Now that every broadcaster, studio and online retailer has its own streaming service, chances are you've subscribed to more than a couple over the past few years. But conversely, despite having more choice than ever when it comes to what we watch, the quality of the images and audio we get to experience hasn't kept up with changes in technology, with blocky pixels and flimsy sound. If you really care about enjoying films at their very best then a 4K Blu-ray player is still the best way to go.
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How to choose the best blu-ray player for you
Why you can trust What Hi-Fi? Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.
The best 4K players offer full-fat bitrates for audio and video and all but guarantee the right HDR standards (including Dolby Vision and HDR10+), and object-based surround formats such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X - all far from a given when streaming instead of playing from a disc.
There are loads of 4K discs to choose from, so now is a great time to upgrade, and in our experience, picture and sound quality tends to be better than watching the 4K equivalent on Amazon Prime Video or Netflix.
4K players still spin normal Blu-rays and DVDs (remember them?) so there are no problems with backwards compatibility. Some 4K players are also universal decks that can play disc formats such as SACD and DVD-Audio.
Our pick of the best Blu-ray players and 4K Blu-ray players all serve up brilliant picture and sound at their respective price points, and you can find our definitive list below.
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With the DP-UB820EB, Panasonic has taken the video processing tech out of the flagship DP-UB9000 which features further down this list and placed it it in a more affordable package. And the results are sensational. The player serves up a wonderfully inviting and immersive picture, bursting with colour and detail. It also produces a meaty and exciting sound, which compliments the picture perfectly.
All the main flavours of HDR are supported, including HDR10, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision, which means you can extract the most from 4K content. It's a very good upscaler too, so normal Blu-rays should look the part on your shiny new 4K TV. For the money, you'll struggle to find a better all-round machine, which is why we've placed this What Hi-Fi? Award-winner at the top of our list of the best Blu-ray players.
Read the full review: Panasonic DP-UB820EB
If you want an affordable route into the world of 4K Blu-ray, the Sony UBP-X700 is a great shout. It's one of the most talented 4K players we've seen at this kind of money. It’s a fun, involving performance - pictures are stacked with detail. The Sony displays a wonderfully subtle picture that’s impeccably judged while being hugely entertaining. Sound quality is equally stirring with its zippy, dynamic character complimenting that class-leading picture.
The Sony ticks most of the boxes you'd expect a player to at this price, and includes both Dolby Vision and HDR10 support but no HDR10+.
Despite not flashing the hi-res audio badge, the X700 can also play up to 24bit/192kHz files in all popular formats, including WAV, FLAC and DSD. There's also smart functionality and twin HDMI outputs. This Sony machine is good enough to boost all manner of home cinema systems, so you can buy with confidence.
Read the full review: Sony UBP-X700
This Panasonic 4K player represents great value for money. Feature-wise, it's a little sparse, but it's the performance that matters, and on that front it delivers. It can provide 7.1 surround sound (using a supported system), and the audio is nicely detailed, with an impressive sense of scale. There's a lot to admire when it comes to picture quality too - dark details are easily strong enough, while it handles 4K upscaling with aplomb. A great budget buy.
Read the full review: Panasonic DP-UB150EB
This mid-range Sony is a bit more capable - and a bit more expensive - than those at the budget end of the market. While it lacks a display on the player itself, its feature set more than makes up for it. It even has Bluetooth, for streaming audio to a pair of wireless headphones - a godsend for late-night viewing.
There's no HDR10+ support, but otherwise it's a very versatile player, playing nice with such niche audio formats as DVD-Audio and SACD. You have to manually enable Dolby Vision for supported content, which is a bit annoying (it should just happen automatically), but this player's superb performance still makes it easy to recommend.
Read the full review: Sony UBP-X800M2
Making a Blu-ray player for such a low price is no easy feat. Making a good Blu-ray player at this level is more difficult, and a great one harder still. But somehow Panasonic has managed it with the DMP-BDT180EB. If you can live without the 4K Blu-ray playback, the Panasonic is perfect for any entry-level home cinema set-up. Detail levels, colour balance and motion handling are all excellent for the money.
It doesn’t hold back when it comes to audio quality either. Its dynamic delivery is exciting to listen to, voices sound clear and the whole presentation is pretty balanced. If you want a solid upgrade on an old DVD spinner, this Panasonic Blu-ray player won't let you down.
Read the full review: Panasonic DMP-BDT180EB
There's no shortage of excellent 4K Blu-ray players to choose from at the premium end of the market, and the UBP-X1100ES also deserves to be on the list. Like the Cambridge above, it's a universal deck which means it can handle all manner of disc formats, including 3D Blu-ray, SACD and DVD-Audio. It supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision HDR, but there's no support for HDR10+, which is a little disappointing.
Its picture is anything but, though. The Sony serves up a balanced, natural and nuanced image, which displays great depth and an impressive amount of detail. It's a musical player too, with excellent timing and a fine sense of rhythm with music and movies alike.
Read the full review: Sony UBP-X1100ES
The DP-UB9000 is another player to throw into the mix if you're in the market for a premium machine. Nestled between the Pioneer and Cambridge in this list, the Panasonic is a feature-packed option with excellent picture and sound quality.
Its menu system is a little overcomplicated, but once you've got the Panasonic set up for your particular display, it serves up an entertaining and attention-grabbing image, bursting with colour. There's a great sense of depth and realism to 4K images that makes you sit up and take notice.
Soundtracks are delivered with plenty of weight and power, which is just what you want from a premium player like this. The Pioneer just about pips it for outright musical ability, but the Panasonic DP-UB9000 is still well worth auditioning.
Read the full review: Panasonic DP-UB9000
Some home cinema set-ups demand a player with even more focus than the more budget-friendly machines higher up this list. At this level, premium build quality and high-grade components are par for the course, as is the attempt to bring you the best picture and sound possible. The Pioneer UDP-LX500 is the best 4K Blu-ray player in the business.
Feed the player a 4K disc and the picture that greets you is breathtaking. It paints a balanced picture, packed with sensational levels of detail. And the Pioneer sounds as good as it looks, displaying weight, power and a fine sense of musicality and timing.
There's no smart functionality, nor is there a set of multi-channel analogue outputs for legacy AV receivers, but if you've got the budget and a suitable home cinema system to play it through, this 4K Blu-ray player will blow you away.
The only trouble is that the LX500 appears to be out of production. As such, prices are absurd. If you can buy one for close to its original cost of £999/$999, then grab it, Otherwise, you're better off with either the Sony or Panasonic above.
Read the full review: Pioneer UDP-LX500
How we test blu-ray players
We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London, Reading and Bath, where our team of experienced, in-house reviewers test the majority of hi-fi and AV kit that passes through our door.
Each blu-ray player we test is paired with an appropriate reference TV and projector before being directly compared to the best in its price and features class – whether that's the current What Hi-Fi? award winner or a few of the latest models we've been impressed by in recent reviews. What Hi-Fi? is all about comparative testing, and we keep class-leading products in our stockrooms so we can easily compare new products to ones we know and love.
We are always impartial and do our best to make sure we're hearing every product at its very best, so we'll try plenty of different styles and ages of films that show what each is capable of with both advanced and standard video and sound formats. We'll check all the features on board and allow for plenty of listening time as well as running them in before we begin reviewing.
All review verdicts are agreed upon by the team rather than an individual reviewer to eliminate any personal preference and to make sure we're being as thorough as possible, too. There's no input from PR companies or our sales team when it comes to the verdict, with What Hi-Fi? proud of having delivered honest, unbiased reviews for decades.
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