Choosing the Right Panasonic 4k Blu-ray Player

Intro

Currently, I use an Xbox One S as my 4K Blu-ray player. However, I have been considering upgrading to a dedicated player and wondering what other options are out there. In my research, I found that Panasonic Blu-ray players are often regarded as very high quality with a good set of features, so I decided to see what their current product offering is.

We will compare the four current Panasonic 4K Blu-ray players: the DP-UB154P-K, DP-UB420, DP-UB820, and DP-UB9000P1K. We will be looking at their features to see what they have to offer to help narrow down the choices.

I have found that for most home theater applications, the Panasonic DP-UB420 falls in the sweet spot for both price and performance assuming Dolby Vision is not needed. If Dolby Vision is needed, it looks like the DP-UB820 would be the better pick.

What to Look for in a 4K Blu-ray Player

When choosing a 4K Blu-ray player, there are a few things we want to keep in mind:

  • Image Processing: The image processing capabilities of a 4K Blu-ray player are important for determining the overall quality of the picture. A good player will have a powerful image processor that can handle HDR content and upscale lower-resolution content to 4K. It should also offer a variety of image controls so that you can adjust the picture to your liking.
  • HDR Support: HDR (high dynamic range) is a technology that produces more realistic and vibrant images. A good player will have the ability to play all HDR formats like HDR10, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision.
  • Audio Quality: A good 4K Blu-ray player should also have great audio quality. Look for a player that supports high-resolution audio formats like DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby TrueHD, DTS:X, and Dolby Atmos, and also has high bit rate capability.
  • Features: Some 4K Blu-ray players come with additional features, such as built-in Wi-Fi, streaming apps, and support for 3D Blu-rays. Decide which features are important to you and make sure the player has those before making a purchase.

The Panasonic Line

Panasonic’s 4K Blu-ray players feature a sleek and minimalist black rectangular design with only a power button, disc eject button, and a small LED display on the front panel. The only exception to this is DP-UB9000P1K where the design is elevated with a brush metal look with added basic media controls on the front panel.

These players are known for their strong image processing, with the midrange and high end models powered by Panasonic’s HCX (Hollywood Cinema Experience) engine, ensuring impressive visual quality. They provide HDR format support, with the high-end models also offering Dolby Vision support and controls to adjust picture and tone mapping settings.

Most models also have the added feature of Twin HDMI Pure AV*, allowing the video and the audio to be split to two separate devices.

The HCX (Hollywood Cinema Experience) Processor

You would be forgiven to think that Blu Ray or UHD Blu Ray is simply digital data that needs to be transferred to the TV or projector for display without any processing and it should look the same on all Blu Ray players. After all, this is no longer the age of DVD where DVD players were set apart by their de-interlacing and upscaling capabilities.

However, that isn’t the full story. Blu Ray and UHD Blu Ray store the brightness (luma) information at full resolution but store the color (chroma) information at only quarter resolution (in 4:2:0 chroma subsampling format). So ultimately, what sets apart Blu Ray and UHD Blu Ray players is how well they can recover the chroma information from the bitstream, and whether they can do this better than the TV or projector itself.

This is the primary reason for the existence of the HCX processor. Panasonic put many years of expertise gained from creating professional mastering equipment into it and delivered the knockout blow to all other manufacturers including Oppo, Samsung, Sony, LG, etc. The HCX processor is hands down the best at upscaling chroma information from Blu Ray and UHD Blu Ray across all manufacturers, and Panasonic including it in their low end players as well delivered the final nail in the coffin for Oppo, besting the picture quality of their players costing 5 – 10x as much. Since Oppo could not compete on picture quality any more, and had no access to similar chroma-upscaling technology, their sales went downhill and decided to exit the market.

Editor's Note by Roland Jutai, Owner and Editor of SHC: The HCX is the primary reason why I use Panasonic in my own home theatre and have done so since their first generation UHD players came out. While the build quality of their players (with the exception of the UB9000) were not nearly as nice as Oppo's, they bested Oppo on their picture quality. Panasonic's decision to include the HCX in their low-end players was a genius move. But sad to see Oppo go due to lack of competition. Magnetar has now come to fill Oppo's place, but I fear Magnetar had not done their homework with regards to why Oppo had to exit the market, and the upscaling of Magnetar's new players is not really on the same level - again. So while the Magnetars might be fantastic as disc transports, and in fact better than Panasonic due to their source direct feature, they don't seem to be in the same league picture-quality wise as Panasonic when asked to upscale (or upsample the chroma). But we will review one of the Magnetars shortly, so do subscribe.

The HDR Optimizer

Another technology Panasonic introduced with their current-generation UHD Blu Ray players was the HDR Optimizer. Since HDR can be mastered to different max brightness (nit) levels such as 1000, 2000, 4000 and 10,000nits – displays can have a hard time tone-mapping the different mastering levels to the display’s brightness envelope. This is especially true for projectors that don’t have dynamic tone mapping. The HDR Optimiser aims to automatically alter the tone-curve for the different mastering levels to achieve a more consistent playback experience for displays that don’t do this well.

Twin HDMI Pure AV

Twin HDMI Pure AV is a feature found on some Panasonic Blu-ray players that allows you to separate the audio and video signals from the Blu-ray player and send them to different devices. This is accomplished by having two HDMI ports, one that is a standard HDMI port and the other that only allows audio signals to pass through.

Back of UP-UB20

This helps to reduce interference between the audio and video signals, resulting in less noise and distortion. It can also be useful if you would like to send your video signal directly to the display instead of through your AVR (audio/video receiver) first. Some AVRs have image processors that could mess with the original signal.

Another reason you may want to do this is to allow the best possible format to get to your display if your AVR cannot handle the video formats coming from the player. For example, say that you are using a non-4K HDR AVR for your speakers but still want your 4K HDR video to make it to your 4K HDR-capable display. Well, you can then use the Twin Pure AV feature to do so, by sending the video HDMI cable to the display and sending the audio only out HDMI to the AVR.

Which Model Should you Choose?

Let’s take a closer look at each model to help you decide.

Entry Level

Budget Pick

Panasonic DP-UB154P-K

The Panasonic DP-UB154P-K is the most affordable 4K Blu-ray player from Panasonic. It is a good option for budget-minded buyers who want to watch 4K Blu-ray discs without many other features. It produces good image quality, but is not the best as it lacks the HCX processor and the HDR optimizer found in the more expensive models. It does not support Dolby Vision, lacks Wi-Fi connectivity, and voice control. It also does not have streaming capability.

With that in mind, it might be worth spending the extra few dollars on the DP-UB420 to get the better image processing features and streaming capability.

Features

Image

  • Supports HDR10, HDR10+, and HLG HDR formats
  • Does not support Dolby Vision
  • Up to 4k 60hz with 18Gbps HDMI
  • Up to (4:4:4) Chroma sampling and upscaling
  • HDCP 2.2
  • 3D compatible

Audio

  • Supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X playback
  • Support for WAV, FLAC, MP3, AAC, WMA, AIFF, ALAC, DSD audio formats
  • Bitstream pass through or up to 7.1 Ch PCM for BD-Video

Connections

  • 1 HDMI 18Gbps
  • Front USB 2.0 port
  • 1 Lan (ethernet) port
  • Lacks WIFI connection

Other Features

  • Slim design at 12.625″ (320mm) X 7.625″ (193mm) X 1.8125″ ( 46mm)
  • Lightweight coming in at 2.7lbs (1.2kg)

Midrange

Our Pick

Panasonic DP-UB420-K

The Panasonic UB420 is a mid-range 4K Blu-ray player that offers a good balance of features and performance. It supports all major HDR formats except Dolby Vision, has Wi-Fi connectivity, voice control, and built-in Wi-Fi for streaming content, and adds a second HDMI port for Twin Pure AV* use. It has fewer built-in streaming services than some other 4K players, but it does include the most popular ones: Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon Prime Video. It also features Panasonic’s HCX (Hollywood Cinema Experience) image processing engine, along with the HDR optimizer to help improve the image quality and give user calibration control.

This player offers the best bang for your buck as it is packed with features and can process great images and high fidelity audio.

Features

Image

  • Supports HDR10, HDR10+, and HLG HDR formats
  • Does not Support Dolby Vision
  • Up to 4k 60hz with 18Gbps HDM
  • Up to (4:4:4) Chroma sampling and upscaling
  • 1080p to 4K upscaler
  • HDCP 2.2
  • HDR Optimizer feature

Audio

  • Supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X playback
  • Support for WAV, FLAC, MP3, AAC, WMA, AIFF, ALAC, DSD audio formats
  • Bitstream pass through or up to 7.1 Ch PCM for BD-Video
  • 192-kHz/32-bit 4-DAC

Connections

  • 2 HDMI 2.0b ports with “Twin HDMI Pure AV“* technology
  • 1 Front USB 2.0 port
  • 1 Rear USB 2.0 port
  • 1 Lan (ethernet) port
  • Wi-Fi connectivity

Other Features

  • Voice control support (via Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa)
  • Streaming apps: Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video
  • Slim design at 12.6″ (320mm) X 7.8″ (198mm) X 1.8″ ( 46mm)
  • Weight 3.1lbs (1.2kg)

Upgrade Pick

Panasonic DP-UB820-K

The Panasonic DP-UB820 is a great choice for those who want the best possible picture quality and a wide range of features. The DP-UB820 is very similar to the DP-UB420 in performance and in features but adds support for the Dolby Vision HDR standard, which gives you even better picture quality if you also have Dolby Vision Display. It also has more audio connection options, adds a front-panel display, and is faster in use than the DP-UB420, but it costs significantly more.

This is our choice if you require Dolby Vision or analog audio output, as there is only a slight performance improvement over the DP-UB420.

Features

Image

  • Supports all HDR formats, HDR10, Dolby Vision, and HLG HDR formats
  • Up to 4k 60hz with 18Gbps HDMI
  • Up to (4:4:4) Chroma sampling and upscaling
  • 1080p to 4K upscaler
  • HDCP 2.2
  • HDR Optimizer feature
  • HCX (Hollywood Cinema Experience) video processing

Audio

  • Supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X playback
  • Support for WAV, FLAC, MP3, AAC, WMA, AIFF, ALAC, DSD audio formats
  • Bitstream pass through or up to 7.1 Ch PCM for BD-Video

Connections

  • 2 HDMI 2.1 ports with “Twin HDMI Pure AV”* technology
  • Front USB 3.0 port
  • Digital Optical cable output
  • RCA 7.1-channel analog audio output
  • 1 Lan (ethernet) port
  • Wi-Fi connectivity

Other Features

  • Voice control support (via Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa)
  • Streaming apps: Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video
  • Dimensions: 16.9″ (430mm) X 8″ (203mm) X 2.4″ ( 61mm)
  • Weight: 5.3lbs (1.2kg)

High End Model

Best Possible

Panasonic DP-UB9000P1K

The Panasonic DP-UB9000P1K is the flagship 4K Blu-ray player from Panasonic and THX certified for video. It has the best video processing of any of the models, and it also supports a wider range of audio formats. It offers two extra tone-mapping choices for projectors compared to the DP-UB820. Additionally, it boasts a more premium build and a remote control with backlighting. It adds on to the expanded connections of the UB-820 with added 2-channel, balanced XLR, and optical audio outputs.

However, it is also the most expensive option coming in at about double of the DP-UB820.

Features

Image

  • Supports HDR10, Dolby Vision, and HLG HDR formats
  • Up to 4k 60hz with 18Gbs HDMI
  • Up to (4:4:4) Chroma sampling and upscaling
  • 1080p to 4K upscaler
  • HDCP 2.2
  • HDR Optimizer feature
  • HCX (Hollywood Cinema Experience) video processing
  • ISFccc certified calibration

Audio

  • Supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X playback
  • Support for WAV, FLAC, MP3, AAC, WMA, AIFF, ALAC, DSD audio formats
  • Bitstream pass through or up to 7.1 Ch PCM for BD-Video

Connections

  • 2 HDMI 2.1 ports with “Twin HDMI Pure AV“* technology
  • Front USB 2.0 port , Rear USB 3.0 port
  • Digital Optical cable output
  • Digital audio coaxial output
  • RCA 7.1-channel analog audio output
  • 2 XLR Balanced audio output
  • 1 Lan (ethernet) port
  • Wi-Fi connectivity

Other Features

  • Voice control support (via Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa)
  • Streaming apps: Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video
  • Largest model at: 16.9″ (430mm) X 11.8″ (300mm) X 3.2″ ( 81mm)
  • Heavy weighing: 17.2lbs (7.8kg)

Quick Comparison Table

DP-UB154DP-UB420DP-UB820DP-UB90000P1K
Ultra HD Blu-ray Playback✓ 
Hi Res Audio Playback
7.1 Analog Output
Twin HDMI Pure AV*
4K Streaming Video on Demand
Voice Assistant (Alexa/Google)
(Wi-Fi) Built-in
Dolby Vision Playback
Control 4

Which Panasonic 4K Blu-ray Player is Right for You?

The right Panasonic 4K Blu-ray player for you depends on your budget and your needs. The players do increase in performance and in quality as prices increase. However, that does not mean that spending the extra money on the most expensive option is necessary. It is recommended that you get the best model you can afford that has all the features that you need.

If you are looking for a basic option that supports HDR, the DP-UB154P-K is a good choice. But consider spending a bit more to get better visuals, better audio, and built-in Wi-Fi with the DP-UB420. If you want the best possible picture with Dolby Vision support and best sound quality, the DP-UB820 or DP-UB9000P1K are the way to go.

Personally, I am inclined to lean towards the DP-UB420 as it provides the best price to performance ratio. Personally, I do not need Dolby Vision support as I am running a projector that lacks Dolby Vision support already. With the DP-UB420, I can still get great picture quality thanks to the HCX processor, without paying for things I will not use. The small number of streaming apps also does not bother me because I use my Nvidia Shield Pro for streaming.

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