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Perched at the top of Panasonic's range of 4K Blu-ray players for 2018 is the DP-UB9000. Set to cost £900 when it goes on sale in October, the obvious question is: can it justify such a giddy price tag? We head down to a special UK media briefing to get the lowdown on what we can expect from this flagship machine.

MORE: Panasonic unveils flagship DP-UB9000 4K Blu-ray player, plus two soundbars

Design and build

First impressions of the DP-UB9000 are that it’s a big hefty slab of a machine. Like most in its class, the design is more functional than stylish. It does feel more substantial than Panasonic’s previous range-topper, the DMP-UB900, which cost £600 when we first reviewed it back in 2016.

Understandably, given its high-end credentials the £900 asking price, the UB9000 gets plenty of attention lavished on its design and build. The player uses an extremely rigid two-layer chassis which helps promote low noise, low vibration and gives the player a lower centre of gravity.

The player’s disc drive is also mounted centrally, using a thick steel plate to reduce vibration and noise during disc rotation.

Where the UB900 had one power supply which fed both its digital and audio sections, the UB9000’s audio circuit gets its own dedicated power supply to help maximise sound quality.

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Features

Before we get too carried away, Panasonic is quick to point out the player at the press preview isn’t quite the finished article. Some features haven’t been enabled or certified, but Panasonic is hopeful it will arrive in stores this October complete with all the promised bells and whistles.

This should mean Dolby Vision and HDR10+ support out of the box, plus built-in 4K streaming services such as Amazon Prime Video and Netflix. The player will also be THX-certified.

DVD Audio and SACD playback aren’t supported by the chipset in the DP-UB9000. On the plus side, the player will support 3D Blu-rays, and Panasonic hints a new machine which will satisfy fans of both of these formatsmay be in the works.

As you’d expect, the UB-9000 ticks the boxes of all the main audio formats including WAV, FLAC, AIFF and AAC. There’s also high-res audio (including DSD) support - but there are no plans to make the machine MQA-compatible.

At the heart of the new machine is Panasonic’s second-generation HCX (Hollywood Cinema Experience) processing engine, which originally debuted in the DMP-UB900.

MORE: MQA audio: What is it? How can you get it?

More after the break

Inside the player you’ll find a high-grade 32bit/768kHz DAC, and the player comes with both balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA connections. The player is also equipped with a complete set of analogue outputs (7.1 channel) and twin HDMI outputs so you can separate audio and video signals.

One of the key features Panasonic is keen to highlight is the player’s HDR Optimiser, which claims to be able to improve static tone-mapping in a HDR10 picture by taking into account the brightness limitations of your display.

The Optimiser (which is also available on Panasonic’s more affordable DP-UB820 4K Blu-ray player) can be turned on or off and can be set at various levels to cater for different displays, from OLED TVs to projectors.

If you happen to be watching content using dynamic metadata (e.g. Dolby Vision) on a compatible TV, the player recognises this and the HDR Optimiser is disabled.

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Picture and sound quality

Panasonic’s picture demo is short and sweet, and mainly involves a look at the impact of the HDR Optimiser. The player is plugged into one of the company's premium OLED TVs and we are treated to a test pattern and a couple of short clips from the Pan 4K Blu-ray.

Panasonic’s engineers pause the movie on a scene with close-up shots of actors in front of a backdrop of cloud and sunshine. Turning the HDR Optimiser on seems to take away a bit of the sun’s brightness and punch - the tradeoff is better colour gradation, and more definition around the edges of clouds and the sun itself.

One of the side effects of enabling the HDR Optimiser seems to be the introduction of a subtle amount of judder when it comes to dealing with slow camera pans - but it’ll be easier to reach a firm conclusion when we’ve spent some quality time with a proper review sample.

For the audio demo the player is plugged into an all-Technics system which includes a stereo amplifier and pair of large floorstanders. We hear a small selection of tracks ranging from Beethoven to jazz, to an acoustic cover of The Mamas & The Papas' California Dreamin’.

The DP-UB9000 gives a good impression of weight and a seemingly solid soundstage. Drum beats appear to hit with purpos,e and vocals seem relatively clear and expressive. If its surround sound performance is close to what we hear in stereo, then it could very well take the fight to its closest rivals.

Early verdict

If it had any. With the sad demise of Oppo’s hi-fi and Blu-ray player business, someone wanting a high-end video source doesn’t have much to choose from.

There’s the Cambridge CXUHD and Sony UBP-X1000ES, but both of these machines are around £200 cheaper than the DP-UB9000. So the Panasonic player will need to justify the extra cost - but if it can, it could have the high-end Blu-ray player market all sewn up.

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