This year has seen 4K finally became an affordable reality. However, Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray players have been rather like buses – you wait ages for one to arrive, then you get three in a row.
Until now, the choice has been limited, but those options have increased with the new Panasonic DMP-UB700.
However, at £600, it was quite a pricey proposition, so the idea of a cheaper player promising the same top specs and similar picture and sound performance as its Award-winning flagship has us eager to try it out.
At first glance, there are few obvious differences between the DMP-UB700 and its top-spec sibling.
The finish on the fascia is slightly different, but otherwise, the design is pretty similar: a metal and glossy rectangle that gives the player a sleek and sturdy look.
The controls are the same, too. There are two touch sensitive buttons on the top of the player, with response times for powering up and loading discs as quick as on the UB900.
A crisp display peeks through the flap on the front panel, under which hides the UHD 4K disc drive, an SD card slot and a USB port.
The most obvious cosmetic differences are the lack of the dampening feet seen on the UB900 (and so the UB700 stands a touch shorter) and that the sides don’t have the glossy panels.
You also get a different remote control. Instead of the sleek, long metal wand that comes with the UB900, the cheaper player gets a smaller, plastic one.
Though the UB700 remote works perfectly with the player and its simple menu, we miss the backlit buttons of the UB900’s remote.
Panasonic has made the most significant budget cut with connections. Unlike the UB900, there are no stereo or 7.1-channel audio analogue outputs on the UB700, nor a digital coaxial output.
On the bright side, the flagship’s key video specs and features have been carried over to its more affordable player. There are two HDMI outputs on the UB700 with full 4K and HDR support, and an optical output.
The player is UHD Premium certified, supporting the BT.2020 colour gamut and claiming a brightness range of 1000 to 10,000 nits – perfect conditions for playing your 4K Blu-ray discs.
4K content can also be streamed from Netflix, Amazon Video and YouTube (and standard content from BBC iPlayer) using wired ethernet or built-in wi-fi. Just make sure you connect to the correct HDCP2.2 input of your TV to get the full blast of a 4K picture.
You can also stream music over your home network thanks to DLNA support. The UB700 continues to provide support for high-resolution music up to 24-bit/192kHz in popular formats, as well as supporting DSD files.
It may not have THX certification, but the DMP-UB700 does have the same 4K High-Precision Chrome Processor as the UB900 – so in theory, the picture quality should be identical. In reality, it’s not quite as clear-cut as that.
We start off with the 4K Blu-ray of Deadpool, and the UB700’s picture impresses us with its clarity and well-balanced colour palette. It’s a similar character to the UB900.
There’s a natural touch to the UB700’s picture, with grey, concrete highways and black cars looking realistic in overcast weather. Skin tones are fleshed out with plenty of detail to show off stubble, scars and wrinkles.
Motion is a strong point: when the action gets frantic or during any of the slow-motion scenes, the UB700 remains stable.
It makes for a comfortable, enjoyable experience. But what’s odd though, is that it doesn’t wow us in the way the DMP-UB900 does when watching the same disc.
On the £600 player, the picture just pops – the edges are that bit crisper, there’s a touch more subtlety that adds shine and depth to the picture, and there’s a proper sense of watching a superior picture format.
In contrast, the UB700 looks more like a good conventional Blu-ray player, not a 4K one.
Switch over to the Blu-ray of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and we’re struck by how much glossier and defined the shiny black interior of Starkiller Base looks on the UB900.
As the First Order stomps about looking menacing, the Stormtrooper uniforms gleam and hallways glisten as if newly cleaned on the UB900; it doesn’t look quite as polished on the UB700.
We want a better sense of the sweeping, desert landscape of Jakku, too.
The UB700 does a decent job of showing the ruins of former starships as Rey speeds past them, but the more insightful UB900 gets the huge scale of the set pieces across better.
The DMP-UB700’s upscaling talents are commendable, though. We watch The Lady In The Van on DVD and are impressed.
Noise levels are minimal, the picture doesn’t lose its balanced palette or its stable motion handling, and detail is decent, too. The fire in Maggie Smith’s eyes is conveyed well through the UB700, as is the yellow paint covering the old van.
Considering these two Panasonic players are meant to be identical in performance, we’re puzzled by the differences between our samples.
At £400, the DMP-UB700 is a decent player whose natural picture, smooth motion and excellent upscaling should be admired. The fact that it brings 4K disc playback to a more affordable level should also be celebrated.
But if you want the very best experience that physical 4K HDR media has to offer, we’d still recommend its older sibling: the DMP-UB900.
If the performances were comparable, we’d expect the more affordable DMP-UB700 to knock the UB900 off its Award-winning perch.
However, the UB900’s cinematic and immersive performance more than justifies its £200 price difference. The UB700 is good, but if you’re serious about your 4K experience, its sibling remains the player to go for.
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