It’s Still Too Early to Buy a 4K Blu-ray Player

Panasonic UHD Blu-ray player.

Many consumers who have made the jump to 4K/UHD TV, say, with an Apple TV 4K and a 4K/UHD TV, or plan to do so, may be considering a companion 4K Blu-ray player. I think it’s still too early to consider that, at least, based on what I’ve seen in my chosen Sony environment.

Demo of Dolby Vision
Dolby Vision on left. Plain 4K (SDR) on right.

Dolby Vision (DV), an advanced form of High Dynamic Range (HDR) seems to have trouble making it into the 4K/UHD Blu-ray player environment. I’ve been watching this situation for awhile because I made the initial 4K leap in November, 2017. The plan was to complete the project in the summer of 2018 with a 4K/UHD Blu-ray player. I wanted to wait until I had some choices that shipped with Dolby Vision.

It’s not happening.

First, it took some time for Sony’s UBP-X700 player to transition from “supporting DV with an update,” to shipping with DV ready to go. I’m looking at that model because it’s compatible with my Sony A1E 4K/UHD TV. But it remains a tricky prospect. Here’s the story from John Archer at Forbes.

No other 4K Blu-ray player so far – including the Oppos – has equipped the specific firmware profile required to handshake properly with Sony’s Dolby Vision-capable TVs over HDMI. In fact, prior to the new X700 update, the only external device that could deliver Dolby Vision over HDMI to upgraded Sony TVs was the Apple TV 4K. {Emphasis mine.]

Author Archer provides a long litany of clumsiness and limitations using this player. After this depressing discussion, he finishes with a ray of hope.

It should be stressed that none of the X700’s new Dolby Vision-related issues are completely insurmountable or unavoidable. Also, the quality of the Dolby Vision playback when correctly applied to a Dolby Vision source is every bit as lovely as you’d hope.

Enter Disney

The next hiccup is with Disney support of HDR on blockbuster movies released on 4K/UHD Blu-ray. Once agin, author Archer has laid out the results of his excellent sleuthing.

A couple of weeks ago I reported that Disney was set to frustrate AV fans by not providing support on the 4K Blu-ray release of Avengers: Infinity War for either the premium Dolby Vision high dynamic range format or the IMAX aspect ratio. Even though both of these features have appeared across some of the studio’s previous 4K and HD Blu-ray releases.

Now Disney is doubling down on its strange backwards Infinity War step by also failing to release Solo: A Star Wars Story in Dolby Vision on 4K Blu-ray. Even though Disney’s previous Star Wars 4K Blu-ray release, The Last Jedi, DID carry a Dolby Vision transfer.

A bit mystified, Archer asked Disney directly why it has not released Solo on 4K/UHD Blu-ray with DV support. What he got was the standard PR-speak.

A Dolby Vision Mystery

I learned just enough from my own Dolby Vision experience to suspect that there are some subtle technical issues going on that are driving these incompatibilities.

[My Crazy Apple TV 4K & Dolby Vision Adventure ]

I also suspect that these technical issues are leading to consumer frustration. Perhaps Disney has chosen to pull back until the industry gets it DV act together. In the meantime, I’m watching, learning and waiting before I spring for a DV-enabled 4K/UHD Blu-ray player.

2 thoughts on “It’s Still Too Early to Buy a 4K Blu-ray Player

  • Sadly, it’s actually too *late* to buy a 4K UHD player. Oppo Digital, the company widely regarded by industry experts and videophiles as making the best physical media players spanning DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K UHD has exited the market. Their BD players were so good that review sites documented boutique brands “re-skinning” Oppo players and selling them as their own models for 2x – 5x the price. Prices for the “entry-level” Oppo UDP-203 have already started skyrocketing on eBay.

    Granted, these were not cheap, at $600, but they were true universal disc players, including uncommon formats such as SACD. I was fortunate enough to get one about 6 months ago, after having great experience with multiple models of their DVD and BD players. I will vouch that it is an excellent piece of gear, at least with my Epson (sort-of) 4K projector. Note that few if any projectors support Dolby Vision, so I can’t personally speak to DV performance/compatibility, but they were one of the very first players to offer DV playback – via a firmware update shortly after the spec was finalized.

    I would recommend to anyone who can afford maybe up to $1,000 to buy one if they can.

  • Try the Philips BDP7502 []. I have been using one since it was released without any buyer’s remorse at all.

    It plays DV and HDR encoded 4K movies quite well. It also has a very good upscaler to send out your 1080p blu-ray movies as 4K to your 4K tv or as 1080p to your 1080p tv. I am using it with a TCL 4K tv and the video looks really, really good. It also supports DTS:X and Dolby Atmos audio encoding, so you can get all of the ‘sound effects’ your a/v receiver can handle. As far as getting DV or HDR encoded movies, well, … there are other studios releasing movies besides Disney.

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