Panasonic has taken the wraps off a new trio of 4K Blu-ray players set to be launched in 2018. And out of the blue, one of these new models introduces support for the Dolby Vision HDR platform. That model is the flagship DP-UB820. And not content with ...and more »
John Archer , Contributor Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
Panasonic has taken the wraps off a new trio of 4K Blu-ray players set to be launched in 2018. And out of the blue, one of these new models introduces support for the Dolby Vision HDR platform.
That model is the flagship DP-UB820. And not content with finally bringing Dolby Vision support to a Panasonic product for the first time, it’s also the first 4K BD player to support the HDR world’s other dynamic metadata HDR system, HDR10+.
I’d expected HDR10+ support to be there given that Panasonic is one of the co-founders (along with 20th Century Fox and Samsung) of the relatively new HDR10+ Alliance.
Photo: John Archer
The UB820 and UB420.
But actually precisely because of that close affiliation with HDR10+, I really hadn’t expected to see Dolby Vision turning up on a Panasonic product this year.
But there it is. And any device that cares more about offering consumers a comprehensive, seamless playback experience that always delivers the best performance possible from every available source is just fine by me.
It’s a shame that none of Panasonic's 2018 OLED TVs or the other new models in Panasonic’s 4K Blu-ray range, the UB420 and UB330/UB320, also support Dolby Vision (though the UB420 does still get HDR10+ support). But my guess is that the flagship model might be the only one with enough processing power to support the Dolby Vision system. Or else Panasonic sees Dolby Vision as the sort of thing a truly premium 4K Blu-ray deck just ought to offer these days.
Its Dolby Vision and HDR10+ support aren’t the UB820’s only claims to fame. It also boasts a new Hollywood-tuned HCX processor that delivers even more precise chroma processing than we got with the UB900.
There’s also a new Optimum HDR Processing system that introduces three potentially useful (though also potentially confusing) HDR adjustment features.
The UB820, as photographed by a professional...
First up is the HDR Optimizer. Designed primarily to improve the way HDR looks on TVs that aren’t bright enough to deliver HDR’s brightest highlights properly, this system gradually ‘rolls off’ its tone mapping gently beneath the screen’s maximum brightness capabilities, rather than image content that might exist above the TV’s brightness capabilities simply getting ‘clipped’ out of the picture. The result - as shown by a very clear demonstration at Panasonic’s Hollywood unveiling event - is that you get to see subtle details and shading in the brightest picture areas that would otherwise be lost.
Next, the Optimum HDR processing delivers enhanced HDR to SDR conversion for people wanting to watch a 4K Blu-ray on a TV that doesn’t support HDR. Plus, finally, it provides enhanced adjustments for tweaking the way the image looks to suit different ambient light conditions. Anyone who’s tried to watch HDR in a bright room only to find it looking too dark will appreciate the potential usefulness of this feature.
As with Panasonic’s previous flagship player, the UB900, the UB820 carries built-in multi-channel audio decoding with a 7.1-channel analogue audio output; twin HDMI outputs (to separate the audio and video signals); and support for the DSD (11.2MHz/2.8MHz,/5.6MHz), ALAC, FLAC, WAV and AIFF high-resolution audio formats.
The Panasonic UB420.
Another nice new touch is the UB820’s compatibility with both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, so that you can issue it with basic verbal instructions rather than always having to reach for the remote.
The UB820 will also support full 4K camcorder video and JPEG playback and, finally, unlike rival decks from Oppo, the UB820 will carry a range of built-in apps - including the 4K versions of Netflix, YouTube and (in some European territories) Amazon Video.
All of the 4K Blu-ray players Panasonic has announced are due to launch in the Spring, and the main differences between the UB820 and the new step-down UB420 and UB330/UB320 models are as follows:
* The UB420 loses Dolby Vision Support, while the UB330/UB320 support neither Dolby Vision nor HDR10+.
* Neither the UB420 nor UB330/UB320 support built-in multi-channel decoding, and the UB330/UB320 lose the second HDMI output.
* The UB330/UB320 don’t carry the new HCX processor, and so don’t get the Optimum HDR/HDR optimizer features.
* The UB330/UB320 don’t get the ‘Digital Tube Sound’ upsampling feature or 192kHz/96kHz surround remaster features found on the other two decks.
* The UB330/UB320 don’t support voice control via Alexa or Google Assistant.
* The UB320 doesn’t carry built-in Wi-Fi (though the UB330 does).
* A UB424 model featuring a silver finish will be available in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and The Netherlands.
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