Want to get into 4K Blu-ray? Here are 2 players and 5 movies to get you started

It may seem like 4K Blu-ray (and physical media in general) is dying, but many still like to collect their favorite movies in physical format. That’s not surprising since streaming sites are not only raising their prices, meaning people have to resort to ‘subscription hopping’ (subscribing to streaming sites for certain shows and movies each month before canceling) to save money, but they can’t be relied upon to keep movies on their platforms. How many times does Spider-Man (the 2002 version with Tobey Maguire) have to change from Netflix to Prime Video before it settles?

If you have bought one of the best TVs, it’s a shame not to feed it the best quality. But what does that mean? 4K Blu-ray and 4K streaming are both the same, right? Sadly, that’s not the case. With 4K streaming, data is transferred at a rate of 17-25 Mbps whereas 4K Blu-ray can transfer data at 128 Mbps. That means with 4K Blu-ray you’re getting a more detailed picture thanks to substantially lower data compression. 

If you’re getting into 4K Blu-ray, you’ll need one of the best 4K Blu-ray players. Below, I’ve listed two players I recommend, along with five movies I believe can be the perfect launch pad for your new addiction: 4K Blu-ray collecting. 

4K Blu-ray player: Panasonic DP-UB150/154 

Panasonic DP-UB154 on white table listing image

The Panasonic DP-UB154 (pictured) is easily one of the best budget 4K Blu-ray players on the market. (Image credit: Future)

Panasonic makes some of the best 4K Blu-ray players on the market, and these can vary in price dramatically. The first player I recommend checking out is the Panasonic DP-UB150/154, one of its budget models. (The UB150 and UB154 are identical and their availability depends on your region.)

Even though the UB150/154 is a budget model, you’ll still be getting HDR10 and HDR10+ HDR support and effective upscaling for lower-resolution sources. Performance is also fantastic, with excellent contrast and a natural, life-like quality to images. 

With no smart features or Wi-Fi capabilities, the UB150/154 may not be as feature-packed as more premium 4K Blu-ray players, but it can still pass through Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks. For budding home theater enthusiasts on a budget, the UB150/154 is a great place to start – you can expect to pay under £160/$200 for this brilliant 4K Blu-ray player. 

4K Blu-ray player: Panasonic DP-UB820 

Panasonic DP-UB820 on white stand

The Panasonic DP-UB820 (pictured), the best 4K Blu-ray player, balances features for price perfectly. (Image credit: Future)

The Panasonic DP-UB820 is the gold standard of value for money in a 4K Blu-ray player. It offers outstanding picture reproduction, with refined details and textures, punchy colors and contrast, and effective upscaling of regular Blu-ray discs and DVDs. 

It also comes brimming with features, including both Dolby Vision and HDR10+ support. That means no matter what TV you have, the UB820 has you covered when it comes to HDR, whereas other players around this price such as the Sony UBP-X800m2 only support Dolby Vision and not HDR10+. It also features 7.1-channel analog, optical digital and dedicated HDMI audio outputs plus smart features such as streaming. 

You’ll need to stretch the budget a bit further on the DP-UB820 – you can expect to pay $449/£349, though we’ve seen it lower – but it is a significant step up over more budget players and even rivals in its price category. 

4K Blu-ray disc 1: Top Gun: Maverick 

Panasonic DP-UB820 showing Top Gun Maverick

Top Gun: Maverick (pictured on the Panasonic MZ1500 TV) is great for motion and textures.  (Image credit: Future)

Top Gun: Maverick (2022), starring Tom Cruise, is a phenomenal 4K Blu-ray disc, and one that will show you the capabilities of your 4K Blu-ray player. Stacked with plenty of fast-paced action and quick, panning shots as jets zoom through the air, Maverick is an excellent resource for evaluating motion handling in any home theater setup and will quickly reveal any display-induced picture judder or blur. 

Maverick is also a great reference disc for evaluating skin tones and textures. With its many well-lit close-up shots of characters’ faces, both in the cockpit and in the California sun, it will effectively demonstrate the level of detail you can get from a 4K Blu-ray disc. 

Thanks to its many flight sequences, Maverick also showcases 4K Blu-ray audio, and how well the best soundbars or home theater systems handle lossless soundtracks on disc. When I did a comparative test of Blu-ray vs streaming, audio was an area where Blu-ray shined.

4K Blu-ray disc 2: The Batman 

Philips OLED808 with scene from The Batman on screen

The Batman (pictured on the Philips OLED808 TV) is fantastic for showing shadow detail and black levels. (Image credit: Future)

One movie I find essential for testing TVs at TechRadar and for showcasing what 4K Blu-ray can do is The Batman  (2022) starring Robert Pattinson. A dark, grainy movie with plenty of muted colors, The Batman is perfect for evaluating a TV’s black depth and shadow detail.

Throughout the movie, there are long sequences with low light or near darkness, and only the best TVs and 4K Blu-ray players can handle these darker tones without losing detail. Mastered at 400 nits instead of the more typical 1,000 nits, The Batman can easily reveal any imperfections in an LED-based TV’s backlight. The Panasonic players mentioned above do an excellent job with The Batman. Plus, it’s the best Batman movie ever made in my opinion. 

4K Blu-ray disc 3: Blade Runner: 2049 

blade runner: 2049 on TCL C805 98-inch

Blade Runner: 2049 (pictured on a 98-inch TCL C805 TV) is an extremely popular 4K Blu-ray. (Image credit: Future)

Wonderfully shot and beautifully detailed, Blade Runner: 2049, released in 2017 and starring Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford, is another fantastic disc for demonstrating 4K Blu-ray’s potential. Directed by Denis Villenueve and with cinematography by the legendary Roger Deakins, Blade Runner: 2049 was destined to look incredible on a 4K disc.

The movie is packed with scenes that have changing lighting conditions, which makes it perfect for evaluating contrast and color. The night market scene is perfect for testing contrast and the Dolby Atmos soundtrack is powerful. Blade Runner: 2049 is a slam-dunk disc to add to your collection if you want to see the benefits of 4K Blu-ray. 

4K Blu-ray disc 4: Alien 

Alien 4K Blu-ray

Alien on the Panasonic MZ1500 TV (pictured) shows how older movies can be given new life on 4K Blu-ray. (Image credit: Future)

The sci-fi/horror classic movie Alien (1979), starring Sigourney Weaver, is an example of an older movie getting new life through a proper 4K treatment on disc. On 4K Blu-ray, Alien gains refinement and detail, which enhances the tired and almost ghostlike complexions of the Nostromo crew. 

A recent spate of James Cameron-directed 4K Blu-ray releases including Aliens met with mixed reception, as people felt the color palette was heavily altered and the movies looked too digitized and clean. The 4K Blu-ray of Alien, on the other hand, demonstrates how an older movie can be cleaned up and revitalized without going too far. Alien on 4K Blu-ray lacks a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, but its DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is nonetheless an excellent example of atmospheric and tension-inducing movie sound. 

4K Blu-ray disc 5: Star Wars: The Last Jedi 

Philips OLED808 with Star Wars the Last Jedi on screen

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (pictured on the Philips OLED808 TV) is good for testing colors, particularly the throne room fight scene. (Image credit: Future)

Now, hear me out. Despite its polarizing nature (most opinions fall on the side of bad), Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) looks very good on 4K Blu-ray, and so do all of the sequel Star Wars movies for that matter. There are plenty of reference scenes here for testing different aspects of a 4K Blu-ray player and TV, but there’s one sequence in particular that I frequently return to.

The throne room fight scene in Star Wars: TLJ is punctuated with plenty of vibrant reds – a lightsaber, the walls, the guards’ uniforms – and in 4K this scene has a dynamic, punchy look. It’s also a good example of how sharpness and subtlety can combine, with plenty of refined detail in objects and faces. Star Wars: TLJ may not be to everyone’s tastes, but it’s an excellent ambassador for the 4K Blu-ray format.  

Final thoughts 

Collecting 4K Blu-ray can be expensive and all those discs can be a real space-stealer, but it offers the best video and audio quality most people can get in a home theater setup. For any movie fan, adding a 4K Blu-ray player to your 4K TV is a no-brainer.  

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It may seem like 4K Blu-ray (and physical media in general) is dying, but many still like to collect their favorite movies in physical format. That’s not surprising since streaming sites are not only raising their prices, meaning people have to resort to ‘subscription hopping’ (subscribing to streaming sites for…

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