Having released a prototype 4K Blu-ray player back at CES 2015, Panasonic was bullish in its aim to be the first manufacturer to release a fully functional 4K disc-spinner. And it looks like it's still on target.
Panasonic was quiet on the matter at IFA earlier this year, with Samsung instead stealing the limelight by revealing its first Ultra HD Blu-ray player. The Samsung player was little more than a prototype on closer inspection, though it will reportedly go on sale in early in 2016.
The Panasonic DMR-UBZ1 has now broken cover and is much closer to the finished article - it will go on sale next month in Japan, with the release date set for 13th November.
The DMR-UBZ1 can play Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, supports 4K/60p playback and HDR video, plus the BT.2020 wide colour gamut, HDCP 2.2 and the HEVC H.265 codec. Netflix and YouTube 4K content is supported on the player itself.
Not just capable of playing Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, the UBZ1 is also a recorder, sporting a 3TB hard disk drive. There are HDMI, coaxial, optical and two-channel stereo outputs, plus SD card, USB and Ethernet inputs. You can load 4K content on to the HDD via SD and USB.
The Panasonic Ultra HD player will also support high-resolution audio playback, right up to 192kHz/24-bit files, supporting ALAC, FLAC, WAV and DSD files played back from the hard disk drive. It's wi-fi and DLNA compatible for streaming audio and looks set to come partnered with e-Onkyo music. This will allow you to download hi-res files straight to the HDD.
Interestingly, the Panasonic website appears to confirm the "monthly production volume" will be 500 players a month. While no price is confirmed by Panasonic, PC World reports it will retail for around 400,000 yen. This would translate as around £2000, which seems notably more expensive than earlier reports which suggested the players would be "two to three times" the cost of comparable players. Could this recorder be a top-of-the-range model? We shall see.
Speaking to What Hi-Fi? earlier this year, Hiroyuki Iwaki, global head of TV product planning for Panasonic, had previously revealed he had high hopes that a Panasonic 4K Blu-ray player would be on sale by Spring 2016.
Iwaki told us: "We've been having discussions with Hollywood regarding content and what titles will be available. We want to be the first in this category but we wouldn't launch before the content was ready."
Iwaki didn't rule out a launch before the end of this year, but noted this would depend on the final specification for 4K Blu-rays being agreed and whether the company's hardware was ready. This spec was made official in May.
It now looks likely that 4K Blu-ray discs and players could be on sale in time for Christmas this year, at least in Japan. There's no word on a UK release as yet.