Review: Samsung’s UBD-K8500 Sets Bar High For Ultra HD Blu-ray
Samsung’s UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player (above) has a curved design but no readout.
Since the introduction of the first DVD player, Samsung has sought to be first-to-market with all of the latest optical disc technologies to come along.
The company’s track record includes the introduction of the first DVD player, the first Blu-ray player and this year, the first Ultra HD Blu-ray player, all of which started out at relatively hefty price tags, in exchange for providing a convincing showcase of material for contemporary state-of-the-art television displays.
Samsung’s Ultra HD Blu-ray player, model UBD-K8500 ($397.99), is no exception. Those who have one of today’s high-performing 4K Ultra HDTVs with the ability to receive and display high dynamic range (HDR) metadata and a wide color gamut (WCG), will find this player presents the best quality pictures those TVs can deliver.
The up-to-100 Mbps bit rate the format supports blows away the look and sound of anything currently seen in 4K Ultra HD streaming media files. The latter lags behind at an average 12-15 Mbps. Discs also don’t suffer the problems with Internet congestion that cause buffering issues and force streaming media providers to periodically step-down resolution levels to avoid program stalls.
The Ultra HD Blu-ray format was designed to output up to 3840×2160/60p 4K Ultra HD resolution images, 10-bit color depth along with HDR metadata (only the HDR-10 format is mandatory and supported in this player), a color gamut encompassing the huge Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers’ (SMPTE) BT.2020 color space, 4:2:0 chroma subsampling, and a host of surround sound formats.
Of course, today’s Ultra HDTVs won’t be able to utilize all of the capabilities Ultra HD Blu-ray players were designed to deliver. The new disc format was developed to handle both current and forthcoming display capabilities so that the player you buy today should continue to play discs that output standards required in the future, like the aforementioned BT.2020 color gamut that no currently available TVs can fully support.
In effect, the Ultra HD Blu-ray format provides a bucket carrying a Holy Grail of picture quality specifications, which televisions can draw from to match the maximum level they were designed to display.
As a first-of-its kind player, it’s no surprise that the UBD-K8500 won’t support every voluntary specification that this new format is capable of handling, but it covers the most essential ones in dynamic quality.
Read more or our review of the Samsung UBD-K8500 after the jump:
Currently, the UBD-K8500 stands alone in the market. Both Panasonic and Philips showed at CES 2016 players they expect to bring out, but no definitive dates have been announced. Sony and LG didn’t show players at CES and don’t expect to sell one until 2017 at the earliest.
In addition, high-performance Blu-ray player manufacturer Oppo told HD Guru that it is working hard to have an Ultra HD Blu-ray player ready for introduction in the fall or winter this year. That player is slated to keep Oppo’s signature “universal player” characteristics including support for SACD, DVD-Audio and Hi-Res Audio files, some of which the UBD-K8500 does not support. It will output HDR, but at this time Oppo isn’t sure which, if any, voluntary HDR formats – like Dolby Vision – will be added, and no pricing has been determined, the company told us.
That leaves the Samsung UBD-K8500 with no competition to compare it with for the time being, and Samsung executives reported that initial player shipments have been selling out all over the country. Fear not, ample replenishment is due by the summer, the company assured us.
Although most of the new benefits of the Samsung UBD-K8500 are specifically 4K Ultra HD in nature, the unit will play most of those legacy optical discs you’ve collected over the years. Notable exceptions include: SACDs and DVD-Audio disc titles.
Supported file formats include: MPEG-2; MPEG-4; JPEG ; HD-JPEG; AVCHD 4.1; MKV; WMV; MPO; MP3; LPCM; AAC; WMA and FLAC.
After several seconds, the player recognized and played music CDs, DVD videos, standard Blu-ray Discs and 3D Blu-ray Discs.
The front-panel USB port will accept thumb drives and external hard drives to playback most common music files. It will also play back many of the most common SD, HD and 4K UHD video files.
As mentioned, the Samsung player will send HDR metadata to a supporting display over the HDMI 2.0a/HDCP 2.2 output, but Samsung has elected not to support the voluntary Dolby Vision HDR format. Only the mandatory baseline HDR-10 format is supported by the player and Samsung’s SUHD TVs. Vizio, LG, Philips and TCL have announced that select 4K UHD TV models will support both HDR-10 and Dolby Vision HDR formats, but so far, Dolby Vision content is only available from streaming services like Vudu, Netflix and others.
We haven’t tested a Dolby Vision display as yet so we can’t give you a definitive opinion on the superiority of one HDR format over the other, but we have tested HDR-10 from the Samsung UBD-K8500 on the 2016 Samsung UN65KS9500 SUHD LED LCD TV and can say with assurance, the picture quality benefits are clearly visible and impressively bright, detailed and colorful. Anyone with an HDR-10 capable TV should find value in adding this Ultra HD Blu-ray player.
Despite the price, the look of the Samsung UBD-K8500 is rather pedestrian. The design incorporates the Samsung signature curve to match the company’s curved-screen LED LCD TVs, which is kind of cool, but other than that the cabinet is made of plastic and picks up the slightest fingerprints. Front panel and top-mounted controls are basic and minimal and there is no front readout display, requiring the user to rely on a tiny red LED to determine if the power is on or off.
This was somewhat surprising to us since Samsung typically puts a lot emphasis on the look and feel of its A/V products, particularly its television sets. As a caveat, we reviewed a pre-production model which arrived covered in fingerprints, so this version might be a little rougher around the edges than a commercially available unit.
The unit is slim measuring only 15.98 x 1.76 x 9.06 inches.
The UBD-K8500 offers two HDMI outputs. This enables one to be connected to an older A/V receiver that isn’t equipped with the latest HDMI 2.0a inputs to pass-through HDR metadata to the TV, while the other connects directly to the display carrying the video signal unfettered to an Ultra HDTV. Nice touch.
In addition, the player offers an SPDIF optical digital output, USB input and an Ethernet port. The player does not include any 5.1 or 7.1-channel analog audio outputs for use with pre-HDMI legacy multi-channel A/V receivers.
The player’s remote is tiny and Spartan, but has all of the function buttons needed to play a disc. For example, dedicated fast-forward and rewind buttons to quickly advance or back up the program to specific points on the disc are omitted. Instead, those functions can be executed by pressing and holding the skip and back keys, which we found difficult to always remember.
Like most standard Blu-ray Disc players, the UBD-K8500 actually comes equipped to connect to the in-home Wi-Fi network and stream video from a limited menu of streaming apps. These include: Netflix, YouTube, Vudu, Amazon Video and Fandango (formerly M-Go).
The ability to steam content in 4K and HDR was spotty, when possible, depending on the app.
In any event, it’s unlikely anyone who buys one of these players for 4K Ultra HD use is going to do much streaming through it, as any 4K Ultra HDTV it is connected to is likely to have a much more extensive and robust streaming app platform on board.
The graphical user interface screen on the K8500 is rather basic, but it’s easy enough to find apps, set-up screen mirroring and quickly identify a loaded disc title using the remote.
Where the Samsung UBD-K8500 earns its stripes is in the playback of HDR material. Video in 4K Ultra HD resolution alone can be hard to distinguish from Full HD on screen sizes below 70 inches, but couple it with HDR and WCG and it’s a whole new experience.
For our review, we connected the UBD-K8500 to Samsung’s new UN65KS9500 top-performing edge-lit LED SUHD LCD TV, using for our tests new 4K Ultra HD Premium Blu-ray versions of Pan and The Maze Runner, both with HDR-10 support. We were immediately struck by how much the specular highlights in bright sunbeams entering the dank orphanage in the sleeping quarters sequence from Pan glowed off the screen. We could observe both fine details in darkly lit areas of the picture and a range of color tones inside the bright white elements where sunlight fell upon the orphans’ beds.
These highlights were both whiter and significantly brighter than the rest of the picture, much as light appears in the natural world. Overall, colors in the rest of picture also appeared more vibrant and real, except where they were intended to be muted.
In The Maze Runner, pinpoints of light from torches carried across a field in a dimly lit scene literally glowed out into the room from the natural-looking orange hue of the flames. You could almost sense the heat.
Again, we found HDR from Blu-ray much more enjoyable than watching it from streaming services like Amazon. Specular highlights appear significantly brighter with colors more robust and deep on the Ultra HD Blu-ray. Comparatively, we were annoyed at watching supposedly 4K streaming images continuously going in and out of full resolution as the service adjusted for heavy streaming traffic at peak usage periods. No issue there using a disc.
To get these results using the Samsung UBD-K8500 on the UN65KS9500 TV set all that was required was an HDR signal coming from the Ultra HD Blu-ray player. Once that was sensed, the TV automatically entered HDR mode. Back light and contrast settings automatically kicked up to their fullest levels to help the set achieve peak brightness that exceeded 1,000 nits on test windows of L20 or smaller.
However, to get the best results with minimal haloing and washout in bright settings, we had to perform a firmware update on the TV and ensure that the set’s “HDMI UHD Color” control was switched on for the source input.
Using standard Blu-ray, we were able to satisfactorily adjust for judder and motion blur in disc images using the television’s custom motion compensation settings, which we found to need some tweaking in order to compensate for both motion artifacts and the soap opera effect that results from overly sharpening an image in the TV’s default settings. Left unaltered, the latter artifact was very pronounced on the UN65KS9500, as it tends to be in many 4K Ultra HDTV displays today.
We found a calibration disc, like the Spears & Munsil HD Benchmark 2nd Edition Blu-ray, is a valuable tool in making these adjustments.
In the first Blu-ray Disc players, power-up and disc loading times tended be a big problem. Happily, this is not the case in the Samsung BDP-K8500. Loading times of our test standard Blu-ray Disc copy of Pan compared favorably with recent Blu-ray Disc players, taking just under 15 seconds from power up to ready.
Although many people both inside and outside the content production industry have expressed doubts about the longevity of a new disc-based format in an era when streaming media is enjoying runaway popularity, all that’s required for a valid response is a few sessions with a new HDR-ready 4K Ultra HDTV and Samsung’s UBD-K8500.
HDR images simply pop with detail, brightness and color enrichment. Anyone who really cares about seeing movies and television programs in the quality that the director intended isn’t going to bat an eye at getting an Ultra HD Blu-ray player.
Of course, if you don’t have an HDR-ready 4K Ultra HDTV, there isn’t a big reason to rush out and get this player yet. Pricing is certain to come down quickly in the next couple of years, and you aren’t going to get any benefit from the 4K Ultra HD resolution without a set that can accommodate it.
The Samsung UBD-K8500 is a commendable first offering in this category. For this price we would have liked a digital readout, a sturdier-looking cosmetic design, and support for multi-channel music format discs, but that leaves room for second-generation products. We would also like to see a player that includes support for the new voluntary digital copy mechanism (Digital Bridge) the Ultra HD Blu-ray specs include.
Today, we can’t say for sure how other players eventually are going to compare. The Oppo player, which is expected in the second half, sounds very compelling, but is likely to be a higher-end player.
In the meantime, most early adopters of 4K Ultra HDTVs want to see the best pictures that their sets can offer and this requires an Ultra HD Blu-ray player. Judging by the sold-out status already posted on many dealer sites, 4K UHD fans aren’t prepared to wait much longer.
While we don’t expect the demand for Ultra HD Blu-ray players to ever achieve the penetration levels that standard Blu-ray players and DVD players did, we expect to see a sustainable market for the technology to last as long as the studios choose to support it with content. That should continue for at least the next five years.
We award Samsung’s UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player 4.5 out of 5 hearts.
The Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player used for this review was a manufacturer loan.
By Greg Tarr
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