The Panasonic DP-UB150EB 4K Blu-ray is a more important piece of kit than perhaps its makers realise. It occupies a golden niche for the product category – a player for less than £150 (a lot less if you shop around), which is perhaps the limit that many will be prepared to spend on an entry-level disc spinner.
With streaming services continuing their meteoric rise, you wonder why anyone would invest in a 4K Blu-ray machine – plus a collection of 4K Blu-ray discs at £25 a pop – when they could get an access-all-areas subscription to Netflix, or another streaming service, for a whole lot less. In other words, even a budget 4K Blu-ray player, such as this Panasonic, is under pressure to deliver.
Panasonic has taken an understandably no-frills approach in order to keep the price down. If it’s features you’re looking for, look elsewhere.
It is a boxy and pleasantly compact player at just 32cm wide and weighing 1.2kg. There are few buttons, just on/off and eject within easy reach on the top. There’s also a humble but predictably useful remote control with buttons just big enough to fit the bill.
HDR formats HDR10+, HLG
4K upscaling Yes
USB 2.0 Yes
Dimensions (hwd) 4.6 x 32 x 19.3cm
We like that the USB 2.0 port is easily accessible on the front for playback from a hard drive or memory stick. The back is pretty much bare with just three holes – one for the power cable, an HDMI out and an ethernet socket for software updates only. There are no apps or smart features on this player but, at this price, we’ve no right to expect them.
Even without wi-fi, apps or an LCD display, this player certainly manages to fulfil its core responsibilities. It plays optical discs of almost all kinds. It can upscale DVDs and Blu-rays up to 4K approximations as well as spin 4K native discs.
There’s no SACD compatibility, but it handles standard regulation music CDs. It also plays lossless audio files, including FLAC, WAV, AIFF, ALAC and DSD as well as MP3s and AACs through that USB 2.0 port.
We reach for the power button on the remote control and the Panasonic DP-UB150EB boots up with little fuss. We pop season one of Game Of Thrones on 4K HDR into the player and head back to the beginning of the saga with the opening scene of three ‘redshirts’ who quickly find themselves missing their heads.
It takes a little longer than more expensive players to get from the tray closing and to the action itself (about a minute) but at this price, it’s not a delay that’s out of the ordinary.
The Panasonic DP-UB150EB can decode up to 7.1 channels of audio in both Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio formats. If you have that many speakers in your home cinema set-up, then you’re likely to have an AVR to do the work instead and will want to have this Panasonic player set to deliver the audio as bitstream. It can pass on Dolby Atmos and DTS:X information as bitstream too which your AVR can then decode into more channels still.
There’s a big sound from the DP-UB150EB as the drawbridge raises on Castle Black and the three members of the Night’s Watch head through the tunnel. The gate opens with a boom that rumbles on against the tinkling of the portcullis’s chains. It’s a dramatic beginning to the show and reproduced really well by this player.
There’s some decent detail on show throughout the tonal range: nice, low wind-rippled flames of the torches in the tunnel, a higher-pitched echo of the horses' hooves and the whispers of a gentle snowfall all clear and adding to the fantastic sense of atmosphere.
At this price, it’s a stellar performance. Go to the next level up and you could enjoy the better dynamics of the Sony UBP-X700, for example, which is £60 more expensive at the time of writing. We feel the difference in the quiet as the members of the Night’s Watch walk through the snows of the forest.
With the Sony, that silence forms a beautiful blanket of eerie still as the backdrop for everything else – the distant cries of a wolf and the flutter of birds. Nonetheless, the Panasonic’s audio offering is more than fair for the money.
There’s little difference between the Panasonic DP-UB150EB and the slightly more expensive Panasonic DP-UB450EB. Those that do exist are not to be found in performance.
Arguably the most significant disparity is that the cheaper model supports only HDR10+ and HLG, whereas the DP-UB450EB covers all bases by adding Dolby Vision.
Dark details are easily strong enough as we see the three Watchmen head into the tunnel. Their torchlight gives way to the sunless gloom as they press on. No matter how far they go, it’s still possible to see the rafters and rocks of the tunnel’s sides in the foreground in the growing darkness. However, the texture of the furs of the Watchmen’s black outfits gets a touch lost. But while a player at the next level up may deliver more dark detail, there’s little wanting in the depth of those blacks.
Once back out into the daylight, detail on the whole is good, with HDR contrast handled well. There’s plenty of differentiation in the ice and the snow, and the bark of the trees is lifelike.
We drop down to 1080p with Jack Reacher and are pleased with how well this Panasonic can upscale. Colours are still strong as the camera pans the autumn leaves of the Pittsburgh suburbs. As with the sound, the picture is on the bold side.
The grass is a vivid green, skin tones are rosy and yellow lines on the road punch out hard from the tarmac. This player is keen to impress and we’ve no problem with that, as it also does the basics of keeping the detail as fine as possible.
The Panasonic DP-UB150EB might lack the nuance and sophistication of more premium 4K Blu-ray players but, for the money, it still makes an excellent case for itself. It's certainly a big step up from streaming and will reward those prepared to make the effort and stick with physical media.
Ultimately, we'd recommend stretching to the Sony UBP-X700 if you can, but if you're looking for a punchy picture and solid sound on a seriously low budget, then this looks like the 4K Blu-ray player for you.
- Picture 5
- Sound 5
- Features 5
Read our Sony UBP-X700 review