4K Blu-ray is on the verge of dying out and no one seems to care

A stack of 4K Blu-ray steelbook cases
(Image credit: Future)

Allow me to introduce myself before we embark on the latest of our Adventures in AV. My name is Lewis, I'm a staff writer on What Hi-Fi?, and I'll be stepping in for Tom who is away on holiday this week. And I am a sucker for physical media. I know we bang on about it a lot here at What Hi-Fi?, but we do so for good reason. 

The thing about streaming is that while it's convenient, cheap, and there's a wide variety of content across the varying platforms, the picture and sound performance can't quite rival that of a 4K Blu-ray. And after all, we're all about performance-per-pound value. 

As with every rule, there is an exception, and that's a streaming service that's exclusive to Sony TVs called Bravia Core. Sony says that it's the only streaming service that plays at the same bitrate as a 4K Blu-ray – we want to test it further to validate that claim. And there are a few catches here, the most obvious being that you'll need a Sony TV to use this service. Bravia Core also uses a token-style system to redeem films; you get a handful when you buy a Sony product, but after that, you'll need to buy additional tokens. Finally, the content library is rather Sony PIctures heavy, which isn't a great surprise, so this service doesn't really compare to streaming rivals' libraries in terms of size and variety.

All this means that ultimately, services that advertise 4K streaming just don't look as good as 4K discs. Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus and Apple TV+ all stream in 4K, there's no doubting that, but it's important to recognise that not all 4K is created equally; basically, due to various factors around bandwidth and network speed, you will be seeing a lower bitrate version than you would receive on a disc.

The other issue with streaming services is that you never own the content on there. A rotating library of films and TV shows means you can log on one day to see your favourite movie suddenly not available on the service. Digital movie purchases are less risky, but still, the thought of a platform removing my video library or shutting down one day leaving my videos inaccessible gives me enough anxiety. Touch wood, this shouldn't be an issue with your disc collection. 

I've consolidated these facts for quite some time, which has led to a borderline unhealthy obsession with collecting discs for the films I love. In fact, it got slightly out of control a few years ago. I attempted to curb this obsession by only buying Collector's Edition Blu-rays, complete with lovely "SteelBook" cases and special features – but that's just resulted in a very heavy collection that's become a nuisance now that I'm packing up to move house. 

Would I trade it for the world? Absolutely not; my Blade Runner 2049 4K SteelBook and numbered Collector's Edition of Birdman (limited to 2000 copies) are two of my most prized possessions, and the fact that they're physical editions means no one can take them away from me (hopefully).

There is one slight issue here, and that's the fact that I am using a PS5 as a Blu-ray player which, while not the worst option out there, certainly isn't ideal for someone concerned with optimum picture and sound quality. 

There are a few missing features on the PS5 that make it a less-than-stellar movie machine, such as a lack of Dolby Vision support, slightly clumsy Dolby Atmos and DTS:X integration that requires manual selection after already selecting Bitstream audio and the fact that its picture and sound performance don't rival a dedicated 4K player. 

So, I thought to myself, "Why not scope out a new 4K Blu-ray player?" My browsing quickly led me to the damning reality – no one makes them any more. 

Panasonic DP-UB9000

The Panasonic DP-UB9000 is practically the only mainstream, high-end 4K player on the market nowadays.  (Image credit: Future)

Well, no one might be a bit dramatic. Panasonic seems to be working overtime to keep the market afloat, and Sony seems to be offering some backup in the form of a couple of models, but that's about it for the mainstream brands. 

There are enthusiast brands, such as Magnetar, with its awesome reference 4K players that also happen to cost between £1700 and £3100 – so they will remain a pipe dream for now. Most of the manufacturers known for producing 4K Blu-ray players, such as Oppo, Pioneer, Samsung and LG, have all packed up production and stopped selling 4K players. Another sign of the streaming times? 

Well, it doesn't seem entirely so. 4K Blu-ray discs have seen record sales figures as of late. This jump, reported by Media Play News, was mostly due to the success of Top Gun: Maverick, which created a surge of interest in 4K Blu-ray back in November 2022.

But whether it's new releases or 4K re-releases of classic movies, there's an abundance of new films coming to 4K Blu-ray, so where are the players that we need to, you know, play the discs? 

My pre-order basket is already a cause for concern with the likes of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3, John Wick Chapter 4 and a new edition of Dune all sitting there waiting for me to check out, but truthfully I want a player that does these films justice. 

Furthermore, this lack of available Blu-ray players has me worried about the future of the format. Sure, there's an abundance of 4K discs available now, but what happens if Panasonic stops producing players? Will the industry keep producing discs at the same rate if there isn't any new hardware to play them on? And will streaming platforms and digital sales ultimately offer superior quality than we can find on disc? 

Dark times for physical media enthusiasts like myself could be ahead, so I'd implore you to invest in a good 4K Blu-ray player sooner rather than later. 

I hope movie fans will always have physical media collections; if there's a film I see that truly resonates with me I will still go out of my way to buy a physical copy. (And I know many people feel the same way about music.) I just hope the wider home entertainment industry, right down to Blu-ray player manufacturers, continue to support the market. Not least so I can upgrade my PS5...


Check out our picks for the best 4K Blu-ray players

As well as our list of the best TVs

And the best projectors for your home cinema 

Lewis Empson
Staff Writer

Lewis Empson is a Staff Writer on What Hi-Fi?. He was previously Gaming and Digital editor for Cardiff University's 'Quench Magazine', Lewis graduated in 2021 and has since worked on a selection of lifestyle magazines and regional newspapers. Outside of work, he enjoys gaming, gigs and regular cinema trips.

  • giac
    PS5 does support Dolby Atmos TrueHD when playing Blu-Ray 4K (and it also supports Dolby Atmos in Dinsey+ app). Please amend the article accordingly.
  • the associate
    The same seems to be the trend for all phisical media including gaming.
    For me the biggest dare for phisical 4k movies is better picture quality and sound. I do have a dedicated player and like you went mad on physical media in the DVD era. I have since limited myself in only getting major movie releases.

    My last purchase was 'The last of Us'
  • manicm
    giac said:
    PS5 does support Dolby Atmos TrueHD when playing Blu-Ray 4K (and it also supports Dolby Atmos in Dinsey+ app). Please amend the article accordingly.
    It does not however support Dolby Vision, which maybe can be overlooked.
  • manicm
    This just reinforces why I will not buy a physical 4k player. 1080p Blu-rays look fantastic on a good TV which upscales like my LG C1. And the dearth and high cost of a 4k player actually prohibits me from getting one in my region.

    I fully understand that streaming 4k from Disney+ or Netflix will never offer the same disc quality, but I'll just have to live with that.

    Yes a PS5 does play them, but it seems fiddly, and it may be a gaming compromise, as I decide on which console to get my 6 year old.
  • Friesiansam
    Seems most people, who enjoy watching films, are happy to stream and, many probably don't care about the best image and sound quality, as long as it is acceptable, just as most people don't care about HiFi.
  • 12th Monkey
    Friesiansam said:
    Seems most people, who enjoy watching films, are happy to stream and, many probably don't care about the best image and sound quality, as long as it is acceptable, just as most people don't care about HiFi.
    This is what I don't get about hi res music. I can't tell the difference on a pretty good setup, so how are most people supposed to on the sort of stuff that most people have? No wonder the platforms seem to offer different mixes for some music so users feel they are getting something for the extra cost.
  • Friesiansam
    12th Monkey said:
    This is what I don't get about hi res music. I can't tell the difference on a pretty good setup,
    Me too.
  • DougM
    <Describes owning many thousands of dollars worth of physical media>
    But there's no way i'm paying 3100 for a player!
    I never understand this attitude. If you care so much about the quality advantage of physical media, enough to spend this vast amount of money on the media, why don't you spend a tiny fraction on a high quality player for it?
  • russelk
    The average consumer values convenience over quality. That's not news. Been that way forever. Many people (and I mean MANY) still can't see the difference between DVD and blu-ray, so forget about UHD. Most people also use their TV's built-in speakers so the audio fidelity of UHD discs is not relevant either.

    Another factor in the poor adoption of UHD is that a lot of enthusiasts of my generation had large VHS collections, and then large DVD collections, and then large blu-ray collections. I'm guessing a lot of people in that category don't want to re-buy everything all over again on another new format, especially one that is not the quantum leap in quality that blu-ray was over DVD for instance. As @manicm said, 1080p blu-rays can look spectacular on a good TV, making investing in UHD a lot more difficult.
  • DistortedVision
    I've been collecting 4K film steelbook boxsets. The funny thing is I don't have a UHD player. I don't even have a 4K TV. I still have a 10 year Sony Bravia KDL55W905. I'm holding out for a little longer before buying a 4K TV and UHD player. I was somewhat shocked that only Sony and Panasonic are making UHD players as I hadn't looked at them yet. Yes streaming is to blame here. But I like collecting physical formats. I agree about the pain of upgrading collections from DVD to Bluray then to UHD. I only had a relatively small DVD collection then Bluray collection.

    The reason I'm collecting 4K UHD boxsets is that I'm convinced this is going to be the last physical format. The thing with 4K UHD is that it makes films made in the 80s and 90s look amazing and puts modern films with CGI to shame: