There are two notable things about LG's new $299 UP970 Blu-ray player. First, it is LG's first entry in the Ultra HD Blu-ray category, and the company's arrival means that all the biggest names in Blu-ray player production now support the format: LG, Samsung, Sony, Oppo, Panasonic, and Philips. The other notable thing is that the UP970 is the first sub-$300 player to support the Dolby Vision High Dynamic Range format. Or rather, it will be the first sub-$300 player to support Dolby Vision when it adds that function via an upcoming firmware update (which will probably have happened by the time you read this). All UHD players must support the HDR10 format, since that's part of the Ultra HD Blu-ray spec. Dolby Vision, on the other hand, is optional, and thus far only LG and Oppo are supporting it. Oppo's players cost $549 and up.
What else does the UP970 bring to the table? Like all the other new UHD models, it supports Blu-ray 3D playback, and it's a smart player, with both wired and wireless (802.11ac) network connection options. It also supports hi-res audio playback via USB.
The UP970 is a nice-looking player. Even though it's a black box, the high-gloss, reflective top panel and brushed-black front face lend a subtle elegance (although the reflective top side will show scratches easily). It doesn't have the build quality of the Sony UBP-X800 or Oppo UDP-203, which weigh 8.7 and 9.5 pounds, respectively. At 3.6 pounds, this one's construction feels more like that of the Samsung UBD-K8500: more plastic, less aluminum. Like all the sub-$300 players, the UP970 lacks a front-panel display. The front face sports a slide-out disc tray to the left; buttons for eject, play/pause, stop, and power to the right; and a USB port (hidden behind a plastic cover) to the far right.
Around back, the UP970 looks similar to other sub-$300 players. You get a LAN port for a wired network connection and two HDMI outputs: one 2.0a output for video and audio and one audio-only HDMI 1.4 output to mate with an older AV processor or soundbar that doesn't support 4K and/or HDR pass-through. There's also an optical digital audio output, but no stereo or multichannel analog outs. This device supports digital output only and does not contain any DACs, as you'll find on pricier models from Oppo, Sony, and Panasonic. It also lacks advanced control options like RS-232 and IR control.
The supplied IR remote is small, with a clean layout that includes all the desirable buttons: separate FF/RW and chapter-skip buttons, pop-up and disc menu buttons, a home button that's blue to help distinguish it from the pack, and buttons to control a TV's power, input, and volume. (Strangely, the remote did not control my 2015 LG TV out of the box.)
I began my review by connecting the UP970 directly to my LG 65EF9500 OLED 4K TV via HDMI and powering it on. Initial power-up took about eight seconds, and the initial setup process is quick and easy: just select your language, agree to the terms of service, and set up your wired or wireless network connection. I went with a wired option, so I was up and running in just seconds.
The UP970 has a very clean but nicely colorful home page that consists of a single row of menu options centered on the screen. The five menu options are Movie, Photo, Music, Premium, and Settings. I definitely like the look of the interface better than that of the Sony UBP-X800 (which is find to be cluttered and unattractive), but it isn't as eye-catching as the Oppo UDP-203, with its beautiful hi-res photography.
When the Movie menu is highlighted and a disc is inserted, the interface reveals what type of disc you've inserted (UHD, BD, DVD, CD) but not the name of the film--which is something that you do get with other players. The disc tray supports playback of Ultra HD Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD, and CD, but not high-resolution SACD and DVD-Audio discs. The disc tray and USB port are the only ways to access personal media files through this player--there's no DLNA or MiraCast/screen-mirroring functionality. You can connect an Android device directly to the USB port to access content using the Media Transfer protocol (MTP).
Through the home page's Movie, Photo, and Music menus, you can navigate your USB and disc media. There's nothing particularly noteworthy about LG's SmartShare menu design. Small file icons are presented in a grid: They load pretty quickly, and I experienced no problems when playing media files off a USB flash drive. File support is good, including: AVC HD, MP4, M4V, MOV, XVID, MKV, AIFF, FLAC, ALAC, WAV, MP3, and AAC.
The Premium section is where you'll find the player's network streaming services. There's a grand total of two: Netflix and YouTube. That's more than Oppo gives you (none), but less than Samsung and Sony offer. Netflix is the 4K Ultra HD version, and it loads quite quickly. YouTube is not the 4K version; when I cued up Florian Friedrich's dynamic horizontal multiburst pattern, it did not pass the full 4K resolution.
The Settings menu is where you can adjust the video and audio parameters. The basic options are here--like video resolution, display mode (24 Hz or 60 Hz), TV aspect ratio, 3D on/off, digital audio decoding and sampling frequency, and Dynamic Range Control (for audio). However, you don't get some of the more advanced setup options that you'll find in other players. For instance, there's no source direct mode to play a video disc at its native resolution; and, while can set HDMI color output for RGB or YCbCr, you can't select different YCbCr options (like 4:4:4 or 4:2:2) or bit depths. Also, LG has made some odd choices in the setup department. When setting the display mode, you have to choose either 24 Hz or 60 Hz. Many players provide an Auto option that will output 24 Hz when you're playing a 1080p or 2160p Blu-ray movie but will output 60 Hz the rest of the time. That allows for a more seamless transition between disc types. I originally set the player for 24 Hz; however, when I tried to do my processing/deinterlacing tests, the picture had a lot of odd motion artifacts. When I switched over to 60 Hz, everything looked fine.
On the audio side, the player has internal Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding. It's set by default to automatically pass these formats to your AV receiver as bitstream for decoding, but you can change the decoding option to PCM to use the internal decoders. You'll want to leave it set for Auto if you plan to pass Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, as those formats need to be decoded by a compatible AV processor.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
The UP970 proved to be a capable, reliable performer. Disc playback was consistently smooth and glitch-free, and the player never froze up on me. It handled all the different disc types I fed it without issue, including UHD, BD, 3D BD, DVD, and CD. I watched a variety of Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, including Insurgent, Sicario, The Revenant, The Martian, Batman vs. Superman, The Magnificent Seven, and Billy Lynn's Long Hafltime Walk. The UP970 always kicked the LG OLED TV into HDR mode as it's supposed to, and the picture quality of this LG combo was fantastic.
The UP970's disc drive is fairly quiet, and the player responds quickly and reliably to remote commands--although the IR window is a little narrower than that of other players I've tested. The remote needs to be pointed within roughly 30 degrees on each side of the player to register commands.
The LG player was consistently five to 10 seconds faster than the Sony UBP-X800 in loading Ultra HD discs, which puts it right on par with the Samsung UDP-K8500 (the fastest player I've reviewed thus far). The LG does lack the Sony's Quick Start mode, which allows for instant power-up. It takes about eight seconds to power up the UP970 each time.
I put the UP970 through my usual processing tests to evaluate its deinterlacing and its upconversion of lower-resolution sources to 4K. It passed all of the 480i and 1080i deinterlacing tests on my HQV test discs, it passed all of the 1080i tests on the Spears & Munsil 2nd Edition Benchmark Blu-ray disc, and it did a great job deinterlacing my favorite DVD demo scenes that are prone to jaggies and moire: the Coliseum flyover in chapter 12 of Gladiator and chapters 3 and 4 from the Bourne Identity DVD. The level of detail in DVD upconversion was solid but not spectacular.
I performed some direct A/B comparisons between the LG UP970 and Sony UBP-X800--first with an Atlona AT-UHD-H2H-44M matrix switcher and dual copies of the Mission Impossible Rogue Nation BD and Insurgent UHD BD. With the Mission Impossible Blu-ray disc, I couldn't see any meaningful difference in detail, brightness, or color between the two players. When I watched the Insurgent UHD disc in non-HDR mode, I saw the same difference between the Sony and LG as I saw between the Sony, Samsung, and Oppo players. That is, the Sony player seems to handle the non-HDR reproduction of UHD discs differently than all the others, producing a brighter mage with more saturated color. The LG, Samsung, and Oppo players had a more consistent look between them, which makes me think it's the Sony that isn't behaving as it should--although it's brighter, more saturated image is arguably more pleasing.
Next, I routed the UP970 and the Sony player through my Onkyo TX-RZ900 AV receiver's HDMI inputs, to compare HDR modes and check for high-res audio pass-through. I could not detect any apparent differences in video quality between the HDR10 versions of Insurgent through the LG and Sony players. Since LG has not yet introduced the Dolby Vision upgrade (and I don't own a DV-capable TV anyhow), I wasn't able to test that aspect of the player's High Dynamic Range capability.
In terms of audio pass-through, the player had no trouble passing Dolby True HD, DTS-HD Master Audio, and uncompressed PCM soundtracks for my receiver to decode, and I didn't hear any notable volume (or other) differences between the Sony and LG models as I did my A/B switches. Of course, these are both digital-only players with no DAC, so sound quality will ultimately be determined by your downstream electronics.
With only Netflix and YouTube, the UP970 has fewer integrated streaming services than its competitors from Sony and Samsung, and it lacks DLNA support to stream personal media files from a computer or NAS drive. Thus, it's not the ideal choice for someone who's looking for a disc player to serve as a complete AV media hub.
The UP970 is really designed to be a plug-and-play device with minimal setup required. Thus, it has fewer advanced setup options than the other players I've tested, especially a higher-end unit like the Oppo UDP-203. As I mentioned above, you don't get options like a source direct resolution or the ability to choose different YCbCr HDMI color options, select a bit depth, or enable Deep Color. I also didn't see an option to turn off LG's Simplink (HDMI-CEC) control, nor does this player offer the Sony's Bluetooth audio output.
Comparison & Competition
Obviously I spent a lot of time comparing the LG UP970 to Sony's UBP-X800. The two carry similar price tags and similar AV output options. The Sony has a few more advanced setup functions and streaming services, supports Bluetooth audio output, and supports SACD/DVD-Audio disc playback, but not Dolby Vision.
Samsung recently introduced two follow-ups to its original UBD-K8500: the UBD-M8500 ($249) and UBD-M9500 ($329.99). Both support HDR10 only, and the M9500 adds features like Bluetooth audio output and stream-to-mobile functionality. Other competitors in this price range are the Philips BDP7501 ($249) and the Microsoft Xbox One X gaming console.
If you're willing to step up in price, you can get the Oppo UDP-203. It's a universal disc player like the Sony and supports Dolby Vision like the LG. It also adds analog audio output and an HDMI input to pass through another source (like a cable/satellite set-top box or streaming media player), but it has no integrated streaming services. Other higher-end options include the Sony UBP-X1000ES ($699.99) and the Panasonic DMP-UB900 for $500.
LG's UP970 Ultra HD Blu-ray disc player does exactly what it's supposed to do--that is, reliably play back Ultra HD Blu-ray (and other) discs. It has no egregious flaws, it's quick-loading, and it's super-simple to set up and use. However, it does lack a number of features that you can find on other comparably priced players, such as DLNA media streaming, Bluetooth audio output, and a more comprehensive slate of integrated streaming services. Overall, I think the Sony UBP-X800 is still the player to beat in the sub-$300 category, given that it has the most comprehensive disc support, features, and setup options in its price class. But it lacks Dolby Vision. If you own (or are playing to purchase) a UHD TV that supports Dolby Vision and you want a compatible yet affordable player, the LG UP970 is currently your only option in the entry-level category.
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