With prices of big-screen 4K Ultra HD TVs dropping well below $1,000, 4K video available on Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and YouTube and 4K Blu-ray discs hitting shelves, 4K is finally hitting the mainstream.
This year, studios are expected to ship more than 100 4K Ultra HD movies on Blu-ray. Releases will include new titles, like Wild, The Maze Runner and The Martian, and some old favorites movies, like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Men In Black and Lawrence of Arabia.
Why should you buy a 4K Blu-ray disc rather than stream the movie? You'll get the best picture. With 4 times as many pixels as a full HD picture, 4K movies require a lot more data to fill the screen, and more data requires more bandwidth. So if you're having trouble streaming an HD movie, a 4K movie will be even more problematic. And even if you do have a lot of bandwidth, streaming services compress the video they send, so there will be some loss of quality.
Of course, to play a 4K Blu-ray disc, you'll need a new 4K Blu-ray player. Panasonic, Samsung and Philips will all ship 4K Blu-ray players, and we’ve got the details on all of them.
Samsung's UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player delivers four times the picture quality than the company’s current Blu-ray players, as well as twice the color range and 64 times higher color expressions — which is more than the standard for digital cinema. The UBD-K8500 also has UHD upscaling, which improves the picture quality of even standard definition and HD video.
Samsung’s submission to the field of UHD Blu-ray players also has built-in apps for streaming 4K content from Amazon Instant Video, Netflix and YouTube, among other services, supports device mirroring for viewing pictures and videos on your smartphone and, of course, lets you play your old CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays. As for the sound, it supports up to 7.1-channel Dolby True HD and DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound. The UBD-K8500 is available for $399.99 on Amazon and begins shipping on February 14, 2016.
At last year’s CES, Panasonic was the first to announce a prototype 4K Blu-ray player, and this year, they debuted their DMP-UB900, one of the first 4K Blu-ray offerings for consumers. It has a powerful processor that the company says was developed to deliver more vivid and life-like colors and support HDR content—whether the source is 4K Ultra HD or not (by upscaling the video). It’s also able to play up to 7.1-channel Dolby True HD and DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound.
The player will have built-in apps for Netflix and Amazon Prime 4K UHD streaming, and includes a built-in web browser and some music services. Panasonic’s Miracast tech also lets you stream content from your mobile devices to the TV, similar to the Apple TV’s mirroring capabilities. Panasonic says the UB900 will be available later this year, but there’s no word on the price.
Philips BDP7501 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player
Philips is also getting into the 4K Blu-ray business with the BDP7501. Similar to the other players, it features 4K and HDR video and will upscale any non-4K video sources to 4K. The player also supports Blu-ray, DVD and CD playback and there are built-in apps for playing back 4K content from Amazon Instant Video, Netflix and YouTube. It’s also able to play up to 7.1-channel Dolby True HD and DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound.
What sets the Philips 4K Blu-ray apart is its design. Instead of being a long, thin rectangle, the Philips player has a cubic shape that's much more compact than the Panasonic and Samsung players. The BDP7501 costs $399 and will ship in May 2016.
[Image credits: Samsung, Panasonic, Philips]