I’ve been building my home theatre for years, and was getting close to completion. It includes a 4K-rated Stewart Filmscreen StudioTek 130 G3 screen; JVC DLA-X750R eShift4 4K projector with High Dynamic Range (HDR), full P3 colour space, and 12-bit panel; Dolby Atmos and DTS:X for immersive sound; and seats with tactile transducers to accentuate “missing” frequencies in the room, built to be accurate down to half-an-inch as per SMPTE/THX room ratio recommendations.
The only thing missing was a 4K source. With Samsung’s UBD-K8500 UHD Blu-ray player, my reference theatre room may finally be complete.
When I first saw the player at CES 2016, I immediately disliked the curved front panel of the player. While it follows with Samsung’s latest design theme, it’s not for me. Luckily, however, all of my AV equipment, minus the projector, is installed in a separate room so I don’t have to care what the equipment looks like.
The player has a “plasticky” feel. It would have been better if Samsung had opted to use a thicker plastic or even metal, for the exterior. It disappointingly feels identical to other Samsung Blu-ray players sold at $200 and lower; complete with a slightly wobbly disc tray. I was hoping for a sleeker look and feel with a $600 player.
On the flip side, however, it is a first generation machine. So perhaps build quality is being sacrificed in order to hit a price point. I don’t know how to put it nicely… even when I touched the player, I can feel the lack of quality in the material they choose. As far as the curved design; although I’m not a fan, it fits perfectly with Samsung’s curve-theme utilized in their TV lineup and also soundbars.
Power up varies from about 10 to 15 seconds, and movies load within 38 seconds or less. That’s about the same time it takes for my projector to do an HDCP 2.2 handshake with the player.
The first thing you need to do is to update the firmware, which is about 500MB in size. The only qualm is that the Samsung server is slow. Even with my 300Mbps constant download speed and the player hardwired to my modem, the download and installation process took about 40 minutes on a good day, up to an hour during “busy hour” (after work hours).
I have 14 UHD Blu-ray discs, including ones from 35mm transfer, 2K Master and 4K Master. All of the discs are marketed as having wide colour gamut and HDR as well. I also planned to test the player’s 4K upscaling capability with a selection of standard Blu-ray discs. Also on the list is Netflix – I want to be able to watch my 4K Netflix using my projector. To my knowledge, using this unit is the only way you can watch 4K Netflix as no other standalone player is capable to do so. One caveat, you will have to download Netflix from Samsung Apps Store. I find this to be truly annoying. Why do we have to download Netflix when Arirang TV (a Korean IPTV) is pre-loaded? I understand it’s a Korean company and all, but come on!
Just like any video player, you can set the TV aspect ratio, adjust 3D playback, and select an “Output Resolution.” Default is Auto, but you can specify 2,160p, 1,080p, 720p, and 480p. I set mine to 2,160p so that every video would be upscaled to 4K resolution.
There are also choices for “HDMI Color Format” (YCbCr 4:4:4, RGB Standard, RGB Enhanced). As the original colour subsampling is natively YcbCr 4:2:0, choosing 4:4:4 will give the most accurate colour subsampling possible, and “HDMI Deep Color” (Auto or Off). I still don’t know what “Deep Color” mode is for, as there isn’t a single disc out there that uses this function. So I just turn it off. In Audio Settings, you can select the HDMI Audio output (I left mine to Auto for single and dual HDMI out usage), and Digital Audio Output. Strangely, the player is set to PCM out by default; especially since Dolby Atmos and DTS:X users need to select “Bitstream Unprocessed” in order to take advantage of the object-audio surround sound formats. Just like many media players, users can also select to re-encode audio to (lossy) Dolby Digital or DTS. Something uncommon but that may be important to some users, is Samsung’s “Picture Mode.” Just like a TV, the “Picture Mode” gives you four options: Dynamic, Standard, Movie, or User to customize colour, tint, contrast, brightness, sharpness and tint settings. It’s a mystery to me why “tint,” a control from the old days of NTSC, is still an option. Not even HD should have “tint,” let alone UHD. If you want the video signal to be as pure as possible, “User” mode with every setting at zero worked best. After all, why do you want to mess around with the movie directors’ intentions?
During the set up process, I found the DLNA function of the player to be temperamental. Sometimes, it could see all networked drives, sometimes it saw only some, and other times, it would completely hang when I tried to access them. It’s a fixable issue via firmware update, but I expected the basic functionality to be working out of the box, especially after taking another extra hour to update firmware. Regardless, it’s not a deal breaker. Nobody, to my knowledge, buys a Blu-ray player for its DLNA functionality.
Want to play media from a thumb drive or external hard drive? A USB port on the front panel can also be used to rip audio CDs to MP3s. It would have been better (and only cost Samsung a few cents more) to have an extra USB port at the back for a cleaner-looking installation should a user want to install a USB HDD permanently. For the most part, playback worked as intended. However, I did get random “file not supported” errors in the middle of both audio and video playback. I’m not sure what caused it.
One interesting and important note, however, is that this USB port can also connect to a Samsung UHD Pack, a $300 hard drive filled with about 20 4K movies. With these content, I didn’t get any of the error messages.
Playback of any UHD disc I threw in, including Chappie, Salt, The Peanuts Movie and Mad Max: Fury Road, was simple and seamless. Each disc played almost instantly; I tried 14 in total. It reminded me of the LaserDisc days: put the disc in, see a simple menu, press “enter” or “play,” and voila, the movie plays.
The player can play back HDR content. The 10-bit colour depth effectively reduces colour banding to a very minimum in every title except for The Martian where there is visible banding in the early scenes of the movie. The “Wide Color Gamut” feature, however, varies dramatically from movie to movie. With Salt, the colour gamut plays well with the P3 colour space. But on Hitman: Agent 47, the colour gamut is merely the standard REC 709 with no indication on the packaging as to which colour space the studio uses. That can be a bit frustrating as one need to experiment by changing the calibration setting to match the movie they are watching. Alternatively, you can just set and forget the colour space of your display to REC 709 (standard HD) although you won’t get the “wider colour palette” benefit of other versions of colour spaces such as P1, P3 and REC2020.
This might be due to the legal loophole of what “Wide Color Gamut” is. Technically, REC 2020 is a colour space (colour gamut) and a “container.” Within that REC 2020 “container,” studios can utilize the entire “container” by using REC 2020 colour gamut, or partially, by using a “smaller” colour space, such as “DCI P3” (the colour space most commercial cinemas use), or REC 709 (the colour space of regular Blu-ray and HD sources), or even the archaic REC 601 (the colour space for standard definition NTSC). So, although legally all UHD discs are using a Wide Colour Gamut container (REC 2020), the content within the container may just be the regular REC 709, which is the case in most of the discs I’ve purchased. In the best case scenario, it’s the DCI-P3 colour space. I’m fairly certain that as the format progresses, more and more titles will be done in the DCI-P3 colour space to mimic the theatrical presentation of the movie.
It goes without saying that the presentation of any UHD disc was amazing, but some more so than the others. Movies originally captured using 35mm film such as Salt tend to give the most details and movies mastered from a studio-upscaled 2K masters such as Hitman: Agent 47 show the least. Regardless, even the worst UHD discs are still head and shoulders above any in-machine-upscaled regular Blu-ray discs. This is saying a lot as the upscaling capability of the Samsung UBD-K8500 can only be bested by the Oppo 103D Universal Disc Player. Please note that although the Oppo 103D is capable to upscale any resolution to 4K, it is not a UHD BD player and sold at a $150 premium over the Samsung UBD-K8500.
With this exceptional prowess in upscaling capability, I was delighted to watch my standard Blu-rays in upscaled resolution through the device. In fact, the UBD-K8500’s upscaler was noticeably better at upscaling than the JVC DLA-X750R. Of course, no amount of upscaling can match, let alone beat, a true 4K source. Also, “Wow Factor” aside, the colour rendition of the Samsung player seems to be very wrong. Far too much red without any recourse to tame it down. Perhaps a firmware update can fix that.
What to Watch
Between the currently available UHD discs and Samsung’s UHD Pack, you can own around 50 UHD movies as of this writing. By the end of the year, depending on the popularity and penetration of UHD Blu-ray players globally, major studios will release anywhere between 75 to 300 more titles. That does not include travelogue, special interests, documentaries and concerts.
My only true regret is that the Samsung UBD-K8500 cannot play SACDs or DVD-Audio. However, even without those capabilities, I still highly recommend this player. Even more so if you are a front projector user, as you’ll need as much detail as possible for that giant screen.
Ultra HD Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD, & CD Playback
Output Resolutions: 2160p, 1080i/p, 720p, 480p
Built-in Wi-Fi, connection to the internet is absolutely necessary to accommodate playback of AACS 2.0 copy protected UHD BD
HDR-10 (SMPTE EOTS 2084) & Wide Color Gamut (WCG)
REC 2020 Support
YCbCr 4:4:4 output
HEVC / H.265
Two HDMI 2.0a Outputs (MAIN: DHCP 2.2 for 4K video/audio, SUB for audio)
Netflix, Hulu, VUDU, Pandora, Facebook, YouTube, etc.
1.66 GB internal memory for Apps downloaded through Samsung Smart Hub
Rips Audio CDs to MP3 (to a USB stick)
Optical digital audio out DLNA Certification
Plays MP3, WMA, AAC, AIFF, ALAC, FLAC, WAV, OGG audio files
Plays MPEG, MKV, WMV, AVI, AVCHD video files
Fast power up and loading for a first-generation player
Reasonable price for a first generation device
Two HDMI outputs: one for audio if you own a non-4K receiver, and the other can be connected directly to the display/projector for the purest signal path possible)
Amazing 4K upscaling capability (but with far too much red-push)
DLNA only works on random occasions.
The finish is too flimsy for a $600 unit
Curved design, which is not my cup of tea
No USB input at the back of the device