4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Players and Discs

What you need to know about the format's image and sound quality

If you've purchased a 4K Ultra HD TV, you may want to invest in an Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc player to enjoy 4K content, such as movies on 4k Ultra HD discs and streaming offerings from sites like Netflix and Vudu. Here's what you need to know before buying a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc player.

Official Ultra HD Blu-ray Logo above a Samsung Ultra HD Blu-ray disc Player

How 4K Ultra HD Disc Players Are Different

Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc players and Blu-ray Disc players that provide 4K upscaling have some surface similarities. Both can play 1080p Blu-ray Discs, DVDs, CDs, and USB media, and both are able to upscale older content. Both also support internet connectivity and network streaming. But these technologies have critical differences.

While Blu-ray Discs can be played on Ultra HD Blu-ray players, 4K Blu-ray Discs won't play on standard Blu-ray Disc players.

HDR

Ultra HD Blu-ray players support 4K resolution discs and offer HDR (High Dynamic Range) capability. HDR provides viewers with a greater range of colors and more image information, making for a much better picture.

To take advantage of this feature, your TV must be able to display HDR content. Most TVs made before 2016 likely will not support HDR. Check your 4K TV model's specs to see if it supports HDR.

If you have an HDR-compatible TV that supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision, the player will default to Dolby Vision for playback. If the player detects your TV isn't Dolby Vision-compatible, the player will default to HDR10. Depending on the player brand or model, you may be able to manually choose HDR playback options.

All Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc players support HDR10 playback, while some support even more formats, including HDR10+ and Dolby Vision.

HDMI Connection Requirements

To take advantage of everything 4K Blu-ray offers, a TV must have at least one HDMI 2.0a-enabled input. Most newer 4K TVs should have this option, but check your TV specs and manual to make sure before buying a 4K Blu-ray Disc player.

Copy Protection

Copy protection algorithms for 4K Blu-ray Discs are updated to prevent illegal copying, adhering to the HDCP 2.2 copy-protection standard.

How Blu-ray Discs and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs Differ

Ultra HD Blu-ray discs look like the 5-inch (12cm) 50 GB dual-layer physical discs used in the Blu-ray Disc format. The 4K Blu-ray Disc format, however, has a dual-layer capacity of 66 GB and a triple-layer capacity of 100 GB. 4K video signals are encoded and stored on the discs in the H.265/HEVC format, compressing 4K video data into the disc's available space.

Sony and Fox Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc Covers

4K Ultra HD Discs usually come packaged along with standard Blu-ray and digital copies.

What Is "Mastered in 4K"?

Around 2013, Sony released Blu-ray Discs labeled Mastered In 4K. These discs aren't native 4K Blu-ray Discs. Although they were encoded using a 4K source, they were scaled down to 1080p so users could play them on a standard Blu-ray Disc player.

To create these discs, Sony maximized the Blu-ray disc format's data transfer rate capability while throwing in additional enhancement algorithms. These discs ended up having more precise video information regarding color, edge detail, and contrast than a traditional high-quality Blu-ray Disc release.

Sony said these discs provided the best possible 1080p playback, but looked even better upscaled to 4K on UltraHD TVs with 4K X-Reality Pro video processing.

These discs have a "Mastered In 4K" banner across the top of the disc case. Titles include Angels and Demons, Battle Los Angeles, Ghostbusters, The Amazing Spiderman, and Total Recall (2012).

If you search "Mastered in 4K" on Amazon, you'll find an array of titles.

Sony Mastered in 4K Blu-ray Disc of the movie The Amazing Spider-Man

4K Ultra HD vs. Streaming

While internet streaming has become ubiquitous, there are still reasons users opt for 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc players and discs.

To stream 4K content, you need a broadband speed of at least 15 to 25 Mbps, and some users don't have access to these speeds. With higher broadband speeds comes higher subscription prices, as well.

Some users want to own a physical copy of a favorite movie or show so they have access to it even if it becomes unavailable as a streaming option. Since many Blu-ray Disc players incorporate streaming capabilities, upgrading to a 4K Blu-ray Disc player may offer a best-of-both-worlds solution.