The LG UDP970 Ultra HD Blu-ray player.

Televisions supporting 4K Ultra HD resolution with high dynamic range (HDR) and a wide color gamut are gaining critical momentum and manufacturers of Blu-ray Disc players are stepping up to sustain that activity by introducing players supporting the Ultra HD Blu-ray format.

Although many view disc-based formats a thing of the past, the intense bandwidth demands of new data-heavy advanced video and sound formats can hamper the playback of 4K UHD titles on streaming services, making disc players one of the best choices for enjoying uninterrupted and unvarying resolution levels at high bit rates and with the latest surround sound and HDR metadata information layers.

The first such players rolled out just one year ago, and in the months since resulted in the shipment of some 300,000 Ultra HD Blu-ray models, which the Blu-ray Disc Association has estimated to be three times the rate of standard Blu-ray players at comparable points in their respective market roll outs.

At the end of 2016, 110 titles were available and nearly 20 million software units had sold. The BDA forecasts some 250 Ultra HD Blu-ray titles will be released in 2017 from leading studios including Sony Pictures, Warner Bros, Twentieth Century Fox, Lionsgate and Universal.

Meanwhile, the first Ultra HD Blu-ray titles supporting both the mandatory HDR10 and the voluntary Dolby Vision HDR formats are slated to begin rolling out this year from studios including:  Universal, Warner Bros. and Lions Gate. Dolby said it is working with others as well. Additional companies have added Dolby Vision HDR support in televisions this year including: Sony, LeEco, Philips, TCL and Hisense, joining Vizio and LG, which started support for the format more than a year earlier.

Manufacturers with Ultra HD Blu-ray players on the market in the U.S. to date include: Oppo, Samsung, Philips, Panasonic and Microsoft’s Xbox One S gaming console with an Ultra HD Blu-ray drive.

In recent days, Sony joined the mix with its first player, model UBP-X800. Additional first- or second-generation models are on the way in coming weeks from: LG, Philips, Oppo, Samsung, and Sony.

Read more on the 2017 Ultra HD Blu-ray players coming to market after the jump:

LG will ship its first Ultra HD Blu-ray player, model UP970, in mid April at a $299 retail price. The player offers all of the basic features of the format plus the promised ability to play Dolby Vision HDR via a firmware update. This added download is slated to arrive later in the year and will enable the player to support LG’s 2016 and 2017 OLED TVs and 2017 Super UHD TVs with content supporting Dolby Vision metadata. LG’s player will also handle mandatory HDR10 HDR metadata as well as standard HD Blu-ray discs and DVDs.

LG executives tell HD Guru that the UP970 plans are to offer the player in regular promotional deals bundled with LG Super UHD or OLED TV models at various points in the year.

  • Supported audio formats include: LPCM, Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Digital, DTS, DTS 2.0 + Digital Out, DTS-HD Master Audio, FLAC, AAC, WMA, MPEG 1/2 L2, MP3.
  • HDR Format Support: HDR10, Dolby Vision (via future firmware update).
  • Playable disc types: BD-ROM; BD-R; BD-RE; DVD-ROM; DVD-R; DVD+R; DVD+RW; DVD-RW; Audio CD; CD-R; CD-RW; DTS-CD.
  • On-board streaming apps: Netflix; YouTube
  • Features: 3D playback; SIMPLINK; LG Remote App; USB Playback; External HDD Playback; Noise Reduction; NTSC<>PAL Conversion.
  • Connections: Ethernet; Wi-Fi; HDMI Out (2) 1 HDMI 2.0a/HDCP 2.2; 1 HDMI 1.4; Optical Audio Output.

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Philips, the brand licensed in North American by Funai Electronics under the P&F USA company, said it will offer a second-generation Ultra HD Blu-ray player, bringing Dolby Vision support via a future firmware update in addition to the mandated HDR10 format. Model BDP7502 will carry a $300 suggested retail price when it hits retail shelves this spring.

  • Supported audio formats: Dolby Audio and DTS-HD Master Audio.
  • Connections: Ethernet; Wi-Fi 802.11ac; HDMI Out (2) – 1 HDMI 2.0a/HDCP 2.2, 1 HDMI 1.4; USB.
  • Streaming: The BDP7502 will include HEVC and VP9 decoders for playing Netflix and YouTube 4K Ultra HD streaming content.

Oppo is tentatively expecting to release its second-generation Ultra HD Blu-ray player, model UDP-205, in April. The UDP-205 (pictured above) will offer many of the same features as the $549 (HD Guru’s top performing player of the year) introduced late in 2016, including support of multichannel SACD and DVD-Audio discs and support of Dolby Vision HDR (coming through a firmware update). The player will be optimized for audiophile-grade playback, although pricing, specific features and details have not been disclosed yet.

Samsung revealed that its second-generation HDR-supported Ultra HD Blu-ray player, model UBD-M9500, will hit retail shelves in April at a $399.99 suggested retail price. That is the same price that the company’s first Ultra HD Blu-ray, model UDB-K8500, launched at about the same time last year.

The 2017 version adds a few features mostly centered around Bluetooth streaming including: the ability to stream Blu-ray discs to a mobile device, the ability to steam content through a mobile device to the UHD Blu-ray player and into a connected AV receiver without Bluetooth connectivity and a Private Cinema Mode that enables audio to be streamed to Bluetooth headphones.

The M9500 player also automatically sets the TV screen and audio to the optimal level by analyzing the content source being played at the time, such as HDR, Atmos or DTS-X. Consumers can enjoy the content they want without changing the TV or audio settings, Samsung said.

A 360-degree feature enables viewing 360-degree photos and videos users have captured or streamed from a mobile device through the UHD Blu-ray player connected to a 4K Ultra HDTV.

The player also will now automatically flag HDR content to ensure a 4K Ultra HDTV’s EDID system automatically recognizes the signal and switches into HDR mode.

Sony’s first 4K Blu-ray player, model . Later in the year, Sony will offer a step-up Ultra HD Blu-ray player model targeting the AV specialty dealer and custom electronics/installer retail channels in the UBP-X1000 (pricing to be announced later).

Both models offer a number of advanced added value features including: multichannel SACD and DVD-Audio disc playback, 3D Blu-ray and BD-ROM disc support, and dual HDMI outputs. The two HDMI outputs can be used to send video content to two displays, or one HDMI output can channel just the audio signal to an audio video receiver with older HDMI connections that won’t support passing through 4K Ultra HD and/or HDR metadata to a television display.

Both models will also include built-in Wi-Fi support for wireless streaming of 4K video services, and ability to play high-res audio from USB sources up to 192kHz/24 bits and, through a pending firmware update, DSD 11.2MHz (DSD 256).

Both players will down-rez 4K Ultra HD content for playback on lower-resolution television sets, and they will be able to map HDR content to standard dynamic range (SDR) for playback on non-HDR 4K Ultra HDTVs. Although this will not provide the full benefits of HDR, Sony said the converted SDR output will offer wider dynamic range and color gamut. The player will also allow some degree of adjustment to fine-tune the enhancement to user preferences.

The inclusion of Bluetooth support in the players will allow a wireless connection to Bluetooth-enabled headphones for private listening.

As a special promotional offer from sister company Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, purchasers of the UBP-X800 will be able to receive two free 4K Ultra HD discs for the purchase of the player. The offer runs through June 30, 2016.

The step-up UBP-X1000 Ultra HD Blu-ray player will add a web app to program operation via a PC or tablet, and integration with ihiji, which is a Cloud-based network-management service for remote maintenance used by AV specialist and installers. The advanced model will also include rack-mount brackets, RS-232 input and IP control for integration into whole home control networks including Control 4, Crestron, Universal, Savant and AMX.

 

By Greg Tarr

 

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