasing anything on 4K yet. That’s a dumb move considering just about every movie is shot in 4K and HDR. Paramount, Warner Bros. and Sony has, as well as other studios.
The Samsung player is a good investment if you are spending a lot on your TV. Yes, you can stream 4K from Netflix, YouTube and a few other places (which this unit also does), but that is a compressed signal. A 4K disc doesn’t have internet constraints so you’re getting the Full Monty. The Samsung UBD-K8500 was originally priced at $499.99, but hit stores at $399.99. You can now find it as little as $319.99.
Samsung isn’t along anymore. Panasonic is releasing a $700 player that will also play high-res music files. Philips will also have a 4K player in the $400 range. Microsoft’s X-Box update will play 4K and so will Sony’s Playstation 4.5. Curiously, that will be the first Sony anything that will play 4K-Blu-ray.
You can wait to see how the 4K things shake out. There are competing versions of HDR (I think the Samsung plays both) but I don’t see a loser. One version may become more popular but the end results are the same. Why wait. If you have splurged on a big-panel 4K TV you need to push it’s limits. I don’t see 4K discs going the way of 3-D. You don’t need special glasses, just a pair of eyes that can’t wait to be thrilled. I think the UBD-K8500 is the perfect place to start.