Panasonic Quietly Rolls Out Flagship 4K Blu-ray Player
From the get ’em while you can department: Panasonic has remained relatively quiet on the home theater front in the United States recently, but it just so happens, it is still selling one of the best performing 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray players available today — the Panasonic DP-UB9000.
With Oppo’s withdrawal of Blu-ray/home theater products last year, a relative death of high-precision 4K Ultra HD players was created, with a handful of brands led by Sony left to address it. But Panasonic, despite its recent down scaled U.S. consumer electronics presence, remains actively involved in advancing the state-of-the-art in home theater and audio components and systems, as evidenced by the very high performing DP-UB9000, which has been well reviewed by those lucky enough to get their hands on one.
We reported on the DP-UB9000 here when it was first introduced at CES 2018 and U.S. marketing managers began toying with the idea of bringing it to the United States through very select distribution.
Meanwhile, the company introduced the flagship DP-UB9000 player in the U.K. market and select other regions last year to much acclaim, and executives here intimated that the player might be available in the United States before the end of 2018, with few other details.
This week, the company gave a product demo and overview of the DP-UB9000 to select members of the U.S. AV press to indicate it is, in fact, available here for home theater enthusiasts interested in having extremely high-level performance for both movie and music playback, at least as Panasonic sees it. Better late than never.
So, why is the United States behind the U.K. and select other regions of the world in getting this player? Well, it turns out the DP-UB9000 was actually released here through a special container load shipment to only one AV specialty retailer — Value Electronics of Scarsdale, N.Y. — last fall.
The scaled down U.S. A/V distribution for this elite technology brand is a long sad story.
In recent years, Panasonic, which like other Japanese consumer electronics giants of the past, has suffered from difficult economic and currency conditions, compounded by aggressive manufacturing and marketing competition from other mostly Asian competitors that have drastically reduced the profit margins on electronics products to hit aggressive retail prices and win market share.
The United States happens to be the epicenter of price-promotion in the global CE marketplace, which might be good for your Black Friday shopping, but a nightmare for selling high quality products in volume.
Panasonic (and others like Toshiba, Mitsubishi, Hitachi, etc, etc) have chosen to pull back distribution to areas where these profit margins are the lowest — like the United States — in favor of refocusing attention on new emerging technologies and markets — like electric car batteries, advanced Lumix cameras, personal care electronics and a slew of business-to-business product categories.
This has helped Panasonic’s profitability rebound, where some of its domestic neighbors have been forced to withdraw from the market entirely, license their brands to Asian upstarts or be acquired by Chinese and Taiwanese competitors.
The exception would be Sony, which drastically winnowed down its TV and home theater product assortments and distribution in the United States to focus on the mostly high end of the market where profit margins are less threatened and innovation can continue to develop.
To a degree Panasonic is doing the same thing here, although it has chosen to virtually pull all of its very high quality television lines out of the U.S. (Panasonic still sells a few LED LCD TVs on its direct-to-consumer internet store).
With the exception of Lumix digital cameras and a few elite-level Technics audio products (like turntables), where expensive prices generally aren’t a barrier to a smattering of very discerning customers, consumer entertainment electronics have virtually disappeared.
However, for the past two years, Panasonic has pulled one or two 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray players out of the global assortment to make available over here. One of it’s first players in the United States was the high-performing DP-UB900, which generated a passionate (though small) fan base.
Last year it brought in the DP-UB820, which was a more mid-range model, but also had more limited distribution than other brands. The company also hinted it was looking at dropping in the new flagship DP-UB9000 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player before the end of the year.
It did this by allowing what amounts to a container load shipment of the players to Scarsdale, N.Y.-based AV specialty store/custom installer Value Electronics.
Robert Zohn, proprietor of the family-owned business, has generated a list of enthusiastic clients from around the country through events like the annual “TV Shootout,” special promotions and valuable knowledge sharing.
Zohn said Panasonic has given him an exclusive on the player in the United States for a period that runs from January through the end of April 2019. “No other retailer/dealer will have UB9000s until the end of June as the order cycle fulfillment starts 90 days after the order is placed and accepted,” he said.
Zohn pointed out that the players have a full Panasonic USA warranty that Value Electronics and Panasonic will honor. Zohn said Value Electronics only sells USA region-coded BD players with all of the U.S. licensing and approvals needed to sell in the U.S. market. These are not trans-shipped, gray market products.
“We’ve been taking reservations on this player since September 2018. Our first allocation was received and shipped out to our waiting clients mid-January and our next allocation is scheduled for early March. We forecast and give Panasonic quarterly POs with firm commitments for UB9000s to be shipped once a month.”
Anyone in the U.S. who wants to purchase either the Panasonic DP-UB820 or DP-UB9000 can get on a “priority wait list” to receive a player from the next shipments.
And if you hurry, “We still have some UB9000s available to ship from our early March allotment,” he points out. “Considering our Panasonic direct relationship we have been able to set our selling price at $999, which includes shipping nationwide.”
If you don’t live in the Scarsdale, N.Y. area, Zohn, said it’s best to email him directly at [email protected] and put “UB820 or UB9000” in the subject line.
Zohn calls the Panasonic DP-UB9000 “by far the top-performing BD player with streaming apps” and he would know. Zohn, through his relationship with Panasonic, served as an early beta tester for the product and provided information to help engineers tweak and improve performance with a wide range of display products.
So, what’s all the fuss about?
The Panasonic DP-UB9000 steps up the performance level of both image and sound (music) quality over even previous Panasonic players. Perhaps the new feature in the UB9000 that stands out the most is called “HDR Optimizer.”
This system provides a player-based solution for automatically tone mapping Ultra HD Blu-ray discs with HDR and HDR streaming sources to a peak luminance level a TV or projector can achieve.
The proprietary HDR Optimizer has four discrete tone-mapping peak luminance settings which are used in accordance with the peak brightness level of the connected TV. These settings include:
Zohn points out that although all TVs tone map HDR content to the TV’s peak luminance ability, “when you send a signal off of a 4,000 nit mastered 4K Blu-ray Disc, which is many times more than the peak luminance that any TV or projector currently can reach, much of the high luminance areas and color volume is clipped so the high luminance signal and color volume is not displayed.”
The UB9000 brings down levels of the 4,000 nit-graded content to a peak luminance level that the particular television can handle. From there, the image processing system in the TV or projector takes over “to perform the exact HDR tonal range with the more reasonable HDR re-tone mapped signal.”
“An example is if you own an OLED TV, which delivers between 700 nits-800 nits, you would select the UB9000’s 1000 nit OLED HDR Optimizer setting and if you have a 4K projector you would select the special 350 nit or 500 nit HDR Optimizer setting and then enjoy all of the tonal range and 100% of the color volume that is encoded on the disc or streaming content,” Zohn said.
In fact, 4K video projectors, like new JVC native 4K D-ILA models (with e-Shift 8K output processsing) introduced at CEDIA Expo last fall, are among some of the displays that benefit the most from this system. That’s because it includes Panasonic and JVC custom metadata, executives for both companies said. For that reason, Panasonic and JVC are working collaboratively on cross promoting their products for some of the highest levels of very big-screen picture quality for advanced home theaters.
Like other Panasonic 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray players, the DP-UB9000 includes the company’s second generation HCX video processor that is noteworthy for its strong chroma processing capability. The player will output 4:4:4 from discs with Ultra HD Blu-ray-mandatory 4:2:0 chroma subsampling for compatible displays.
For high dynamic range (HDR), the Panasonic DP-UB9000 is compatible with the mandatory (static) HDR10 format as well as the Dolby Vision (dynamic) and HDR10+ (dynamic) HDR profiles. It willl also support Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG). The Dolby Vision and HDR10+ dynamic profiles provide dynamic tone mapping on a scene-by-scene basis rather than at one set level across an entire production.
To eliminate noise, the player chassis is constructed of dual-layer metal plating for heft and vibration resistance. The overall player weight is approximately 16 pounds. As well, the player uses two separate power supply sections, and the audio and video circuits are separated, isolated and shielded.
The high level of construction and design keep the video and audio signal to noise ratio very very low, enabling among the cleanest and clearest levels of audio and video performance available.
In addition to playing back 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs at a high quality level, the unit is equipped with nearly all of the most popular 4K Ultra HD/HDR streaming media apps, including Netflix, Amazon, YouTube and others to present clean and clear digitally streamed video content.
A playback info screen is offered, allowing users to read HDR10 metadata, revealing Maximum Frame-Average Light (MaxFALL) and Maximum Light Level (MaxCLL) data from various titles. Unfortunately, the player does not provide bit rate readout for streamed content (Blu-ray Discs only).
The Panasonic DP-UB9000 is also compatible with a wide range of digital music formats including the most popular Hi-Res Audio formats, like FLAC and DSD. However, it is not a so-called “universal disc” player like the Oppo 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray models were. This means that Panasonic does not include support for the now effectively dead DVD-Audio or SACD multi-channel audio disc formats.
This won’t be an issue for most, but anyone with a library of such discs are going to be understandably disappointed. Company executives said adding that compatibility to the chipset in the player would have added significantly to the price. For those who need DVD-Audio and SACD playback, Sony’s new UBPX800MK2 and the Pioneer Elite UDP-LX500 will have it.
But anyone who appreciates great sound will probably like the Panasonic player. For starters, it was engineered for high-level music reproduction, and includes a 768KHz/32bit AK4493 DAC with 7.1-channel analog outputs (as well as dual HDMI digital outputs).
Connections in the Panasonic DP-UB9000 player include, two HDMI outputs (one for audio and video and one audio only); 2 USB inputs including a 3.0 5V-100mA connection for a HDD or thumb drive; Ethernet port; balanced stereo XLR outputs; 7.1 multi-channel analog audio outputs; and digital audio outputs (optical/coaxial).
According to Zohn of Value Electronics: “One hundred percent of our clients [who have purchased the DP-UB9000] are loving this new player and are now for the first time able to watch HDR content and see the entire picture with all of its detail in the highest peak luminance all the way down to the minimum luminance levels and with all of the full color volume.”
By Greg Tarr
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