After many months in which the Samsung UBD-K9800 was the only Ultra HD Blu-ray player available for video enthusiasts who want to enjoy the new higher-resolution disc format, the category is finally adding some competition. Philips' BDP7501 player and Microsoft's Xbox One S 2TB gaming console have both arrived, carrying the same MSRP as the Samsung player: $399.
Today we're going to explore the Philips player, which has slightly more limited distribution. It is available online via Amazon (currently for $299), but you won't find it on the shelves at your local Best Buy. [Editor's update, 9/7/16: The BDP7501 is now available through Best Buy, both in stores and online.] Through September 30, the player is being bundled with the Creed Ultra HD Blu-ray disc, which is roughly a $30 to $35 value.
Like its competitors, the BDP7501 supports Ultra HD Blu-ray playback with High Dynamic Range (HDR10) and the ability to pass up to 12-bit color and the BT.2020 color space. It also supports playback of Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray, DVD, and CD, but not SACD or DVD-Audio discs. It has internal Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding, and you can pass bitstream audio output to send Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks to your AV receiver. This networkable player includes access to the 4K versions of Netflix and YouTube, and it supports playback of personal media files via USB or DLNA.
Now that we've got the basic specs out of the way, let's dig in to the BDP7501's design and performance.
The BDP7501 certainly distinguishes itself visually from the Samsung UBD-K9800. To my eye, the Philips looks more like a media server than a Blu-ray player, due mostly to its square form. Resembling a Roku or Apple TV on steroids, the BDP7501 is an 8.75-inch square that sits about 2.25 inches tall and has a brushed aluminum finish on all four sides, while the top is a matte black with a rubbery texture. The build feels solid and sturdy.
The only buttons on the entire unit are the power and eject buttons on the topside. The power unit glows white when the unit is turned on; beyond that, there are no indicator lights and no front-panel display. The slide-out disc tray hides behind a flip-down panel on the front. Around back, you'll find dual HDMI outputs: the primary output is HDMI 2.0a with HDCP 2.2 copy protection, to send the 4K video signal (and accompanying audio) to your UHD-capable display or AV receiver. The second output is for audio only, allowing you to mate this player with an older audio processor that lacks support for 4K, HDR, HDCP 2.2, etc. This player lacks the optical digital audio output found on the Samsung player to further improve compatibility with legacy audio sources.
The back panel sports an Ethernet port, if you prefer a wired connection to the built-in 802.11ac Wi-Fi, as well as a USB 3.0 port for media playback and BD-Live storage.
The remote is also quite different from Samsung's, and that's a good thing. If you recall, I wasn't a fan of the Samsung remote: It's far too small, so the layout is cramped, and Samsung chose to place the forward/reverse and chapter-skip functions on the same button, which is highly unintuitive. The Philips remote is about twice the size, which gives the buttons room to breathe and allows them all to be bigger and easier to navigate in a dark room (the remote lacks backlighting). It also allows for separate forward/reverse and chapter-skip buttons and dedicated buttons to launch Netflix and YouTube. The remote lacks separate Disc Menu and Pop-Up Menu buttons; you must hit the single Top Menu button during disc playback and then select "Top Menu" onscreen to go back to the disc's main menu. The remote's topside has the same rubbery texture as the player itself, which is a nice touch.
A basic HDMI cable is included in the box. Throughout the course of the promotion, the Creed Ultra HD Blu-ray disc is actually neatly packaged inside the box in its own cutout.
I auditioned the BDP7501 with two HDR-capable UHD TVs: LG's 65EF9500 OLED TV from 2015 and Samsung's brand new K9800 Series (review to come). I also used it with Sony's non-HDR-capable VPL-VW350ES 4K projector. For most of the review, I fed the UHD video signal directly to the display and ran audio from the secondary HDMI output to an Onkyo TX-RZ900 AV receiver, but I also experimented with passing the complete A/V signal from the Philips' main HDMI output through the Onkyo receiver and on to the LG TV, and that worked fine, too.
The initial power-up took about 18 seconds, and initial setup involves selecting a language, performing a connection check with your TV to automatically set the proper resolution and subsampling rate, deciding if you want Quick Start on or off, and setting up your wired or wireless network connection. I use a wired connection to improve stability.
The BDP7501's Settings menu is where you can make any necessary A/V adjustments to suit the player to your system. The BDP7501's resolution setting is Auto by default, so you should get a picture no matter what TV you connect to it. The resolution options are Auto, 4K, 1080p, 1008i, and 480p. There's no Source Direct mode to output every disc at its native resolution. "24p output" is also set to Auto by default, which allows 2160p and 1080p films shot at 24 frames per second to be sent that way to your TV. You have the option to set the player's 4K/60p output at 4:4:4 subsampling or 4:2:0 subsampling (this is what the player tests during initial setup), or you can turn off 4K/60p output if your TV doesn't support it (the earliest UHD TVs did not). In the Advanced HDMI Settings area, there are options to enable or disable Deep Color, High Dynamic Range, Content Flags Type, and 7.1ch audio reformatting (which "upconverts" all surround soundtracks to 7.1 channels if you have a compatible setup).
I should point out here that many UHD TVs require you to enable UHD Deep Color to pass the full bit depth and color space that are possible with an Ultra HD Blu-ray player. Both the LG and Samsung TVs I used have a setting in the Picture menu to do this (LG calls it HDMI ULTRA HD Deep Color, and Samsung calls it HDMI UHD Color). You'll want to turn on Deep Color for the HDMI input to which the Philips player will be connected. If you do not have this function enabled in the TV, the Philips player will not pass the High Dynamic Range signal, instead passing a standard dynamic range version in its place (more on this in the next section). For the record, the Samsung player will pass HDR with the TV's Deep Color function turned off, but you won't get the full color benefits of the technology that way...I think Philips is wise to play it safe and force you to set up your TV correctly from the get-go.
Here's another important setup detail on the audio side. The BDP7501 is set by default to play the secondary audio tracks that are offered on some Blu-ray discs (mostly commentary tracks), but this causes Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD soundtracks to be downconverted to basic Dolby Digital and DTS. To pass the full, uncompressed audio soundtrack, you should turn off the secondary audio function except when you need it.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
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