PANA­SONIC DMP-UB400 UHD Blu-ray player

Pana­sonic’s award-win­ning UHD Blu-ray player... and why it’s just what the UHD Blu-ray for­mat needs.

Sound+Image - - Contents - Stephen Daw­son

Award-win­ning UHD Blu-ray per­for­mance at a thrilling price from the masters of imag­ing.

In our 2018 Awards we recog­nised two Ul­tra High Def­i­ni­tion Blu-ray play­ers able to de­liver the ‘4K’ res­o­lu­tion of the lat­est TVs from the new gen­er­a­tion of op­ti­cal disc. The win­ner over $500 was Oppo’s UDP-203 at $999, and we men­tioned also the com­pany’s $2199 “au­dio­phile” UDP-205. Clearly this de­sir­able pair will de­liver sen­sa­tional re­sults. But our win­ner be­low $500 — the Pana­sonic re­viewed here — is per­haps the more ex­cit­ing prod­uct. Af­ter all, if every UHD Blu-ray player cost $2000, the for­mat wouldn’t have a hope of sur­viv­ing to be­come even close to mass mar­ket. That was why in the first year of re­leases it was great to see the very first units be­ing a cost-ef­fec­tive of­fer­ing from Sam­sung, fol­lowed by a unit from Pana­sonic, then $1099, now $899. But Pana­sonic fol­lowed up with this player (cur­rently $449) and the cut-down DMP-UB300, which has, amaz­ingly, a mere $279 RRP. Hope­fully, then, the com­bi­na­tion of price and Pana­sonic pres­tige will en­cour­age enough new pur­chasers into UHD Blu-ray that we will con­tinue to en­joy re­leases in this most re­li­able and least com­pressed for­mat of UHD video de­liv­ery for many more years to come.

Equip­ment

Trim­ming those dol­lars from the sell­ing price seems to in­volve, mostly, shed­ding ir­rel­e­vances and fea­tures of mi­nor value — but re­tain­ing the more use­ful ones. There are no ana­logue au­dio out­puts on this player, for ex­am­ple. But even if you’re not en­tirely up to date in the home theatre re­ceiver depart­ment, don’t de­spair. The player has an op­ti­cal dig­i­tal au­dio out­put. And it has a sec­ond HDMI out­put which car­ries only au­dio (wo­ven into a noth­ing-much video sig­nal). Any home theatre re­ceiver up to 15 years old will be able to make use of one or the other of these.

Also got­ten rid of is the SD card slot, although two USB sock­ets have been re­tained. The one on the front (nicely hid­den un­der the front flap) is USB 2.0, while the socket at the back is USB 3.0. The other HDMI out­put sup­ports full Ul­tra-HD res­o­lu­tions to 2160p/60 and, of course, HDCP 2.2 copy pro­tec­tion.

This player has WiFi (802.11n, dual band) and Eth­er­net (100Mbps), and a bunch of net­work ca­pa­bil­i­ties. The Eth­er­net is also cut down com­pared to the DMP-UB900, which has gi­ga­bit Eth­er­net (i.e. 1000Mbps).

Fur­ther slim­ming in­volves the phys­i­cal form of the player. It’s 360mm wide rather than the 430-ish mm wide of a reg­u­lar com­po­nent. It has the sprung flap over the disc tray, which is pushed open when the tray opens. But there’s no dis­play in there. All in­for­ma­tion is via the TV screen. There’s a reg­u­lar re­mote of the kind used by Pana­sonic for its disc play­ers for years.

The man­ual has been slimmed down as well, to a dozen pages in­clud­ing the cov­ers. I was briefly dis­ap­pointed, but there was a pointer to a more ful­some 45-page man­ual avail­able for down­load.

Per­for­mance

There are good trans­port con­trols with this unit. With reg­u­lar Blu-ray discs it’ll do five fast-for­wards and five fast-re­verse speeds, plus five slow mo­tion for­wards and frame-by-frame for­ward step­ping,

but no re­verse frame by frame or slow mo­tion. The same func­tions were avail­able with Ul­tra-HD Blu-ray, along with the same lim­i­ta­tions. With DVDs, added to these were re­verse slow mo­tion and re­verse frame by frame step­ping.

In gen­eral, disk load­ing was fast. The unit played my dif­fi­cult discs — mostly ones with worn sur­faces — with­out prob­lems. With dual layer DVDs there’s a very slight pause on layer switch­ing, rather than full buffer­ing to avoid any in­ter­rup­tion at all. But it wasn’t the chunky sec­ond or so of old, just the slight­est hes­i­ta­tion. (Layer switches in Blu-ray are de­signed to be gap­less.)

Scal­ing seems to be Pana­sonic’s forte. You can choose from among all kinds of set­tings for the out­put res­o­lu­tion, but that in­volves dig­ging down into the set-up menu. So it’s gen­er­ally best to leave the out­put on full Ul­tra HD, since the player han­dles it so well any way.

You can ad­just what it does to the pic­ture from a menu avail­able dur­ing play­back by hit­ting the ‘Op­tion’ key on the re­mote. This pops up a panel with a large num­ber of set­tings for gen­eral player be­hav­iour, sound and pic­ture. Within the pic­ture op­tions are things like edge en­hance­ment and sharp­ness and pro­gres­sive-scan con­ver­sion. The stan­dard up­scal­ing of DVDs pro­duced a pic­ture of much higher qual­ity than it had any right to be, with fine sharp­ness and ex­cel­lent de­tails, and no no­tice­able pro­cess­ing ar­ti­facts. You can fid­dle with the set­tings us­ing that ‘Op­tion’ panel. The pro­gres­sive scan con­ver­sion has ‘Auto’, ‘Film’ and ‘Video’ set­tings. The first was very im­pres­sive, get­ting things pretty much per­fectly right all the time. The ‘Film’ set­ting doesn’t quite force film mode (un­like Pana­sonic play­ers of old — a Pana­sonic DVD player which I bought more than a decade ago could do that), but did em­ploy a very strong film bias.

The per­for­mance with 1080i/50 discs was even more im­pres­sive. In auto mode the pro­gres­sive-scan con­ver­sion was ab­so­lutely per­fect on my most dif­fi­cult test clips. If any­thing — far from be­ing cut down from the pro­cess­ing in the DMP-UB900 — it seemed to per­form slightly bet­ter. Per­haps there has been some re­fine­ment in the firmware since last year. What was very im­pres­sive then has be­come well nigh per­fect now.

There is an in­trigu­ing ‘HDR Ef­fect’ but­ton on the re­mote. Press­ing it gave four op­tions, that es­sen­tially ad­justed the bright­ness gamma curve (that’s the bright­ness map­ping be­tween in­put sig­nal and out­put sig­nal). The bot­tom one was ‘Stan­dard’ while the next three were de­signed for ‘Nat­u­ral’ , ‘Light’ and ‘Bright’ en­vi­ron­ments. As it hap­pened, I was test­ing this out on Ul­tra-HD Blu-ray of the 1984

Ghost­busters (it’s only avail­able for these discs). As I’ve pre­vi­ously noted, this is al­ready pre­sented as a some­what pointil­list im­age. Us­ing the other HDR op­tions in­creased the over­all bright­ness, em­pha­sis­ing the specks of bright­ness. I’d not be in­clined to use it.

As for per­for­mance with Ul­tra-HD Blu-ray discs, well what can you say? It de­liv­ered them with the full glory they de­serve. I’m not sure that an Ul­tra-HD Blu-ray player can im­part a spe­cific char­ac­ter to the play­back from a disc, so I’ll limit my­self to say­ing that the de­liv­ery was flaw­less, on both the au­dio and video fronts. If you want bet­ter than what this player de­liv­ers with to­day’s Ul­tra-HD discs, you’ll

have to lobby for bet­ter movie mak­ing.

There are two net­worky as­pects to this player. One is its in­ter­face to ‘Net­work Ser­vices’. This is the old creaky in­ter­face that Pana­sonic in­tro­duced with its TVs many years ago and has aban­doned for at least three years for Fire­fox OS. It works a bit more smoothly than it did in those olden days, thanks to the use of faster pro­ces­sors. It has apps for var­i­ous use­ful things, such as Net­flix, Quick­flix, Big­pond Movies, ABC iView and SBS On De­mand. There’s a ‘Mar­ket’ where you can grab more apps — I think they’re all free — in­clud­ing games, a ‘Fire­place’ that will dis­play on your TV, Twit­ter and some other bits and pieces. No­tice­ably miss­ing was YouTube. If you don’t have YouTube any more, I’d sug­gest your plat­form is dy­ing. Prob­a­bly time Pana­sonic switched these play­ers over to Fire­fox OS as well.

The other net­work thing is its lo­cal me­dia sup­port. All this works in the smooth and modern way. I could mir­ror (or ex­tend) my Win­dows note­book dis­play to the DMP-UB400 for dis­play on TV. I could mir­ror my Sam­sung An­droid phone to the DMP-UB400 for dis­play. In both cases, you have to en­able it, and the con­nec­tion stays open for a minute for you to make the con­nec­tion. For some rea­son that kind of ex­plicit en­abling isn’t re­quired on Pana­sonic smart TVs.

You can also run DLNA me­dia us­ing the player’s own in­ter­face, how­ever I pre­ferred to do it us­ing an An­droid app. No per­mis­sion grant­ing was re­quired for this. Photo out­put from the player to the TV was at full Ul­tra-HD res­o­lu­tion, with no scal­ing or loss of colour res­o­lu­tion from my UHD test pat­tern. With dig­i­tal pho­tos (most of which, these days, are of higher than UHD res­o­lu­tion) there ap­peared to be good qual­ity scal­ing di­rectly down to UHD res­o­lu­tion.

A 100Mbps Ul­tra-HD video clip was just a touch too much, band­width-wise, for the Eth­er­net con­nec­tion, catch­ing its breath to re­fill the layer’s buf­fer every few sec­onds. All the 50Mbps ones ran smoothly, in­clud­ing those in H.264 and H.265 video for­mat. Those with HDR en­cod­ing were prop­erly recog­nised and de­liv­ered with their high dy­namic range prop­erly re­spected. A cou­ple I have with Dolby Vi­sion sim­ply would not play. I imag­ine that if/when Ul­tra-HD Discs with Dolby Vi­sion en­cod­ing ap­pear, they will have some kind of fall-back to HDR10 en­cod­ing.

Net­work au­dio was well han­dled, with fine han­dling of FLAC con­tent up to 192kHz, 24 bits of res­o­lu­tion along with reg­u­lar Di­rect Stream Dig­i­tal, plus dou­ble speed DSD128. All DSD was con­verted to 88.2kHz PCM for de­liv­ery over the HDMI out­put.

Con­clu­sion

Our con­cu­sion is, of course, pre­judged by hav­ing given this player a Sound+Im­age Award last is­sue. The Pana­sonic DMP-UB400 is a fine lit­tle Ul­tra-HD Blu-ray player that pro­vides all the es­sen­tials at an em­i­nently rea­son­able price.

Pana­sonic DMP-UB400 Ul­tra HD Blu-ray player

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