Electronics – Audio And Video Accessories – Remote Controls
Ultra HD Blu-ray has finally arrived. However, just like Blu-ray s original launch, only two manufacturers currently have UHD Blu-ray players you can actually buy, leaving you with a choice of either Samsung s UBD-K85001 or Panasonic s DMP-UB900 on test here.
Both require a considerable investment, though, as each one is considerably more expensive than your average Blu-ray player – Samsung s, for instance, costs 430 while this Panasonic costs a whopping 600. They are, however, aimed at a slightly different audience – and with good reason.
Connections and Audio
Panasonic s Ultra HD Blu-ray player, for instance, comes with all the bells and whistles you d expect from a top of the line device. That includes two HDMI outputs, one of which is completely dedicated to audio. By isolating the sound from the video stream, Panasonic claims it can reduce clock jitter when it s connected to a separate amp. This allegedly reduces the number of errors and unwanted noise, but we ve never really found this to be a problem on ordinary Blu-ray players, so you ll likely only really care about this feature if you re a hardened cinephile.
Even if you don t end up using the second HDMI output, though, the DMP-UB900 also has 7.1 analogue outputs to carry surround sound. In fact, it s this intense focus on audio delivery that really separates the DMP-UB900 from Samsung s Ultra HD Blu-ray player, as you ll also find Panasonic s included support for high-resolution audio with its 192kHZ/32-bit DAC, as well as FLAC and DSD playback across DLNA or USB storage. What it does lack, however, is SACD or DVD-A discs, which is a bit of a surprise considering the rest of its capabilities.
Other audiophile-friendly features include the LAN Common Mode Filter, which is meant to shield the DMP-UB900 from electronic noise created by external devices. As a result, the DMP-UB900 will likely be right up your street if you have a high-quality audio setup to match it, but those with ordinary TV setups will find all this distinctly overkill.
The DMP-UB900 also trumps Samsung s player on looks, as there s no denying this is a classy-looking Blu-ray player, even if it is very quick to pick up dust and fingerprints. Out of the box, though, its glossy, glass-cut front looks incredibly elegant, and its display is clear and easy to read. If it becomes too distracting, though, you can always dim the display to make it more subtle.
Stowed away in an AV cabinet, the fingerprint problem probably won t be so much of an issue, but it s worth noting that it is considerably taller than Samsung s UBD-K8500, which looks a lot sleeker by comparison. However, this is due to all the extra connections on the rear, so its size can be excused.
The remote control is a little busy for my liking, especially compared to the simpler remote controls included with Samsung s Ultra HD Blu-ray player. There are some useful buttons here, though, such as the skip buttons that let you jump back in 10s increments or jump forward by a minute, as this is often more convenient than attempting to skip by entire chapters.
To truly take advantage of the DMP-UB900, you ll need to pair it with a 4K TV (preferably one that supports High Dynamic Range or HDR), as well as some actual Ultra HD content to watch on it. Provided you have these two prerequisites, the DMP-UB900 will not disappoint.
Panasonic takes care of the latter half by bundling in Ultra HD copies of Mad Max: Fury Road and San Andreas with the player. Considering Ultra HD Blu-rays are going to cost around 20 apiece, it makes the overall cost marginally more palatable. Samsung, by comparison, only bundles in an Ultra HD disc of The Martian.
The DMP-UB900 also supports the HDR BT.2020 wide colour gamut and 10-bit colour, so you ll need to check whether your TV supports this as well to get the most out of it. Thankfully, this won t be too much of a problem for new buyers, as the DMP-UB900 has been recognised by the Ultra HD Alliance as meeting the requirements for Ultra HD Premium , so all you need to do is look out for the Ultra HD Premium badge on this year s TVs and you re all set for the best UHD experience available. If that wasn t enough, its video performance is THX certified, too.
Needless to say, the DMP-UB900 produces wonderful images when watching Ultra HD HDR Blu-rays. As expected, there s a much wider range of colours on display, making the wide-angled destruction scenes in San Andreas look far more immersive, and there s a lot more detail in the highlights and shadows as well thanks to HDR s higher brightness and contrast levels. When you get a sun flare, for instance (or see the sun shining off Dwayne Johnson s bald noggin), HDR won t clip the bright centre of the image, allowing you to see more detail and fewer halo effects in the process.
I also watched The Martian on Ultra HD Blu-ray, and scenes transitioned beautifully from the bright, orange-hued shots of Mars to the darker mission control scenes. Switch off HDR, though, and scenes look far flatter and more subdued, with colours losing their depth and sense of vibrancy. It s fair to say that once you ve watched something in HDR, you never want to go back.
Truth be told, some people might not get the initial wow factor they experienced when they first made the move from DVD to Blu-ray. The effect is certainly less pronounced when moving from Blu-ray to Ultra HD Blu-ray, but the jump in resolution will largely be dependent on the size of your TV, your viewing distance and the content itself. Not all Ultra HD Blu-rays will have actually been shot in 4K originally, so watch out for discs that have been upscaled from lower-resolution masters. That said, the UBD-900 performs well with non-Ultra HD content, too, as its 4K Direct Chroma up-scaling worked wonders with our standard Blu-ray discs.
Another thing to point out is that many 4K TVs won t have HDR turned on by default, so you might have to root around in your TV s menu settings to get the best image quality. Naturally, this all happens automatically through Viera Link when you connect the DMP-UB900 to a Panasonic TV, but I had to turn it on manually when I paired it with a Samsung TV. Read page 2 for more on Smart Features and my Conclusion2.
- ^ Samsung s UBD-K8500 (www.expertreviews.co.uk)
- ^ Read page 2 for more on Smart Features and my Conclusion (www.expertreviews.co.uk)
Q Acoustics might not be a household name but the 10-year-old British audio company already has a strong reputation in the Hi-Fi community. It s these Hi-Fi credentials that Q Acoustics claims it has applied to its Media 4 soundbar.
The large soundbar certainly cuts an imposing figure, measuring 1,000x90x142mm, which is as wide as my reference 42in television. Its height is also significant and if you choose to use the anti-vibration feet, which Q Acoustic recommends you do, as this adds another 20mm. This is so there is some clearance for the down-firing subwoofer.
With the feet attached, it meant the top of the M4 was level with the bottom of my reference television screen. So depending on your seated height or the height of your television stand, it could possibly obstruct the bottom of the screen. Of course this won t be a problem if your television is wall-mounted.
You can also wall-mount the M4 as well, and thoughtfully the bracket and screws are included. The M4 has a trapezoidal shape, which allows for enough clearance for neater cabling if wall-mounted. The M4 weighs 4.9kg so you ll need to make sure your walls are able to support the load.
If you choose to place the M4 on your AV stand, you ll want to place the soundbar as far forwards as you can, preferably right against the front edge of your television cabinet or shelf. This is to prevent sound reflecting off the surrounding furniture.
The M4 is deeper than most soundbars, which has some benefits as it means a larger speaker cabinet with more air to move, creating fuller sound. One of the issues already with flatscreen televisions is the limited space for the speakers, which is why the sound quality is so often poor.
In terms of connections, you have the choice of an optical connection, 3.5mm auxiliary or RCA phono. There s no HDMI ARC or HDMI passthrough. You also have the option of connecting a wireless Bluetooth device and there s support for the less-lossy aptX codec if your device is compatible. The M4 also has NFC for quickly pairing a device over Bluetooth. Finally, there s a subwoofer output if you want to connect a separate subwoofer.
A small, basic remote control is included. It feels a little cheap and its small size means it could be easily lost. You do have the option of controlling the M4 using remote controls for satellite or cable boxes through IR learning and both Sky and Virgin Media remote controls are compatible.
Star Wars fever is definitely back and you’re going to struggle to move this Christmas without bumping into branded products. The latest tie-in comes courtesy of Sky, which is selling Star Wars themed remotes, to celebrate Sky Movies getting the existing films on-demand and via the dedicated channel, which are available from the 11 December until the 3 January. There are 10 remotes to choose from, each one featuring characters from the films: Darth Vader (two varieties), Storm Troopers (two varieties), R2-D2, C-3PO, Luke Skywalker, Yoda, Princess Leia and Han Solo. Essentially, it’s all of the classic characters and none of the bumbling newer ones. Aside from the new design, they’re regular Sky remotes with the same layout and features as the regular Sky+ model. It means you can pause and rewind to watch your favourite bits, and delete Episodes I, II and III if you accidentally record them. Each remote costs 25 and is available through the Sky Store1. If you’re not sure which one you want, check out our gallery of all of the remotes below – for me, it’s got to be one of the Darth Vader models.
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Everything you need to know about Sky
The first premium TV provider in the UK, Sky delivers its TV via satellite to millions of homes in the UK, although it has expanded its reach via the internet streaming Now TV service. It’s on the brink of releasing its most ambitious multi-room, multi-device TV service with the recently-announced Sky Q2 – I’ll have more details on that and a hands-on review shortly. In the meantime, here’s how you can get Sky and its various services in the UK.
How to get Sky in the UK and what you get
The core Sky service is delivered by satellite to a Sky+ HD box. This PVR has dual HD tuners, so you can record two channels at the same time (or watch one and record another). Sky also has a comprehensive on-demand service available, with programmes downloading directly to the Sky+ HD box. This means that you don’t need to worry about streaming bandwidth, as you don’t need a constant download speed, and that Sky can offer the best quality catch-up TV. When I tested Sky+ HD I found that its on-demand service, including iPlayer, was broadcast quality; streaming services are significantly worse. As well as catch-up shows, Sky also sells movies (you get a ‘free’ DVD in the post, too) and lets you rent top titles. Sky’s main pull is the quality of its content, ranging from the latest HBO shows, such as Game of Thrones, on Sky Atlantic, to Premier League football and the F1. Sky+ HD costs from 20 a month for the basic package, which gets you 35+ entertainment channels, including the big main Sky channels in standard definition (Sky One and Sky Atlantic), plus the 11 free HD channels, including BBC One HD, BBC Two HD, ITV HD and Four HD. Most people will want to take the Family Bundle ( 36 a month), which gets you 75+ entertainment channels and 50+ HD channels, including Sky One HD and Sky Atlantic HD. Movie channels and sports channels can be added on as optional extras. If you don’t like the idea of a contract, or you only want some of Sky’s content for a short period of time, then Now TV3 could be the service for you. Delivered over the internet, Now TV brings you the best of Sky’s content (Sky Atlantic, Sports and Movies) for lower cost with no contract. Entertainment channels cost 6.99 a month, movies cost 9.99 a month and sports start at 6.99 for a day. Sky also offers its own-brand broadband, which costs from 10 a month, although more expensive and faster fibre connections are also available.
Recent Sky stories
Sky boosts movie features with Sky+ HD update – 20/8
You certainly can’t accuse Sky of sitting on its laurels and not updating its main product, as it has released another update and improvement to its Sky+ HD box. This time around, it’s all about improving the movie experience for Sky Movies subscribers, adding a range of new features to make the service easier to use. First up is the More Like This feature, which will give you recommendations based on the title that you’re looking at. Customers can just hit the Yellow button on their remote to bring up the new details. It’s a neat way of getting more from your box and adds a feature that’s already common with streaming movies services. Next, you can build your own Watchlist, saving titles that you’re interested in as you discover them. A click of the green button does the job quickly. Again, it’s a feature that exists with a lot of streaming services, such as Netflix, but it’s an important one to have, as it means you can quickly start watching something you want to watch, rather than ploughing through the guide. Customers in Italy have had the Watch from Start tool for a while, but it now makes its appearance in the UK. If you find a film that has already started on one of the movie channels, you can just tap the green button and the film will be downloaded to your box, so you can start watching it. As Expert Reviews proved in its Sky+ HD vs Virgin Tivo4 article, Sky’s on-demand service downloads the broadcast-quality show, so you don’t have to suffer inferior quality for the sake of convenience. Later on in the year, the company will roll out Rotten Tomatoes scores, so you’ll have a better idea of what’s worth watching, too.
Sky has started to roll out the new update now and has promised that it will be available to everyone later in Autumn. As usual with these updates, your box will download and complete the upgrade automatically, provided that it’s powered on. Check out how the Sky EPG has evolved in our full gallery5.
Sky records 1.5 billion on-demand downloads in a year
Sky recorded a huge surge in people using video-on-demand services over the past year, according to the company’s latest trading figures. The broadcaster recorded a total of 1.5 billion on-demand downloads over the past 12 months, an increase of 60% on the year before. The company reports that 65% of Sky homes have now connected their set-top box to the internet, giving them full access to Sky’s on-demand services, such as Box Sets and catch-up TV services such as the BBC iPlayer. The Box Sets themselves – which allow users to stream entire series of television shows via their Sky+ box – have recorded more than 600 million views since their launch last year. Sky says that’s the equivalent of the fourth most popular channel on its service. The company also reported “strong growth” in Now TV, the on-demand and streaming service that doesn’t require a full satellite subscription. Although it doesn’t offer specific figures for Now TV adoption, the company claims it sold three times as many Sky Sports passes in the past year as it did in the year previous, largely “thanks to increased awareness of the new Now TV week pass”, which gives access to all the Sky Sports channels for seven days for 10.99. Recently Sky also introduced a month pass for 31.99.
Sky has overcome many of the reliability problems that beset Now TV in its early days, where streams would routinely fail on big occasions such as key football matches or new episodes of popular series such as Game of Thrones. An updated version of the Sky Now streaming device6 was launched last month, although it still won’t deliver the Full HD streams that many were hoping for, even though the hardware is technically capable of delivering that resolution. Sky is reported to be improving the on-demand facilities with its new 4K-compatible set-top box, SkyQ, which is expected to be unveiled imminently. The box will reportedly record up to four TV channels simultaneously and allow users to wirelessly stream recorded content on other devices, such as smartphones and tablets. The shift towards fibre broadband – which Sky now offers for “free” with premium television subscriptions – and on-demand viewing raises questions over the long-term future of satellite broadcasts.