Upgrading to 4K/UHD TV? What about 4K/UHD Blu-ray?

2 minute read
| Analysis

If you’re thinking about upgrading to a 4K/UHD TV this holiday season, you may be wondering about a new 4K/UHD Blu-ray player.

One of the things people frequently ask is whether they should look into a new Blu-ray player for their new 4K/UHD TV system. (Or jump from a DVD player to 4K/UHD Blu-ray.) With the holidays upon us, I thought I’d briefly cover this.

Panasonic UHD Blu-ray player.

Panasonic DMP-UB900 UHD Blu-ray player. Image credit: Panasonic.

Part of the analysis involves how your 4K/UHD TV scales content, part of it is the bitrate from the player, and part involves HDR considerations. Let’s look at each.

Scaling

Previously, I wrote about tips for planning and buying a new 4K/UHD TV system. On page one, I talked about scaling of your current HD content. Namely, a modern Blu-ray player, outputting 1080p/60Hz with a chroma of 4:2:0 will look pretty good on a 4K/UHD TV that scales the picture to 2160p. You may be hard pressed to tell the difference between that video and pure, mastered 4K content. (Here’s a site that lists those movies mastered in 4K.)

In addition, the video coming off the Blu-ray player is streaming at about 40 Mbps, far higher than you’re likely to get via internet streaming. Without that extra internet compression, that standard Blu-ray video is going to to look awfully good. I’ve done some minor testing, and regular DVDs at 480i, de-interlaced and upscaled, aren’t going to look that great. (Time marches on.) Note, however, this data stream will still be only 8-bit video.

So, to first order, there’s no rush to obtain a 4K/UHD Blu-ray player.

Bit-rate

On the plus side, digital video comes off the 4K/UHD Blu-ray disc at about 100 Mbps. This pleases videophile purists who hate the idea of extreme (but serviceable H.265) compression via the internet. If you have favorite movies that you watch frequently or just want to have the best possible experience with, the investment in 4K/UHD Blu-ray discs can be very satisfying.

I did that with my favorite DVDs. In a few special cases, I went out and bought the Blu-ray version. Not many, and it didn’t bust my budget. There were perhaps 6-10 movies I did that with. The same strategy could be used for 4K/UHD discs.

HDR

Likely, the best reason to upgrade to a 4K/UHD Blu-ray player is support for High Dynamic Range (HDR). Support for HDR10 implies support for 10-bit color—which any 4K/UHD TV bought in 2017 and later will have. Another thing to look for is support for Dolby Vision. Many of the future blockbuster movies will come out on 4K/UHD Blu-ray discs and support HDR10 or Dolby Vision. (There are already some now.)

Be careful that you buy a 4K/UHD Blu-ray player that supports the full 2160p/60Hz and HDR output of your choice. Look for HDCP 2.2 and HDMI 2.0a support. Some discounted “4K” Blu-ray players are simply “upscaling” players and won’t read the 4K/UHD discs. They’re cheap, at about US$100, and that’s one way to spot them.

Here are two articles that describe some very good 4K/UHD Blu-ray players.

Final Words

You may be thinking that plastic is so old school, a waste of space and money. However, the industry is moving forward with this format, and those who want the very best video for some really great movies are going to be customers. You may want to join them.

A 4K/UHD Blu-ray player will also play all the older formats (with some minor, edge case exceptions), and so if you want to mainly stream with your Apple TV but take advantage of the special capabilities for some of the very best movies in the future, with 4K mastering, high bit-rates and HDR thrown in, the 4K/UHD Blu-ray player approach is something to consider.

The video purist in you will guide you.

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