Price (RRP): $659
It’s time to spin some discs as I put the Panasonic DP-UB820 UltraHD Blu-ray player through its paces.
But first, why spin discs at all?
When it comes to quality home theatre, the good old optical disc is still the way to go. Streaming services like Netflix are wonderful and can even provide some content in UltraHD format. But they must compromise due to bandwidth constraints.
Take a full HD movie. If you watch it on Netflix, your TV will be fed data at around 3Mbps – for video and audio combined. If you watch the same movie on Blu-ray, it will be delivered at somewhere between 15Mbps and 35Mbps for the video alone. The sound is typically another 2.5Mbps, and sometimes more.
I’ve tested hundreds of Blu-ray discs, and the lowest video bitrate I’ve yet found for the main program was around 11Mbps.
Streaming services and Blu-ray both use lossy video compression, so the lower bitrate in streaming means more losses.
Okay, perhaps the codecs Netflix et al use are more efficient than the H.264 codec (mostly) used in Blu-ray. But not that much more efficient. And it’s unlikely to be more efficient than the H.265 codec used for UltraHD Blu-ray. UltraHD on Netflix runs at 15Mbps. On disc, it bounces around between around 30Mbps and 80Mbps, sometimes peaking at over 100Mbps.
And on most Blu-ray and UltraHD Blu-ray discs, the audio is provided with lossless compression like Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio. On Netflix, even the Dolby Atmos-encoded audio is still based on Dolby Digital Plus, which is lossy.
Panasonic DP-UB820 features
So what should you use to spin your discs? My players of choice for more than ten years have been the fine products of Oppo Digital, a US-based independent arm of the same Oppo that sells phones. Unfortunately, and somewhat mysteriously, Oppo Digital decided to stop what appeared to be a successful business and packed it in a couple of years ago.
Which brings us to a replacement, for which I’ve chosen the Panasonic DP-UB820 UltraHD player. I’ll get to the specific reason I chose it shortly. But first, what does it do?
Well, it’ll play your DVDs, CDs, BDs and UHD-BDs. It will also play media from USB drives and from your network. It will also stream Netflix, Amazon Prime, Telstra TV Box Office, YouTube, SBS On Demand and ABC iView. But not Stan. And it also supports Miracast/WiDi so it can mirror your Windows 10 computer or Android phone. As I write, I have my Surface Pro 2017 display mirrored via the Panasonic DP-UB820 to an 85-inch projection screen.
On the back are two HDMI outputs. One of them provides audio and sound while the other delivers sound only. The inclusion of the second one allows the unit to be used with older home theatre receivers which may not cope with UltraHD video. There is also an optical digital audio output (stereo only) and 7.1 channel analogue output.
I used the Panasonic DP-UB820 player with a Denon AVR-X3500H home theatre receiver, connected via HDMI, so I had no need for those other outputs.
The Panasonic DP-UB820 player has an Ethernet connection and supports dual band Wi-Fi up to 802.11ac standards.
Network stuff on the Panasonic DP-UB820
When it comes to network functionality, this player is sharply divided into two sections. The part for playing local network content is sleek, modern looking and effective. I mentioned how I could mirror my computer’s (or phone’s) screen to the unit. I can also use it as a photo, music and video renderer, with just about all my audio supported, including FLAC music up to 192kHz sampling. Photos and videos came through at full UltraHD resolution (if they were of at least that resolution).
But the Internet-related stuff was almost vintage. It uses the same layout Panasonic first introduced at least ten years ago. The above-mentioned apps are available, and there’s a “market place” with a few more. My impression is that the contents of this market place has been shrinking over the years, there being little ongoing support for its apps.