The wait is finally over. Ultra HD Blu-ray has landed with the first player and discs now in the hands of enthusiasts eager to see if it fulfills its promise.

I have been among those eagerly awaiting the arrival of Ultra HD Blu-ray since its finalized specification and logo were released last year. I took steps to upgrade my display and audio/video processor to meet the requirements. All that remained was the release of the first player and media. Before I go any further here are a few facts on the Ultra HD format:

Finalized in the spring of 2015 the Ultra HD Blu-ray specification addresses a range of factors, beyond simply increasing resolution, that will significantly enhance the home entertainment experience for consumers. The format provides expanded color range, high frame rate (up to 60fps) and up-to 3840x2160 resolution. The Ultra HD Blu-ray format will also deliver next-generation immersive, object-based sound formats (Dolby Atmos & DTS:X). The Ultra HD Blu-ray format will deliver high dynamic range content that significantly expands the range between the brightest and darkest elements providing a more life-like viewing experience.
Today’s displays use the BT.709 color gamut, which can reproduce roughly 35% of the colors that the human eye can perceive. The initial HDR-enabled displays that came to market are capable of reproducing most of the DCI P3 color space used in cinemas. DCI P3 covers approximately 54% of the colors seen by the human eye. The newly introduced BT.2020 color gamut for Ultra HD Blu-ray covers roughly 76% of the color spectrum perceivable by the human eye. Combine this with high dynamic range (HDR10 is what is currently being used on the first discs coming to market) and the possibility of reproducing visually striking imagery on a capable display system takes home entertainment to a new level.


For more details on Ultra HD Certification, HDR capability, and a list of HDR capable displays see AVS Forum Editor Scott Wilkinson's related articles:

HDR Capable Displays

Ultra HD Premium Certification

What Does HDR Capable Mean?

In December I added the JVC DLA-RS500 front projector to my reference review system. The JVC is HDR capable and can reproduce the range of colors necessary for Ultra HD playback. This along with my Marantz AV8802A pre/pro (which meets the HDMI 2.0a and HDCP 2.2 requirement for UHD playback) meant that the only piece of gear needed was a player capable of Ultra HD Blu-ray playback. Enter the Samsung UBD-K8500, the first Ultra HD Blu-ray player to come to market.

The UBD-K8500 supports HDR content and framerates of up to 60 frames per second. In addition to 4K content, the player is backward compatible with existing 3D Blu-Ray, Blu-Ray, DVD and CDs. The player features over 300 apps including Netflix, Amazon, YouTube and more, plus the UBD-K8500 will play your home movies and downloaded music via DNLA. This isn't intended to be a review of the UBD-K8500 so I will just offer a few observations.

The player isn't aesthetically pleasing with its curved fascia and lightweight, monochromatic design. The rear panel covers the bases with two HDMI outputs, one that delivers audio only for backward compatibility to allow direct connection to a video display and legacy AVR for audio playback. The remote control is poorly laid out, too small, and not backlit. These of course are all things I can live with given the player's price point. What's most important is performance is the UBD-8500 does well in that department. The player is lightning fast at loading UHD Blu-ray, standard Blu-ray and DVDs. Playback of UHD Blu-ray at 2160p/24 is excellent, providing pristine images that incorporate high dynamic range and wide color gamut.

The player isn't without a few quirks, chief among them being that its main menu, from which all operations launch, is output at 4K/60 12 bit 4:4:4. This high bandwith resolution has created problems with certain displays and longer HDMI cabling runs for many, the result being an inability to see the main menu upon start up. The work around is to start the player, insert a disc, load it and wait for the player to switch to a resolution (such as 4K/24) that the display and or cabling can handle. This is an annoyance that could easily be resolved by Samsung with a firmware update that would set the main menu output to a common resolution. Be that as it may, the UBD-8500 has much to offer and does very well for a first generation player.

After spending time watching Ultra HD Blu-rays I began thinking about how I wanted to handle the inclusion of UHD Blu-ray ratings using my review template. My ratings as they stand can be used across all platforms and will continue to be done this way. Titles released that include both a Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray disc will be covered using my original video rating parameters for Blu-ray. Ultra HD Blu-ray has properties that should be considered in addition to those we see as standard. With that in mind I came up with five rating parameters:
  • HDR: Dark Highlights – The implementation of darkest visual elements
  • HDR: Bright Highlights – The implementation of brightest visual elements
  • HDR: Expanded Color & WCG – Discernibility/Effectiveness of applied chromatic range
  • Resolution – The discernible difference/improvement when compared to standard HD
  • Visual Impact - How the image stacks up as a whole
These will be scored on the same rating scale that I use for the current system and result in a technical rating that will be part of the overall rating along with the audio portion. The Blu-ray Disc rating will be included with Ultra HD Blu-ray reviews but will not be factored into the total audio/video rating that appears at the top of each review. This is similar to how 3D Blu-ray reviews are done currently. Going forward these parameters may get tweaked or changed but for now provide a foundation. As it stands there is apparently no exacting system for HDR10 implementation on the manufacturer side, and no calibration tools to allow for a standardized threshold for setting up a visual system. This leaves us to do the best we can to determine what appears to be accurate, at least for the time being.

It should be noted that in every case where an advanced audio codec like Dolby Atmos or DTS:X is included on an Ultra HD Blu-ray release the audio rating, reflected in the review summary at the top with the UHD video rating, will reflect that rather than the lossless core rating. The lossless core commentary/rating will be included along with the Blu-ray portion of the review but not factored in. In all other cases (meaning titles that don't include an advanced audio codec)the audio rating/commentary will be included as before. With the advanced video associated with Ultra HD Blu-ray it seems only logical to factor in the advanced audio rating when present. I realize that not everyone is set up for Ultra HD Blu-ray and Immersive home theater sound but at AVS Forum we strive to be at the cutting edge of the latest and greatest that home audio/video has to offer. The rating details for standard Blu-ray Discs included with Ultra HD Blu-ray releases will be incorporated in reviews so no worries.

I reached out to all of the studios that announced titles for release in Ultra HD Blu-ray to see about obtaining review screeners. I received titles from Sony and Warner Brothers. They are all catalog titles which I have previously reviewed. I will rate them using the parameters above. The titles from Sony all include new Dolby Atmos mixes (YES!) so I will offer an Atmos rating for them as well. To find out my thoughts on the bonus features and films please refer to my previous reviews.
UHD Presentation: 72
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
  • HDR: Dark Highlights:
  • HDR: Bright Highlights:
  • HDR: Expanded Color & WCG:
  • Resolution:
  • Visual Impact:
Dolby Atmos Rating: 76
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
  • Level of immersion:
  • Soundstage integration:
  • Audio object placement:
  • Effectiveness:
  • Entertainment factor:
UHD Presentation: 72
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
  • HDR: Dark Highlights:
  • HDR: Bright Highlights:
  • HDR: Expanded Color & WCG:
  • Resolution:
  • Visual Impact:
Dolby Atmos Rating: 82
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
  • Level of immersion:
  • Soundstage integration:
  • Audio object placement:
  • Effectiveness:
  • Entertainment factor:
UHD Presentation: 80
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
  • HDR: Dark Highlights:
  • HDR: Bright Highlights:
  • HDR: Expanded Color & WCG:
  • Resolution:
  • Visual Impact:
Dolby Atmos Rating: 88
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
  • Level of immersion:
  • Soundstage integration:
  • Audio object placement:
  • Effectiveness:
  • Entertainment factor:
UHD Presentation: 86
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
  • HDR: Dark Highlights:
  • HDR: Bright Highlights:
  • HDR: Expanded Color & WCG:
  • Resolution:
  • Visual Impact:
Dolby Atmos Rating: 90
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
  • Level of immersion:
  • Soundstage integration:
  • Audio object placement:
  • Effectiveness:
  • Entertainment factor:
UHD Presentation: 94
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
  • HDR: Dark Highlights:
  • HDR: Bright Highlights:
  • HDR: Expanded Color & WCG:
  • Resolution:
  • Visual Impact:
Dolby Atmos Rating: 88
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
  • Level of immersion:
  • Soundstage integration:
  • Audio object placement:
  • Effectiveness:
  • Entertainment factor:
UHD Presentation: 96
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
  • HDR: Dark Highlights:
  • HDR: Bright Highlights:
  • HDR: Expanded Color & WCG:
  • Resolution:
  • Visual Impact:
Dolby Atmos Rating: 100
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
  • Level of immersion:
  • Soundstage integration:
  • Audio object placement:
  • Effectiveness:
  • Entertainment factor:
As you can see I rated these in order of least to best looking. I commend Sony and Warner for offering Dolby Atmos mixes on their Ultra HD Blu-ray releases. Right now, as I see it, Dolby Atmos is the best game in town with respect to 3D immersive audio. I hope that trend continues as I appreciate their steadfast commitment to elevating the listening experience in the home environment.

Going forward Ultra HD Blu-ray reviews will include all of the information generally found in my reviews. This article was meant to serve as an introduction to the format, summary of the rating system, and newly released titles received. The format is new and there will be growing pains. I am optimistic based upon what I have seen so far and hope that as the year progresses we see more support from hardware manufacturers and quality release from the supporting studios.