If there was one thing that I was anxious to try since a long time, even before the launch of this blog more than a year ago, it clearly was the Ultra HD Blu-ray format, or 4K Blu-ray as it was called before getting an official name.
I was looking forward to this first test of the format and was really happy to see the Samsung UBD-K8500 launch a little bit earlier than plan. Even if I live here in the Great White North (and it is finally really cold this weekend, ideal for home theater), I was able to get my hands on a player and a copy of The Martian and Maze Runner: Scorch Trial to test it out.
Yes I know, I said on forums I would not give Fox any money until they fix their lack of Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, but my eagerness to try the format was stronger than my convictions, so I caved. I will not be buying any more of their titles until they resolve it though, and will be encouraging instead the other studios who support the format like Lionsgate, Warner and Sony.
So without any other complains, let’s try to answer as much of the questions that I had and I imagine you had about the new format and player.
Do UHD Blu-ray movies really look better ?
First let’s start by saying that the evaluation right now is not really complete as both movies I tried (and all of Fox initial releases) are made from 2K digital intermediates, so essentially upscaled from HD to UHD. There is some discussions and information regarding the fact that The Martian was actually redone for release with some initial raw material in 4K from filming, but I honestly doubt it. Scorch Trials was on its side filmed in 3.4K with a 2K digital intermediate.
So I reserve my official judgement when I can see one of the Sony launch titles which do come from both 4K filming and 4K digital intermediates.
For now, my answer is it does look good, but mostly it looks really consistant from beginning to end the of the movie. When sometime on Blu-ray upscaled on my Sony X850C I can sense some compression artefacts and some issues related to upscaling, with The Martian I saw a really reliable looking movie from start to finish. Dark scenes, well lit scenes, exterior, interior, everything looked good and solid.
Colors do really look great and natural at all time, I think that we do see some advantages on this coming from 10-bit content on the disc and the fact my Sony looks like a 10-bit panel (not 100% confirmed, but the test patterns seem to say it is).
Many are saying HDR and contrast are the most important difference, but with my X850C set, I cannot honestly tell. Yes it does support HDR (through HDMI with the latest firmware update), but because there is now local dimming, I don’t think it changes much compared to a non HDR compatible mode. I’m looking forward to test this on a more able TV, but for now I really cannot tell.
Overall, I can say it’s probably good as it can look depending on the source of the movie.
What about upscale quality ?
The upscaling processor on the X850 Sony is a really good one, but I need to admit that the Samsung does a great job, I dare to say even a better one. When I have sometime some upscaling issues with my Sony at certain sharpness levels, I don’t see them with the Samsung.
Is HDCP 2.2 / HDMI 2.0a working ok ?
Kinda. I’m using the dual HDMI outs as my 4K display is in the living room with a Harman Kardon receiver from a couple of years ago, so I cannot testify regarding 4K transmission through the receiver.
I have no audio/video sync issues with the dual outs, and most of the time the image is working well.
But I do have some handshake problems (I hate HDMI for that, won’t change my mind here) at launch of a movie sometimes. Good news is I don’t see this happening during the movie itself, so I can live with this until firmware updates solve it.
Any Internet based DRM on the movies ?
No, everything works with the player disconnected from the Internet if you want.
Will it work with my 1080p projector or TV ?
I tried the player with my 1080p projector to be able to answer this question that a lot of us had. I’m also doing this so that I can listen to Atmos tracks on UHD Blu-rays if they are not included on the Blu-ray discs (no example yet though).
When playing the Martian, the movie is played back as hoped in 1080p without HDCP 2.2 issues, the player tells us it will downscale it and it works.
But the 20th Century Fox logo included when you start the disc (not the one at the beginning of the movie) says HDCP 2.2 not available and so no image is displayed other than the message (in 720p). I don’t have a problem with this happening for the logo and I confirmed that the HD Fury Integral does fix this and I see the intro logo once I go through it.
But does this mean the HDCP2.2 downscale to 1080p/HDCP1.4 is configurable per movie / even elements on the disc ? Do we risk to have movies that will not downscale ? This is still not answered in my opinion and only time will tell.
So I don’t regret the HD Fury Integral as an insurance policy for this, I will let you know if I do see instances where we really need it for movie or extra features viewing and not only for an intro video.
Is it fast to load and launch movies ?
Yes really fast, the player is among the best ones I’ve seen for that.
What about the apps ?
The apps I was able to test were really fast and I need to admit way more responsive that on my Sony X850C. Sadly though, I cannot try Netflix right now in Canada as the app is not available here on the player. Youtube does work well in 4K, so no complain on this. Even with just a Wi-Fi connection (I need a new network hub with more ports!), 4K playback is reliable.
And media playback ?
Everything is fine on this side, even way better I would say that with my TV player and different Android TV apps. The interface of the player for media playback through DLNA and USB is fast, simple and just plain works. I would say it’s going to be my de facto choice for this from now on. I did not test with a lot of formats, but everything I had in 4K was played without issue.
I will report back once I watch new movies on the format of course, if you have questions feel free to ask away !