I still remember when the first Blu-ray players were launched, back in 2006. They were monsters: solidly built and clearly premium products. But they were also slow and with limited capabilities. Since then, Blu-ray players first matured, with some truly high-end units, but have since mostly become just another brown-good. So much so that Samsung, one of the big early players with UltraHD Blu-ray, departed the business entirely. Most other companies just try to make a few cents for each unit, given that even some UltraHD Blu-ray models now cost less than $300.
So, what’s a videophile to do if he or she wants quality? My recommendation for many years was whatever the latest Oppo player was. (Disclosure, Oppo players had a rare but important feature included at my request.) But Oppo shut up shop several years ago. So for the past couple of years, I have only one high-end UltraHD Blu-ray player recommendation: the Panasonic DB-UB9000. And it truly is a high-end player, with unique features (and I mean “unique” literally, and I mean “literally” literally) and the kind of build that engenders confidence that this product is going to be around for a long time.
Indeed, it already has been around for quite a while. What follows is a review, edited for context, that I wrote in 2019, originally published in Sound+Image magazine here in Australia.
- The Panasonic DP-UB9000 UltraHD Blu-ray player supports CDs, DVD, Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray discs
- Outputs: 2 x HDMI, 1 x optical digital audio, 1 x coaxial digital audio, 1 x 7.1 analogue audio, 2 x stereo analogue audio (1 x RCA, 1 x XLR)
- Others: 1 x USB 2.0 (front panel), 1 x USB 3.0, 1 x Ethernet, WiFi
- Supports several streaming services including Netflix
- Dimensions: 430mm wide by 81mm tall by 325mm deep
- Weight: 7.8 kilograms
- Firmware: 1.55
- Is there still a high-end Blu-ray player in the market? Yes there is. The Panasonic DP-UB9000 is a throwback in terms of great build and performance. Network features are a mixed bag, but if playing DVDs, Blu-ray discs or UltraHD Blu-ray discs is your main game, you won’t do better than this unit.
- Price: $1799
- Available at fine high fidelity retail outlets, and direct from distributor’s retail division (Panasonic DP-UB9000 UltraHD Blu-ray player)
The original review
In Australia we usually don’t see the full product range from the consumer electronics giants. Often, they make audiophile and videophile products ... but market them only in their home market, or perhaps North America. The Panasonic DP-UB9000 UltraHD Blu-ray player gives us a taste of what we so often miss out on, for it is an unabashedly high-end product. And, happily, this is one that’s available here.
This award-winning model packs in nearly every feature that you can think of, except support for older disc standards. It will play CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray discs and UltraHD Blu-ray discs. And it has UltraHD Premium certification for that last one. It also supports Blu-ray 3D (but can you find a TV that will show 3D?) But it will not play SACDs nor DVD-Audio discs, nor Video CDs.
The Panasonic DP-UB9000 is a large and heavy player, as it should be. While most UHD players are typically 1.5kg or 2.0kg, it is nearly 8kg. Its drawer is smooth in operation, and it has an actual front panel display, something that has been disappearing from players in recent times. There are also basic controls on the front panel, along with a USB 2.0 socket for media playback.
At the back are two HDMI outputs, one of them for audio, the other for video or video plus audio. The audio-only one is useful for those who have a slightly older home theatre receiver which might not accept audio which is mixed in with UltraHD signals.
Indeed, this player caters very well for audio. It also has both optical and coaxial digital outputs. And 7.1 channels of analogue outputs. Plus it has two sets of stereo analogue audio outputs: one pair of RCA sockets and one pair of balanced XLR sockets.
There’s another USB socket on the back – this one is USB 3.0 – along with Ethernet and a Wi-Fi module.
The remote control is fairly large and well-laden with control keys.
Setting up the Panasonic DP-UB9000 UltraHD Blu-ray player
There has been a trend for years towards simplification of equipment. The idea is that interfaces and options shouldn’t be daunting, and that operation should be intuitive. Nice idea, but this has too often meant the shedding of features. So, looking through the setup menus, I found a number of options rarely seen these days, but ones which have real value.
For example, this player has something called “Still Mode” in the picture settings menu. All high-quality DVD players used to have this. What is it?
Remember, video on DVD is interlaced. Which means that each picture frame is divided into two “fields”. When you pause playback, the player has to decide whether it’s going to show one field of the frame, or weave both fields together into the full frame. If the content is video sourced (so the two fields come from slightly different moments of time), it should do the former. If film-sourced (where both fields are derived from the one frame) it should do the latter.
But how’s the player to know which it is? When deinterlacing during playback, it examines the video and looks for tell-tale signs of combing. This can be difficult, but doable. But in still mode? Almost impossible. So it relies on the interlaced/progressive flag embedded in the data on the disc. So all’s fine, right?
Um, no. The problem is that this flag is sometimes wrong. Let me correct that. With PAL DVDs it’s almost always wrong. Last time I checked – and it was a few years ago, now – the great majority of Australian movie DVDs are incorrectly flagged “interlaced” when they are in fact progressive. (I asked the DVD Forum for an explanation, but none was forthcoming.) Press “pause” when one of those is playing and what you’ll get is one field – 288 lines of vertical resolution – rather than the full frame. (For years I kept an old otherwise-useless DVD player, simply because it reported on this flag.)
With this player you can set “Still mode” to “Frame” and be certain you’ll get full resolution.
Here’s another: you can configure the digital audio output – bitstream or PCM conversion – separately for Dolby and its variants, DTS and its variants, and MPEG audio. (Remember, for Australia and Europe, MPEG is an allowable audio standard on DVDs.)
You can ignore all that stuff if you want to keep things simple. The defaults are sensible. But if you like to get in there and control things, well this is the player for you.
I can’t see many people using the 7.1 channel audio outputs. I suppose there are some situations in which they may be useful, although it’s a stretch. You’d still need some kind of pre-amplifier because the player output volume can’t be controlled. For those who do wish to use them, there are facilities for setting the output level for each of the 7.1 channels, plus the delay (in milliseconds, so you’ll have to measure and calculate) for each speaker pair, but not the subwoofer. You can also set the size for each speaker, or switch all but the front stereo pair off. There is no support in this output set for things like height channels. To get full audio value from UltraHD, it’s best to go with a proper home theatre audio decoder in a receiver or amplifier.
Oh, and one last thing. If your TV supports Dolby Vision, go the settings menu and switch it on in the player. I’m embarrassed to admit that I forgot this and had to ask Panasonic to confirm that the player really did support DV. My TV was reporting only HDR. But once I switched it on, all was fine. Panasonic says that the player also supports HDR+ and HLG.
Playback of all supported media was simply unimpeachable. Decoding of all forms of video was excellent, presumably aided by Panasonic’s HCX Processor.
The thing I’d like to highlight was the deinterlacing performance. It handled all my test clips perfectly. Let me be clear about that: both with 576i50 and 1080i50, all my most problematic film-sourced content was properly handled as film-sourced all the way through. Not once did the player inappropriately slip back into a treatment suitable for video sourced material. Furthermore, it switched instantly between the two modes as required.
I’d happily stick with Automatic. But if something is worth doing, it’s worth over-doing. This player overdoes it. Press the ‘Option’ button during disc playback, tap down to the picture settings and then you can select the progressive scan mode: Automatic, Film and Video. The Film mode is a true forced mode. So if you ever do come across something that does trick the auto mode, this player can handle it.
The player was quick to load discs and quite responsive to the remote control commands. One thing I especially liked was the ‘Playback Info’ display. This shows the video and audio standards of the disc being played, along with the video and audio bitrate. Press it twice and you can see the HDR settings – maximum NITs and whatnot. Nerd that I am, this is stuff that I love.
There are five fast forwards and five fast reverse speeds. There are also five slow speeds, although only forwards works for Blu-ray and UltraHD Blu-ray. Likewise, you can single step both ways for DVD, but only forwards for BD and UHD BD.
Panasonic DP-UB9000 network functionality
When it comes to network support, this player exists in two eras. For local network functionality, its interface looks reasonably modern. That stuff all comes under the “Home Network” option in the Home menu. For the broader Internet – “Network Service” from the Home menu – the player is rather 2009. Perhaps older. I can’t remember how far back this interface goes, but this layout has been used on Panasonic Blu-ray players for many years.
It displays a set of nine boxes on the screen, each containing a service, with an option to dig into additional pages. On the front page is Netflix (there’s a key for that on the remote as well), ABC iView, SBS On Demand, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, Telstra TV Box Office and a web browser. Further down are some other bits and pieces, including some kids’ stuff. I doubt users will spend much time in that.
I remain perplexed why Panasonic doesn’t use its fine Firefox OS in these kinds of smart products. Apart from anything else, that would mean one less set of apps to maintain.
But all that said, if you want to use Netflix, hit that key and you can skip that whole clunky interface.
The other part of network support – the local network part – is much better.
The unit supports Wi-Di or Mirrorcast ... I think. Everyone uses their own name for these functions so the only way you can be certain that it’s working is by trying to connect. So I tried “Wireless projection” on my Huawei phone. Success. I tried “Project” on my Windows tablet. Success. So Mirrorcast/Wi-Di it is.
The Wi-Fi connection is dual band and supports every standard up to 802.11ac, so it will be about as fast as your home network permits. The Ethernet connection supports up to 1000BASE-T. In other words, it’s a gigabit connection – a rare feature in consumer electronics. By way of confirmation, it played both my 100Mbps and 200Mbps test videos without stuttering. Even the 100Mbps test video stutters with 100BASE-T connections.
The easiest way to use its local network playback capabilities is by treating the unit as a DLNA renderer (with support for audio, video and still photos). I used BubbleUPnP on my Android devices to send media to the Panasonic player. It worked reliably every time. Both video and photos were shown with full UltraHD resolution, including colour resolution.
High resolution audio with up to 192kHz sampling was supported, as well as DSD. In fact, it provides more advanced DSD support that most devices because it plays DSD 5.1 surround sound. Kind of. It converts multichannel channel to 5.1 channel PCM at 88.2kHz sampling. I suspect that’s a wise move. Lots of equipment wouldn’t support DSD 5.1 inputs over HDMI. As for two channel DSD, it supports double and quadruple speed versions –DSD128 and DSD256 – in addition to the standard DSD64.
The Panasonic DP-UB9000 UltraHD Blu-ray player is a truly wonderful unit when it comes to spinning discs. And it’s also very solid when it comes to feeding network media to it. But I would like that oh-so-2009 interface for Internet streaming to be updated.
Has that interface been updated since I wrote this two and a half years ago? Highly unlikely. I personally own the next level down Panasonic player (in addition to a treasured Oppo), and it still uses that old interface. But, seriously, in every other way the Panasonic DP-UB9000 is a first class UltraHD spinner of discs.