Samsung UBD-K8500 4K UHD HDR Blu-ray media player Review (UBD-K8500/ZA)
After a long time’s worth of delays and waiting, the 4K UHD Blu-ray players finally arrived in the form of two models (at least that have currently hit the U.S market). The first of these is Panasonic’s rather pricey 4K UHD Blu-ray player and the second is the Samsung UBD-K8500 which we’re reviewing here. With a slightly more reasonable price tag of less than $400 and some great features and specs, the UBD-K8500 has plenty to offer for almost any serious home entertainment system. Users who own a 4K HDR TV will be particularly pleased with the performance of this media device due to all the hard media HDR 4K content it offers through the discs it supports.
Furthermore, with some wide support for conventional Blu-ray discs, DVDs and other media, the UBD-K8500 is also quite versatile. On top of this, it offers plenty of streaming content options. In other words, if what you’re looking for is a very complete 4K media experience that also includes the best existing 4K video format there is to-date (4K Blu-ray, with HDR) then the UBD-K8500 will be a requisite part of your home entertainment technology array and deserves a place right under or next to or maybe above your 4K TV, especially if that TV is an HDR model .
First of all, the UBD-K8500 is fairly reasonably priced for being the first device of its kind in existence in the U.S market. This won’t last and the price will almost certainly go down but for now, among the few existing 4K Blu-ray player options out there, what the UBD-K8500 costs isn’t quite so bad. Considering all of its multiple abilities, it’s also pretty close to being worth that price and is very much backwards compatible, meaning that you can have the best of all worlds while also being ready for the near future of home video media in 4K and with high dynamic range.
Secondly, in terms of overall functionality, the UBD-K8500 is a pretty simple and straightforward piece of technology. Loading times are very quick, the main user interface is a smart system with plenty of its own streaming media apps available right off the bat and the 4K HDR Blu-ray discs it plays are only the main mediums it can support. It also handles ordinary Blu-ray, DVDs, CDs and just about any other sort of physical disc and storage media you can throw at it. On top of this, setting up the UBD-K8500 out of the box is just about as simple as it gets, especially when it comes to integration with any of Samsung’s 4K UHD TVs.
We also love the way the UBD-K8500 looks. It’s a bit plasticky in its feel but the brushed finish and curved body mesh nicely with any home entertainment setup and look particularly good sitting next to a curved 4K TV, like some of Samsung’s 2015 and 2016 models. The accessory remote control also does what it needs to do well and easily enough, with straightforward, well selected buttons. Our only major complaint here is the odd lack of dedicated fast forward and rewind buttons but these are rather small details. We also like the dual HDMI 2.0a ports built into the back of the UBD-K8500. These are particularly useful for not only TV connectivity but also connection to still other hard media devices.
In addition to these, there is also a front-facing USB port in the UBD-K8500 and this too can be used to play digital media from a USB stick or external hard drive. Even 4K video files can be played across it, though possibly not in 4K resolution at high frame rates.
3.9 - 327 Reviews
On the other hand, as a first of its kind, the UBD-K8500 is certainly not going to be perfect across the board.
For starters, there’s the price issue. Even though this is the cheapest of the 4K Blu-ray media players on the current market, it’s still a bit steeply priced at just under $400. This is partly to be expected for a new device in a new technology niche but it’s also a possible justification for deciding to wait until the market for 4K Blu-ray players expands further and the devices become cheaper. On the other hand, this could take a year or more and for those who want the highest quality digital 4K video media in existence right now, then 4K Blu-ray with HDR is the unbeatable choice to go for.
Next, unless you own a 4K HDR TV like some of the assorted premium models we’ve seen emerge in 2016, the Samsung UBD-K8500 might not even be worthwhile as a replacement for a much cheaper normal HD Blu-ray player. HDR is what really makes 4K Blu-ray shine and without the ability to read this visual encoding in 4K HDR BD discs, even 4K Blu-ray discs will look only marginally sharper in an SDR 4K TV than normal HD Blu-ray after your TV upscales it with its own internal processing. (the UBD-K8500 also offers its own upscaling engine for non-4K content). Currently, only a handful of 4K HDR Blu-ray titles are available for sale but to its credit, the selection is growing quite rapidly and will likely include well over a couple hundred movie titles by the end of 2016. Thus, without that 4K HDR TV, this alone might be a good reason to avoid buying the UBD-K8500, at least for now.
Finally, the UBD-K8500 also has a few issues with the remote. For one thing, there’s the whole lack of rewind and fast forward functionality, which is substituted by skip forward and skip backward buttons that have to be pressed and held down for rewinding or fast forwarding, and it’s easy to screw this up and accidentally skip through movie/content scenes. Furthermore, the remote is simply quite small and though this might not be a problem for some users, others might find it frustrating if their hands are larger. We also don’t like the fact that accessing the settings menu through the remote takes a cumbersomely large number of clicks.
• Max Supported resolution: 4K ultra HD at 3840 x 2160 pixels
• Supported Video Codecs: H.265, H.264
• Supported digital video standards: AVCHD, MKV, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, WMV
• Supported media types: ultra HD 4K Blu-ray, HD Blu-ray, CD/CD-R/CD-RW, 3D Blu-ray, DVD/DVD-R/DVD-RW
• Internet streaming services: Smart Hub, Smart TV, streaming media apps (Amazon, Netflix, others)
• Remote Control: Yes
• Networking: IEEE 802.3 (Ethernet), Wi-Fi
• Connectivity: 2 x HDMI 2.0a, 1 x USB 2.0, Ethernet, Optical Digital Audio, Allshare
• Extended Storage: supports external hard drives, UBS sticks and other devices via HDMI & USB
• Audio Processing: 7.1 audio channels, codec support for AAC, FLAC, LPCM, MP3, WMA
• Built-in Audio decoding: DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD
• Software/Apps: AllShare, Anynet+, BD-Wise, CD Ripping, DLNA compatible, Samsung Apps, Samsung Smart Blu-ray, Smart Hub, Web Browser, streaming media apps include YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, M-Go, Vudu, others
• Dimensions (H x W x D): 1.8 x 16 x 9.1 inches
• Weight: 4.19 lbs
The UBD-K8500 is a hefty piece of hardware and this is particularly notable if it’s compared with many existing HD Blu-ray players or even the competing Philips 4K Blu-ray media player, which is less than half its size. With a width of 16 inches and a depth of nearly 10 inches, it’s going to take up plenty of space and also unsurprisingly weighs quite a bit at 4.19 lbs. This may or may not be a problematic detail but it doesn’t take away from the arguably stylish look of the UBD-K8500. Brushed semi-matte black skin covers the entire player except for the very back, which is made of exposed white metal and contains the majority of the UBD-K8500’s connectivity ports. Furthermore, the front face is simple, minimalist and has a pretty cool looking curvature to it. Overall, while bigger than we find comfortable, the UBD-K8500 definitely looks good and fits nicely among other modern home theater electronics, particularly next to an also curved Samsung 4K TV.
First and foremost, the thing which really sets the UBD-K8500 from Samsung apart from all but its own rivals in the 4K Blu-ray market is the simple fact that this is a machine principally designed to support 4K HDR Blu-ray discs. Currently, no streaming or even download media quite matches the sheer visual quality of this format in terms of color, clarity and other qualities if viewed through a device like the UBD-K8500 on a native 4K HDR TV like one of Samsung’s 2016 SUHD models. The display quality of the few 4K BD discs available on the market, when played in the UBD-K8500 on an HDR TV is something which will simply leave you wanting more of the same and conventional HD Blu-ray as well as even SDR 4K movies, whether streamed or downloaded, simply don’t quite compare against the Dolby Vision and HDR 10 standards and their better pixels, dynamic range and 10-bit color. The quality is better than cinematic, to be blunt about it.
Secondly, we can’t help but appreciate the improvements a combo of the UBD-K8500’s technology and your own 4K TV’s technology will deliver to the large array of non-HDR 4K videos you might watch or even more so to conventional media like HD Blu-rays and DVDs. Yes, both of these can also just as easily be watched through an HD Blu-ray player and your TV will upscale them nicely but the UBD-K8500 does add its own touch of upscaling refinement that comes with an expanded internal color gamut and its own UHD upscaling engine.
As for file compatibility, the UBD-K8500 is also downright flexible. It accepts all types of files like MPEG-2, MPEG-4, JPEG, HD-JPEG, AVCDH 41, MVK, WMV, MPO, MP3, LPCM, AAC, WMA, and FLAC content while also being perfectly attuned to Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital, TrueHD as well as DTS:X, DTS-HD Master Audio, and of course, DTS.
Then there’s the Samsung Smart Hub, a major selling point for this model since it’s similar to what you’ll find in your Samsung 4K TV if you have one. Smart Hub in the K8500 is a bit clumsier to use than it is in a Samsung TV due to some minor problems with how the remote itself and even the smart OS is organized but it’s still fairly simple, straightforward and quite seamless at integrating normal streaming apps with other apps like Pandora, Facebook and so forth. Accessing a wide range of streaming content options in both 4K and HD is also nicely easy with onscreen apps for Hulu, YouTube, Amazon Prime, Netflix and M-Go (only available to Samsung 4K TVs in UHD), among others. You can furthermore also stream content from assorted other networked or directly connected computers, hard drives, UBB sticks or quite a few other media devices.
3.9 - 327 Reviews
First of all, the K8500 is much more of a media hub than you’d expect any ordinary Blu-ray player to be. It functions partly like the Roku 4 or another highly versatile set-top streaming media box, aside from its hard media delivery capacities. Thus, it’s most important connectivity specs revolve around the internet connectivity that can be delivered to the K8500 via Ethernet or WiFi to a lesser extent. With these enabled, screen mirroring from networked devices is possible and of course streaming 4K media sources like the major content apps all become available for delivery of content to your 4K smart TV. Of course, a lot of these apps and streaming options will also be somewhat redundant since most newer 4K TVs and all HDR 4K TVs also come with their own smart TV platforms and associated apps but it’s nice to have all such capabilities in the KS8500 as well.
Secondly, as fa as hard media connectivity for video and audio is concerned, the UBD-K8500 has its users covered with all of the essential and important specs. These include the most essential thing of all, the disc loading tray, which is compatible with all of the different disc media we listed in our specs. Then there is a front USB input, which can play media from USB sticks and external hard drives. Aside from this, there are dual HDMI 2.0a outputs. The main HDMI port is for 4K-compatible devices like your TV and comes with HDCP 2.2 integration. This can be connected to your 4K TV directly or to an AV Receiver or other display device. The K8500’s other HDMI port is designed to handle audio and is aimed at transmitting uncompressed audio codecs to older audio devices.
The performance of the Samsung UBD-K8500 is at its indisputable absolute best when you finally get to watch a 4K Blu-ray disc with HDR on a 4K HDR TV with the media player. Dozens of 4K discs are already available on sale, hundreds more are probably coming in 2016 and beyond and there’s no need to worry about ultra-high speed internet connectivity when watching them in the way that this is an issue with streaming 4K media. Thus, if you have that 4K HDR TV handy and want to seriously be blown away by just how stunning the native UHD HDR video you’ll see for your favorite movie selection looks, then go ahead and try out the UBD-K8500 as soon as you can because in this regard, it’s performance is second to that of no other means of watching UHD entertainment (except maybe a rival 4K Blu-ray player with the same specs). Streaming doesn’t beat this, VOD 4K doesn’t beat this and even most cinema screens won’t quite match the sound, color, dynamic range and exquisite clarity offered by this killer combo of 4K BD player, 4K TV and 4K discs with HDR technology running through all three.
For those of you who don’t have an HDR TV, the UBD-K8500 will sadly not show some of its more stunning display traits but it will still deliver a solid, easy to use and robust media hub performance which duplicates a lot of the functions your 4K TV or some other set-top box is already capable of while also leaving you ready to handle HDR 4K disc movies as soon as you change TVs to a 2016 model of almost any kind (since they all now come with HDR integration). In this, the UBD-K8500 is a great resource for future-proofing your home entertainment.
The UBD-K8500 from Samsung isn’t cheap. This is one of its drawbacks and something you’ll have to carefully balance against the obvious value the player is also capable of delivering. It retails on Amazon.com right now for $247.99. About $150 off its original price since its release.
3.9 - 327 Reviews
• Truly stunning HDR 4K performance in Blu-ray
• Extremely versatile with other media formats
• Great Smart Hub interface
• Easy to set up and use
• Great overall performance
• Not a great value if you don’t have an HDR 4K TV
• Remote control has some problems with its design