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Tecno Pova 6 Pro 5G is launching at MWC with Dolby Atmos support
10:38 pm | January 29, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Mobile phones news | Tags: , | Comments: Off

The Tecno Pova 5 Pro came out last August, and its successor is already on the way. According to Tecno itself, the Pova 6 Pro will be made official at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona at the end of next month. It will be the first Tecno phone to come with support for Dolby Atmos, following Tecno and Dolby Laboratories signing a partnership deal for this exact purpose. It's not just the Pova 6 Pro - other, yet-unnamed members of the upcoming Pova 6 series will get Dolby Atmos too, along with all future Camon and Phantom series devices. Tecno says this will provide its users with "a...

Samsung HW-Q600C review: a soundbar and sub combo with underwhelming Dolby Atmos
6:00 pm | January 21, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets Soundbars Televisions | Tags: | Comments: Off

Samsung HW-Q600C review: Two-minute review

The Samsung HW-Q600C is a usefully compact, usefully specified soundbar/subwoofer system, and is ideal for use with smaller (think under 55-inch) TVs in less-than-cavernous rooms. Because it’s a Samsung product, it’s properly built from decent materials, and because it’s a Samsung product it’s simplicity itself to set up and operate (even though the control options are somewhat limited).

Because it’s a Samsung product it pretends there’s no such thing as Dolby Vision HDR, too – but that’s unlikely to be a deal-breaker for anyone who doesn’t want to use its 4K HDMI passthrough functionality.

In many ways it’s an admirable performer where movie soundtracks are concerned. Certainly the integration between soundbar and subwoofer is smooth, and there’s detail aplenty available throughout the frequency range. The Samsung grips and steers effect well, and organises a coherent and convincing soundstage like some of the best soundbars

It’s far from the last word in sonic height, though, and is unlikely to blow you away with the spatial audio aspect of its reproduction. Slightly less critically, it’s a less-than-inspiring listen if you decide to use it as a music system, too. Rhythmic expression, in particular, is a bit lumpy. 

If you can live with its mild-but-undeniable shortcomings, though, the Samsung HW-Q600C is a solid option for those with smaller TVs in smaller rooms and who are on a smaller budget. 

Samsung HW-Q600C review: Price and release date

A close up of the Samsung logo on the Samsung HW-Q600C

Branding on the soundbar is minimal.  (Image credit: Future)
  • September 2023
  • $599 / £549 / AU$799

The Samsung HW-Q600C launched in September of 2023. In the United States, it sells for a maximum of $599, in the United Kingdom, it’s no more than £549, while in Australia it costs AU$799, tops. Anyone with half an idea of how to operate a search engine should be able to better those prices without too much effort.

Even if you end up paying top whack, though, there’s plenty of product here for your money. But you should be aware that a similar spend gets you the similarly specified Sony HT-G700, the subwoofer-less Bose Smart Soundbar 600 or the Philips B8905, though – so the Samsung is not what you’d automatically call a ‘no-brainer’...

Samsung HW-Q600C review: Features

A living room with the Samsung HW-Q600C set up

The Samsung HW-Q600C is a nice match, size-wise, for a 48in Philips OLED TV.  (Image credit: Future)
  • Nine speaker drivers in the soundbar
  • Single 165mm driver in the subwoofer 
  • 360 watts of power

Samsung isn’t exactly making with the specifics, but it’s prepared to divulge the number, if not the size or composition, of the drivers in the soundbar. There are three on either side of the front face, dealing with left- and right-channel information. Another sits in the centre, where it takes care of – hey! – the centre-channel stuff. Two more fire upwards from the top of the soundbar via Samsung’s ‘Acoustic Beam’  technology, and are charged with creating the ‘height’ aspect of Dolby Atmos and/or DTS:X movie soundtracks. The subwoofer, meanwhile, has a single forward-facing 165mm bass driver doing the low-frequency business. Amplification is of the Class D variety, and there’s a total of 360 watts shared out between the drivers.

As far as connectivity is concerned, it’s easiest to deal with the subwoofer first. It connects wirelessly to the soundbar, so should really only need to be plugged into the mains using the figure-of-eight socket on the rear (below the gaping bass reflex port). There’s also a little button to initiate pairing in the unlikely event it doesn’t happen automatically.

There are a couple of recesses at the rear of the soundbar. One has an input for mains power and a USB slot that’s purely for servicing. The other features a digital optical input and a couple of HDMI sockets, one of which is eARC-enabled. That means 4K passthrough (with HDR10+ but not Dolby Vision HDR) is available. For wireless connections, the HW-Q600C has Bluetooth 5.0, with SBC and AAC codec compatibility.

There are four sound modes available: ‘standard’, ‘surround’, ‘game pro’ and ‘adaptive’. Those first three are pretty obvious – ‘adaptive’ attempts to assess the content you’re watching in real time and adjust the soundbar’s output to suit. The HW-Q600C is also compatible with Samsung’s ‘Q Symphony’ technology, so if it’s paired with a suitable Samsung television then the TV’s speakers can complement the soundbar’s output rather than be overridden by it.    

Features score: 5/5 

Samsung HW-Q600C review: Sound quality

A close up of the controls on the Samsung HW-Q600C

There are a few physical controls on top of the soundbar.  (Image credit: Future)
  • Open, robust and quite detailed sound
  • Well-supervised wallop from the subwoofer
  • Limited 'height' aspect to performance

Given an opportunity to show what it can do by playing a Dolby Atmos-boosted 4K UHD Blu-ray disc of Jordan Peele’s Nope, the Samsung HW-Q600C is all business. There’s no teasing out different aspects of its performance over an extended listen – the Samsung is unequivocal, and will give you everything it’s got right from the off.

‘Everything’ in this instance turns out to be an impressively neutral, naturalistic tonal balance and a very decent amount of width to its presentation. Straight from the box, the subwoofer is altogether too confident – but it’s a matter of moments with the remote control handset to bring it under control. Once that’s done, the balance from the top of the frequency range to the bottom is smooth and convincing. 

The Samsung is a spacious, confident listen that can organise a soundstage properly. The nature of this movie soundtrack means there’s plenty of emphasis given to spaces and silences as well as to actual sounds, and the left-to-right and front-to-back layout here is convincing. Effects move through these two planes with real positivity and, despite being outnumbered when it comes to the driver-count, the centre channel does good work in projecting even whispered dialogue to the front of the stage where it’s direct and easy to follow. 

Once suitably balanced, the subwoofer proves quite an adept little performer too. It hits hard, sure enough, but its output is properly controlled and doesn’t just mindlessly thump along like less capable alternatives tend to. The attack of bass sounds is straight-edged and certain, and there’s plenty of detail and texture to go along with the out-and-out wallop. 

In fact, detail levels are gratifyingly high throughout the frequency range. It seems likely that some of the drivers in the soundbar are tweeters, as high frequency response is crisp and bright, and in the midrange there’s plenty of character and expressiveness to voices.

What the HW-Q600C can’t do with any great positivity is generate meaningful height to the presentation. A lot of Nope concerns unknown things from above, but when described by the Samsung system ‘above’ becomes a very relative term. Even though I’m testing in a space with unremarkable ceiling height, the HW-Q600C struggles to position sound any higher than the top bezel of the 48in Philips OLED TV it’s accompanying, and consequently the overall presentation isn’t quite as immersive as you might be hoping.

Switch to a TIDAL-derived digital audio file of Cool About It by boygenius streamed via Bluetooth and the HW-Q600C loses just a little of its composure. The light and shade that’s apparent from the subwoofer when dealing with movies (even those parts of the soundtrack that include music) goes astray somewhat, and its inputs become a little hazy and monotonal. Rhythmic expression suffers as a result, and the upshot is that it’s hard to recommend the Samsung as a true all-rounder of an audio system.    

Sound quality score: 4/5 

Samsung HW-Q600C review: Design

The remote of the Samsung HW-Q600C

The remote control covers every eventuality.  (Image credit: Future)
  • 56 x 1030 x 105mm (soundbar); 343 x 184 x 295mm (subwoofer) [HxWxD]
  • 11.7kg (soundbar plus subwoofer)
  • The perfect size to site beneath a 48-inch TV

Out where the mainstream shop is not the place to be taking risks where design is concerned - and Samsung is far too sensible and pragmatic a company to take any chances. So both the soundbar and the subwoofer that constitute the HW-Q600C are discreet (if you enjoy the way they look) or utterly unremarkable (if you don’t).

At 56 x 1030 x 105mm (HxWxD), the soundbar portion is almost exactly the same width as a standard AV rack and will fit nicely beneath a 48in - and it won’t start looking a bit lost until you try to pair it with something bigger than 65in. As the price strongly suggests, it’s made almost entirely from plastic - but it’s the sturdy, almost tactile kind of plastic I’m talking about, and as such is entirely fit for purpose. The front and top panels of the soundbar are perforated to allow the speaker drivers behind to do their thing, while the corners are racily angled to hint at side-firing drivers – alas, there are no side-firing drivers on board.

The subwoofer, meanwhile, is an equally manageable 343 x 184 x 295mm (HxWxD) – and the unassuming nature of its boxy design is enhanced by the fact that it communicates wirelessly with the subwoofer and so can be positioned anywhere you like (as long as it’s within reach of mains power). It’s built of vinyl-wrapped MDF with some acoustic cloth covering the forward facing driver, which is pretty much par for the course.

Uninspired (or, to be fair, safety-first) design does not, of course, mean that either element of this system is anything other than properly built and finished. This is Samsung we’re talking about, after all… 

Design score: 4.5/5 

Samsung HW-Q600C review: Setup and usability

The back of the Samsung HW-Q600C subwoofer

The subwoofer features a rear-firing bass reflex port.  (Image credit: Future)
  • Remote control handset 
  • Extremely brief on-bar display
  • Plug-and-play to all intents and purposes

There’s really not a great deal to setting up the HW-Q600C. Both the soundbar and the subwoofer need connecting to mains power – from there, they should pair automatically but there’s a little ‘pair’ button on the subwoofer just in case that doesn’t happen. After that, it’s simply a question of making the relevant connection from the TV to the soundbar – most likely this will be done using the television’s HDMI eARC output, but you’ve the option of digital optical or the HDMI passthrough too if that’s more appropriate.

Usability, too, is of the ‘child’s play’ variety. The Samsung is supplied with a small, unremarkable but comprehensive remote control handset which puts you in charge of every function, from ‘power on/off’ via ‘initiate Bluetooth pairing’ to adjusting the output of each individual channel (including the subwoofer). Confirmation of exactly what’s what is available from a little dot-matrix display at the front/right edge of the soundbar - if you squint, and if you’re able to read the quick-scrolling information as it passes through its little window. There’s also access to volume control, power on/off and input selection via some physical controls on the top of the soundbar. 

If you’re hoping for app-control, though, you’re out of luck. It’s possible to use Alexa with the HW-Q600C – but it involves quite a lot of to-ing and fro-ing with Samsung’s SmartThings app and the Alexa app. The determined user with an Alexa smart speaker can enjoy a little voice-control, though.     

Setup and usability score: 4/5

Samsung HW-Q600C review: Value

A close up of the Samsung logo on the Samsung HW-Q600C

(Image credit: Future)
  • Decent specification 
  • Properly made and finished
  • Not quite a Atmos-y as it reckons it is

There’s plenty to like about the Samsung HW-Q600C, and in many ways it represents very decent value indeed. As is usual with Samsung products, build quality and the standard of finish are well up to par. Specification, too, is quite comprehensive at the price. The lack of wider control options will probably rankle with a few customers, but the bigger problem - and what makes this Samsung slightly less compelling value than it otherwise would be - is the relative lack of action where the ‘height’ element of a Dolby Atmos (or DTS:X) soundtrack ought to be.

Should I buy the Samsung HW-Q600C?

The Samsung HW-Q600C in front of a TV

A right-channel driver is just about visible beneath the perforations.  (Image credit: Future)

Buy them if...

Don’t buy it if...

Samsung HW-Q600C review: Also consider

How I tested the Samsung HW-Q600C

Samsung HW-Q600C

Almost exactly the same width as a standard AV rack.  (Image credit: Future)
  • Tested for over a week 
  • Used in conjunction with a Philips OLED TV
  • Multiple styles of content

I positioned the soundbar element of the HW-Q600C in front of my 48in Philips OLED TV, and positioned the subwoofer next to the system rack the TV stands on. The sub and soundbar connect wirelessly, of course, and the soundbar was connected to the TV’s HDMI eARC socket. And there it stayed, for well over a week. 

During the course of testing I listened to a variety of content, from bog-standard broadcast TV to Dolby Atmos soundtracks via a Panasonic UHD 4K Blu-ray player. I streamed content from Amazon Prime and Netflix, and even gave YouTube a shot (although the majority of YouTube content is compressed to the point of non-existence).  

Panasonic DP-UB154 review: a cheap 4K Blu-ray player with great performance
3:00 pm |

Author: admin | Category: Blu-ray Computers Gadgets Home Theater Televisions | Tags: , | Comments: Off

Panasonic DP-UB154: One minute review

The Panasonic DP-UB154 is a 4K Blu-ray player that offers multiple playback options, including 4K and regular Blu-ray, DVD, CD and even hi-res audio for a cheap price. It supports HDR10+ video and the Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio formats, but there is no Dolby Vision or Wi-Fi for streaming.

Stock and availability does vary from region to region, however. For those who can’t get hold of the DP-UB154, the Panasonic DP-UB150 is almost identical in terms of specs and features so this is a good alternative if you’re struggling to get hold of the UB154. 

In terms of picture quality, 4K HDR images look fantastic through the UB154, with excellent detail and contrast. Upscaling is effective across the board for HD Blu-ray and DVD, although DVD can still look fuzzy at times. 

The UB154 can also pass-through a wide selection of audio formats, including Dolby Atmos and DTS:X and when played through a Sonos Beam (Gen 2) the soundbar I used for testing, the sound was clear. 

Settings and options to adjust picture and audio on the UB154 are much more trimmed down compared to more premium models like the Panasonic DP-UB820, one of the best 4K Blu-ray players, but there is still plenty on offer for those who want to play around. The menus themselves are on the plain and dated side, however, and can be cumbersome to navigate at times. 

Design-wise, this is a very simple machine. There is no display for runtimes of media, and the finish is a plain, if not bland black matte. The disc tray can also be slow to respond and feels a little flimsy. However, it still has a fairly solid overall design for the price.

This player is all about doing its main job of displaying discs at an excellent standard, while making sacrifices to features and design. However, if you are after just a simple 4K Blu-ray player, you can't really go wrong as this is one of the best budget players around. 

Panasonic DP-UB154 menu on Panasonic MZ1500

The Panasonic DP-UB154's (pictured) menus are much more stripped back compared to the more premium Panasonic DP-UB820  (Image credit: Future)

Panasonic DP-UB154 review: Prices & release date

  •  Release date: February 2019 
  •  Price: £199 / $199 / AU$300 upon release 

Released in 2019, the Panasonic DP-UB154 is one of the entry-level 4K Blu-ray players in the company’s lineup. At the time of release, the UB-154 was roughly $199 / £199 / AU$300, although availability in Australia seems scarce compared to the US and UK. 

Prices for the UB154 have since been slashed, with it now selling for around $179 / £149 in the US and UK. (Although the price in the UK has fallen as low as £99, which is a bargain for a Blu-ray player of this calibre.)

As I said above, if you’re struggling to get hold of the DP-UB154 in your region, the Panasonic DP-UB150 is almost identical in specs and size and is available for roughly $159 / £159 / AU$275.

Panasonic DP-UB154 review: Specs

Panasonic DP-UB154 rear panel

The Panasonic DP-UB154 lack connectivity options compared to more premium 4K Blu-ray players (Image credit: Future)

Panasonic DP-UB154 review: Features

  •  4K and standard Blu-ray, 3D, DVD playback 
  •  HDR10+ support but no Dolby Vision  
  •  Dolby Atmos, hi-res audio and CD playback 

The Panasonic DP-UB154 features plenty of video playback options including 4K, regular  and 3D Blu-ray and DVD. For audio playback, it supports hi-res (via USB) and CD. The UB154 doesn’t support SACD discs, so you’ll need to upgrade to the Magnetar UDP800 if that’s what you’re after. 

HDR10+, HDR10 and HLG support are onboard, but not Dolby Vision. If you’re looking for a 4K Blu-ray player with Dolby Vision support, you can opt for the more premium Panasonic DP-UB820.

For audio, the UB154 supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X (both bitstream) and other formats such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio (bitstream and decode). For music files, the UB154 can decode FLAC, WAV, ALAC, DSD and AIFF. 

Connectivity on the UB154 is more limited compared to the Panasonic DP-UB820. It features a single HDMI output, LAN port (for firmware updates) and a USB input which supports file playback from external drives. There is no Wi-Fi, so you won’t find any streaming apps like Netflix as you would on the UB820.

The simple, stripped-back nature of the UB154 also carries across to its menus and operating system. Whilst the UB154 does offer adjustments, they are noticeably fewer than on the UB820, and limited to settings such as  contrast, color and brightness.

The Panasonic UB154 performs well and is easy enough to navigate, but can sometimes be slow to respond. To change some settings, such as turning HDR10+ on and off, involves stopping playback of the disc you’re watching and returning to the settings menu on the homepage. The software within the UB-154 would also stutter and pause at times, but this happened infrequently. 

Although the UB154 is light on connectivity and features, it is a 4K Blu-ray player that offers good performance and plenty of playback options at a budget-friendly price.

  • Features score: 4/5 

Panasonic DP-UB154 showing Godizlla vs Kong on Panasonic MZ1500

4K pictures, as shown by Godzilla vs Kong, look particularly good through the Panasonic DP-UB154 (Image credit: Future)

Panasonic DP-UB154 review: Performance

  •  Brilliant HDR picture 
  •  Effective upscaling of lower-res sources 
  •  Slightly slow loading times 

Loading times of the Panasonic UB154 are slower than the more premium UB820, with time from inserting a disc to the first logo appearing taking roughly a minute compared with the UB820’s 30 seconds. This was sometimes marginally quicker, but overall a minute was the norm.

For testing, I used a Panasonic MZ1500 OLED TV as the display with the Filmmaker picture preset mode active. 

I first checked out 4K Blu-rays on the UB154 and despite the budget price, pictures looked fantastic. Starting with Godzilla vs Kong, which has HDR10+ high dynamic range, the neon streets of Tokyo were bold, vibrant and as eye-wateringly garish as I hoped during the climactic fight scene between Godzilla and Kong. Contrast was also strong, with the bright lights of the signage balancing with the night sky and dark streets. Textures were incredibly detailed, with the scales on Godzilla coming across as well-defined without being too crisp. 

It’s worth noting that in order to get HDR10+ on the UB154, you’ll need a compatible TV. Thankfully, a majority of the Samsung range, including the Samsung S90C, one of the best TVs on the market, support HDR10+. Other TVs that support the format include the Hisense U8K and Philips OLED808.

Textures were also incredibly detailed in Top Gun: Maverick, and the characters’ skin tones looked true-to-life and suitably accurate. Although the 4K Blu-ray of Maverick does not support HDR10+, the picture was nonetheless impressive in the default HDR10 format. 

To test 4K upscaling, I used the same scene from Godzilla vs Kong on regular Blu-ray. Played on the UB154, upscaling was effective, and the same dynamic color and brightness punch still jumped from the screen. As expected, textures weren’t as well defined as the 4K version, but the picture was crisp enough to provide an extra level of immersion and depth. 

Moving on to DVD, I watched The Amazing Spider-Man. The quality was definitely good, with more vivid colors than I expected and clean textures, although some fuzziness could be seen. Upscaling was not as effective as on the Panasonic UB820, but it still did a very good job. 

Using the 4K Blu-ray of Alien and the regular Blu-ray of Thief, I also tested the UB154 to see how it handled older movies with a lot of film grain. With these discs, the UB154 struck a good balance between sharpening and noise reduction whilst also retaining grain for movie enthusiasts. The level of detail rendered and the upscaling was again not as effective as with the more premium UB820, but it was a credible picture nonetheless. 

The Panasonic UB154 can pass-through Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, DTS-HD Master Audio and a load of other audio formats. The UB154 was connected to the MZ1500 TV and a Sonos Beam (Gen 2) so I could get the most out of the audio from the 4K discs and in every test, the sound came through the Beam nice and clear. 

As a final test, still using the Sonos Beam, I listened to Adele’s ‘Chasing Pavements’ on CD to assess playback quality. Bass and vocals balanced well with each other, with the vocals coming through clean and clear. There was some depth missing when it came to strings and trebles, but for a budget player, CD sound reproduction was decent. 

  • Performance score: 4.5/5

Panasonic DP-UB154 with disc tray open

The Panasonic DP-UB154's disc tray can be a little slow to open  (Image credit: Future)

Panasonic DP-UB154 review: Design

  • Bland, but solid design for the price  
  • No display to indicate runtime
  • CD tray feels a little clunky at times   

Although the Panasonic UB-154 has solid build quality, it’s clear that it is on the budget side, with a matte finish and a bland overall design. It’s also very light, weighing just 1.2kg compared to the UB820’s 2.8kg.

There is no display for a clock or runtime of the disc currently playing on the front, which although not a dealbreaker would have been nice. As for the disc tray itself, there can be a delay between pressing the open command button on the remote and the tray itself opening up, and as such it can feel clunky.

This is a very stripped back and simple Blu-ray player, especially when it comes to what can be found on the rear panel: only a USB port, an HDMI output and a LAN port, as the UB154 doesn’t have Wi-Fi capabilities. 

The supplied remote for the UB154 is on the light and small side and cheaply made. Even though the UB154 is a budget player, it would have been nice to see a bit more effort go into the remote

  • Design score: 3.5/5

Panasonic DP-UB154 remote control

The supplied remote for the Panasonic UB-154 is a little on the small and cheap side (Image credit: Future)

Panasonic DP-UB154 review: Value

  • Good features set
  • Excellent picture quality for price range
  • More design consideration would have been nice   

Panasonic’s approach to the UB154 is clearly value for money. It sacrifices on features and design to give you great picture and audio at a budget-friendly price, and for the most part it succeeds.

The fact that the UB154 has dropped as low as $169 / £99 at one stage makes this player nothing short of a bargain. It may not offer the same level of connectivity and features as more premium players, but it does its primary job of playing a range of discs in HDR and SDR formats with great quality. 

If you can stretch your budget, the Panasonic DP-UB820 is superior in almost every way, but if you are simply looking for a cheap 4K Blu-ray player, the UB154 is an excellent choice.

  • Value score: 4.5/5

Panasonic DP-UB154 review: Should I buy it?

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

Panasonic DP-UB820 review: Also consider

Panasonic DP-UB820 with Panasonic MZ1500 and Sonos Beam (Gen 2) connected

This is a shot of the Panasonic DP-UB820, but the testing process for the DP-UB154 was exactly the same. (Image credit: Future)

How I tested the Panasonic DP-UB820

  • Multiple video sources tested including 4K Blu-ray and DVD
  • Tested with Panasonic MZ1500 and Sonos Beam (Gen 2)
  • Tested over the course of a couple of weeks 

To test the Panasonic DP-UB154, I connected it to the Panasonic MZ1500 OLED and used various sources including 4K Blu-ray, standard Blu-ray, DVD and even CD for audio testing. I watched the same scene across multiple formats in Godzilla vs Kong to test upscaling effectiveness as well. 

I also tested the software of the UB154 for ease of navigation, response time and number of settings that can be adjusted. 

I saw Panasonic’s Z95A OLED TV and its super-bright MLA display blew me away
8:31 pm | January 16, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets Televisions | Tags: , , | Comments: Off

When it comes to advancing the tech of OLED TVs, brightness is usually the big battleground, and Panasonic is putting forward its best fighter yet. The flagship Panasonic Z95A OLED TV for 2024 is a knockout in picture quality from my earlier experience with it, combining Panasonic's 'Master OLED Ultimate' panel with boosted micro lens array (MLA) tech and an upgraded processor to achieve next-level brightness. 

The new Panasonic Z95A model was announced on January 8, and while I've seen it in action, I haven't yet been able to measure just how much brighter it is – but given that last year's flagship Panasonic MZ2000 beat out the competition (it achieved 1,480 nits in Filmmaker mode and 1,366 nits in Standard picture mode, making it brighter than the LG G3 and Samsung S95C), there's a good chance we might see a repeat of this result over the LG G4 and Samsung S95D in 2024.

Outside of the upgraded panel, Panasonic has also made some other big changes, including a partnership with Amazon to use the Fire TV software instead of Panasonic's own platform. This brings together Panasonic's elite TV tech with Amazon's slick interface, which means that you can access all of Fire TV's bevy of smart features, such as Alexa-enabled smart home control, its Ambient Experience, and its great streaming service support. There are also new gaming features, including a 144Hz refresh rate for PC gamers, but the Z95A still only comes with two HDMI 2.1 ports. 

Will the Panasonic Z95A be this year's best OLED TV? It's far too early to tell without being able to do our own test of the picture quality, but I did get a look at it during CES 2024, and was bowled over by its crisp picture detail and intuitive smart home features.

Panasonic's Z95A: Likely price and availability

The Panasonic Z95A at CES 2024

From left to right, the 77-inch Z93A beside the 65-inch and 55-inch Z95A in the Panasonic booth at CES 2024.  (Image credit: Future)
  • Announced in January 2024
  • Likely to be released later this year
  • No confirmed price yet

The Panasonic Z95A OLED TV comes in two screen sizes, both 55- and 65-inches. Unlike last year's MZ2000, though, the TV maker has released the larger 77-inch size under a different model name. It's calling it the Z93A and from what we can tell, this mainly comes down to the fact that it uses a 'Master OLED Pro Cinema panel', which is essentially the same as you'll find in the Panasonic MZ1500 (i.e. no MLA), making it less bright than the Z95A (which is visible in person, but the Z93A certainly isn't dim by OLED standards).

As is usual with Panasonic TVs, these won't come to the US, but will be available in the UK, Europe and Japan. When will they be available to buy in these markets? Panasonic will likely release the TVs much later this year (the MZ200 arrived in the second half of 2023) so we don't yet know how much they will cost. But we expect to see similar prices to the MZ2000, which launched at £2,699 for the 55-inch, £3,599 for the 65-inch, and £4,499 for the 77-inch.

It would be nice if Panasonic could bring down the cost of the sets to be more in line with its rivals this year – last year's MZ2000 was priced higher than the same sized 65-inch LG G3, and 55-inch and 77-inch Samsung S95C – but it's not likely. Panasonic uses much more advanced speaker tech, which must add to the price, for example.

Panasonic's Z95A: Features

The Panasonic Z95A at CES 2024

A Panasonic spokesperson demonstrates the new Fire TV features by asking Alexa to open the curtains and turn on the lights.   (Image credit: Future)
  • Fire TV Ambient Experience and Alexa widgets
  • Access to Apple Home and Google Assistant 
  • 144Hz refresh rate for PC gamers

The most attention grabbing new feature with the Z95A is the Amazon Fire TV software. It replaces Panasonic's smart TV platform, my Home Screen 8.0, which was what we found to be one of the downsides in last year's MZ2000 because it was clunky and difficult to navigate. The home screen is now a curated feed of the best streaming services, allowing you to see what you're watching instantly and easily navigate between apps. You can also set up a profile so you can better curate personalized recommendations. 

Access to the Fire TV Ambient Experience also means that the Z95A can be a central hub for your smart home, giving you the ability to control smart home devices with Alexa. During a demo of these features, we were able to see how you could simply command Alexa to draw the curtains or turn off the lights via the TV. Even in a busy convention center, the mics were able to pick up commands like "Alexa turn on the lights" or "Alexa open the curtains" and trigger the actions on an adorably miniature sized home model (as seen in the picture above). With access to Apple Home, AirPlay and Google Chromecast, you'll also be able to use tools like viewing a security camera's livestream. It's very much the future of home tech that puts the TV at the center of the home.  

As for gamers, the Z95A is packed to the brim with gaming features, including 4K 144Hz as a new feature (compared to 4K 120Hz in the MZ2000), while VRR, ALLM, AMD FreeSync Premium, Nvidia G-Sync and Dolby Vision gaming capabilities all return from last year's MZ2000. However, there are still only two HDMI 2.1 ports, which is a bit of a shame considering the focus on improving the gaming experience as a whole. 

Panasonic packed in an improved processor called the HCX Pro AI Processor Mk II, which not only enhances the picture quality but powers new gaming features, such as a new Game Mode Extreme that instantly updates the TV's settings to be more gaming optimized. To access these features, there's also the Game Control Board, which works as a dashboard for all the adjustable gaming settings.

Panasonic Z95A: Picture quality

The Panasonic Z95A at CES 2024

Even though they're small dots (admittedly in bunches), the white tones in this image pop a little more on the Z95A (left) than the MZ980 (right). In real life, it's even starker. (Image credit: Future)
  • Master OLED Pro Cinema panel with MLA tech 
  • Dolby Vision IQ, HDR10+ Adaptive and HLG support

It's the enhanced HCX Pro AI Processor Mk II that's also behind a lot of the improved picture quality in the Panasonic Z95A. In addition to Dolby Vision gaming at 144Hz, the chip powers Dolby Vision IQ Precision for added picture precision and brightness. It's also behind a new '4K Remaster Engine', which Panasonic says gives automatic noise reduction a boost when watching the best streaming services. Outside of Dolby Vision, there's also the usual support for popular formats such as HDR10+ Adaptive, HDR10 and HLG. 

The combination of the new processor, boosted MLA panel and Panasonic's multi-layer heat management configuration has given the Z95A a boost in brightness and overall picture quality. When viewing the model next to the Z93A during a demo, the lack of MLA in the larger model is slightly noticeable. But what was even more of a stark contrast was when comparing the Z95A to the MZ980, which of course isn't exactly a fair comparison given that it's not the flagship model from last year, but uses a 'regular' OLED panel without MLA or Panasonic's other brightness-boosting tech.

Regardless, I could see that the whites were far starker and stood out considerably – in fact by so much that you can even slightly see the difference in the picture above for yourself (if you look at the center of the image, the whites appear more fuller and brighter on the left than they do on the right), though this is way more pronounced in person. The spectrum of colors was also another major difference between the two. The Z95A set looked to have a level richness that made it pop a lot more when compared to the MZ980.

Panasonic Z95A: Sound quality

The Panasonic Z95A at CES 2024

The 55-inch and 65-inch Z95A shown off at the Panasonic conference during CES 2024.   (Image credit: Future)
  • Dolby Atmos sound with 360 Soundscape Pro
  • Customizable directional speakers

The audio quality of the Z95A was another high point during the demo. Panasonic's 360 Soundscape Pro tech provides Dolby Atmos spatial audio with seven speaker channels, which means you won't need one of the best soundbars to get immersive audio. 

During the demo, I also got to test out the 'Pinpoint Positioning' feature in the audio settings, which lets you manually adjust the direction of the speakers depending on your living room setup. While most households will no doubt sit directly in front of their TVs, I can see this feature being useful in more of a mismatch setting – it steers the 'sweet spot' of the sound to wherever you're sitting, including off to the side.   

From a technical standpoint, the only slight difference between the 55- and 65-inch Z95A is that the larger model has a slightly higher wattage of 160W (compared to 150W). In terms of the speaker channels, there are two side-firing, two upward-firing, three forward firing, and a subwoofer.

Panasonic Z95A: Early verdict

The Panasonic Z95A at CES 2024

The Z95A delivers richer colors than the MZ980 when shown side by side.  (Image credit: Future)

While the Panasonic Z95A OLED TV may not look too different on the surface from last year's MZ2000 – it has the same swivel design and black bezels – there's a lot going on under the hood that shows how it has improved.

From what I've seen so far, my first impressions are that it has a lot of promise to be a knockout OLED TV in 2024 and I'll be excited to hear more about what Panasonic decides on the pricing front, and to get it in our testing labs. As ever, it's such a pity that our US readers will miss out on it.

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Samsung HW-Q700C review: a great cheaper Dolby Atmos soundbar beaten only by Samsung itself
12:30 am |

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets Soundbars Televisions | Tags: , | Comments: Off

Samsung HW-Q700C: Two-minute review

In a bid to become one of the best Dolby Atmos soundbars to have graced our testing process, the Samsung HW-Q700C presents itself as a similar TV-boosting soundbar solution as the HW-Q800C. Essentially, it too is a mid-tier offering capable of pumping out Dolby Atmos from a single bar and subwoofer combination. Like its slightly bigger brother, there are no rear speakers, nor do you get the truly insane levels of power exhibited by the top-of-the-range HW-Q990C. Differentiating it from the 800C, the Q700C on test here adopts a 3.1.2-channel output – compared to the 5.1.2 layout of the 800 – making it a good option for those wanting to boost the sound coming from their TV in a smaller-sized room. And, as with all Samsung soundbars, you can take advantage of extra features if you own a compatible Samsung TV such as Q Symphony, which is explained in greater detail further down. 

At $549.99 / £599 / AU$899 – although you can regularly find it for less in all territories – it’s what could be deemed affordable, and while some may wish they had the extra couple of channels found on the 800C, the 700C delivers a loud, dynamic and impressive performance – particularly where vocals are concerned. If you want those extra channels and a more authentic Dolby Atmos surround sound experience at a later date, you could wirelessly connect the SWA-9500S speakers for $299 / £249 / AU$349.

The Samsung HW-Q700C supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X by way of two up-firing drivers to deliver the all-important height effects, and it will happily double up as a music system, accepting a range of music files including high-resolution FLAC. In practice, it is a formidable bit of kit, and certainly passes the test when it comes to the task of boosting your TV’s sound and bringing a cinema-like experience into your main room. Bass levels are insanely good considering the size of the 'bar and sub, Dolby Atmos height effects are convincing – as much as they can be given the speaker configuration – and as already alluded to, vocals  are crystal clear. 

However, considering you don’t need to spend a lot more money to pick up the HW-Q800C, it does beg the question who would take the 700 instead. This review intends to answer that one for you. 

Samsung HW-Q700C Review: Price & Availaibility

  • $549.99 / £599 / AU$899
  • Released April 2023

The Samsung HW-Q700C received a global launch in April 2023. In the UK and Australia, it appears to have maintained its original launch price of £599 and AU$899, whereas in the US, it’s undergone a price cut from $699.99, down to $549.99, at the time of writing. 

However, this is only the MSRP, and you’ll likely find it’s been discounted a fair amount at many third-party retailers, making it seemingly better value for money. But you’re also going to find the slightly more powerful Q800C has been discounted too, and so if you can afford the extra spend, that would ultimately be our recommendation. 

This is because the Q800C gives you a couple of extra speaker drivers for a bigger, wider sound. An alternative would be to use the money saved by buying the Q700C and spending it on the optional rear speakers for a more authentic 5.1.2 surround sound setup. 

Samsung HW-Q700C Review: Specs

Samsung HW-Q700C Review: Features

  • 3.1.2 channels
  • 4K HDR HDMI passthrough
  • Exclusive features for Samsung TV owners

The Samsung HW-Q700C’s 3.1.2 channel arrangement comprises a center, two wide-range tweeters, two dedicated upward firing drivers and a wireless 6.5-inch subwoofer, delivering a total power output of 320 watts. This is another area where the Q700C differs from its higher-specced siblings. The Q800C and Q990C are paired with an 8-inch subwoofer, which is capable of making your room shake even more with low frequencies. A larger sub is going to be useful in larger rooms and consequently, could be overkill if your living room, bedroom, media room, whatever it may be, is on the smaller side. The 6.5-inch sub included with the 700C is still plenty capable, it must be said, and in my time using it I didn’t feel short changed.

If you’re in ownership of a compatible Samsung TV, you can effectively increase the channel count by way of integrating the TV’s speakers into the equation via Q Symphony. The aim is to create a bigger, more detailed soundstage, since you’ll be using all available speakers. If you are able to connect to a compatible Samsung TV – 2021 - 2023 QLED Q70 TVs and above – then you can take advantage of SpaceFit Sound room calibration. This uses the microphone in the TV to automatically calibrate the sound without any user intervention. SpaceFit Sound Pro, which doesn't require a Samsung TV to be connected, is available on the Q800C soundbar and the flagship Q990C.

The vast majority of audio formats are supported, including the aforementioned Dolby Atmos, alongside DTS:X, Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby True HD. As for music, there’s across the board support for AAC, WAV, FLAC, MP3 and ALAC. Put simply, the Samsung HW-Q700C will be able to playback virtually anything you wish to throw at it. 

Samsung HW-Q700C soundbar sitting beneath an LG G3 OLED TV showing Barry Can't Swim music stream via Apple Music

(Image credit: Future)

And since there’s Wi-Fi onboard, you can also play music via Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay 2 and Tidal Connect. Amazon Alexa is also supported, although it’s not completely built in. You’ll need a separate Alexa device, such as an Echo, through which you can bark commands, such as asking the soundbar to skip a music track or adjust the volume.

Further proving the fact that it’s the physical features that separate the Q700C from other Q-series soundbars, Samsung has given its mid-range soundbar its full suite of audio technologies. These include Adaptive Sound 2.0, which claims to intelligently analyze the content you’re watching, whether it be sports, a movie or the news, and adjust the audio output accordingly.

There’s a separate audio mode for gamers, in the form of Game Made Pro, which aims to more accurately place various sounds, such as another player coming from behind you. Do note that the Samsung HW-Q700C doesn’t support 4K 120Hz pass through. It will support 4K pass through, but if you want to make the absolute most of your next-gen console, you’ll need to plug the console directly into your TV and send audio to the soundbar via eARC.

  • Features score: 4.5/5

Samsung HW-Q700C Review: Audio Performance

  • Surprisingly deep bass from the wireless subwoofer
  • Vocal clarity a particular highlight
  • Impressive, if not totally authentic, Dolby Atmos effect

The Samsung HW-Q700C took the place of the more powerful and much more expensive JBL Bar 1300 in my living room. The JBL does have genuine rear speakers, therefore capable of delivering a more authentic Dolby Atmos experience, so I was keen to hear how Samsung’s single-bar solution would fare. Truth be told, I was impressed. 

To get things started, I fired up a stream of Lightyear on Disney Plus, and the opening scene alone proved the HW-Q700C could deliver power that belies its size. Buzz’s rocket ship blasted through space with ferocity, and the subwoofer provided plenty of low end rumble to highlight just how powerful the ship’s jet propulsion was. So much low end rumble in fact, that I felt compelled to turn the volume down a few notches, not just so as to not annoy my housemate, but the neighbors in the units above and below me. 

Samsung HW-Q700C soundbar sitting beneath an LG G3 OLED TV, playing Avengers Endgame

(Image credit: Future)

The bar itself also impressed. What was immediately apparent – positively for Samsung and negatively for JBL – was how much clearer dialogue was. No matter the movie or TV show, I never once felt the need to make a beeline for the subtitles menu, as voices came through with impressive clarity. I toggled the voice enhance feature on and off too, to hear if it made dialogue any clearer and sure enough, it did. I did find the rest of the audio presentation took a slight backseat when this feature was turned on however, so for the most part I had it turned off.

As for Dolby Atmos effects, it’s a mixed bag. Yes, the Samsung HW-Q700C soundbar did indeed fill my room with sound that evidently had greater height, and during Avengers: Endgame in the main, epic battle at the end, sounds of various spaceships and otherworldly beasts flying in from the sides of the screen did sound as they had come from my side or behind me. But when compared to a soundbar with dedicated rear speakers, or a fully-fledged home cinema speaker system, there is a noticeable difference.

But, this should pretty much be expected. The HW-Q700C doesn’t have physical rear speakers and so placing the responsibility of enveloping a room with sound on the 2 upward firing drivers is going to be a big ask. I would say there is a slight sensation of a half-dome of sound, because you’re definitely getting a larger soundfield than you’d get from a front-firing-only soundbar, but not quite a full dome over your head.

Samsung HW-Q700C soundbar end section showing Samsung logo

(Image credit: Future)

This is realistically only a minor setback as on the whole, I was seriously impressed with the audio performance of the Q700C. It had no issues filling the room with sound, and I had the volume relatively low during the entirety of the review period. I did turn things up on a couple of occasions to see what it was truly capable of, and once again I was taken aback by the sheer power of the unassuming bar and sub package.

Musically, it’s a good performer too, although I found it wasn’t without its issues. First and foremost, I wasn’t able to stream music from my iPhone or Macbook via Apple AirPlay. AirPlay recognised the soundbar as a device, it just wasn’t able to connect. I removed the Q700C from the SmartThings app (and subsequently my wi-fi network) and added it back in to try and remedy the problem, but to no avail.

So, to play music, I streamed tracks from Apple Music via a connected Apple TV. I first loaded up the rather funky, foot-tapping first album from Barry Can’t Swim, which streams in Dolby Atmos. The same effortless room-filling sound experienced with movies carries over here, and also allows the Q700C to prove its rhythmic prowess. I also noticed the soundbar and sub integrated well with each other, ensuring cohesive playback that never once sounded muddled.

Step down to ‘regular’ music playback for songs not available in Dolby Atmos or Spatial Audio and naturally, that height is removed. The Q700C still handles music well mind you, and I’d say it’s pretty much on par with its Q800C sibling when you activate Adaptive Sound Mode. This essentially remixes stereo into multi-channel, and the effect in this instance is as it is with the Q800C. That being, songs are given extra room without sacrificing too much in the way of detail.

Samsung HW-Q700C soundbar

(Image credit: Future)
  • Sound quality score: 4.5/5

Samsung HW-Q700C Review: Design

  • Gray plastic finish looks more premium than it feels
  • Subwoofer isn't the most attractive thing ever
  • Unobtrusive size will suit most TVs

The Samsung HW-Q700C follows a very similar design language to Samsung’s other Q-series soundbars. Namely, a main bar with angled edges, a gray metallic plastic finish complete with front grille and unobtrusive dimensions that make it easy to nestle in front of and underneath a TV. It’s the same width and depth as the Q800C, yet ever so slightly shorter in height, which only adds to its unobtrusive nature. 

Samsung HW-Q700C soundbar top panel

(Image credit: Future)

It’s the perfect width for TVs 55-inches in size and greater – I was testing with it placed beneath a 65-inch LG OLED G3 – and since the top panel is covered by a perforated grille, you needn’t worry about any reflections from the screen above it, which is a good thing. There’s also a small LCD display on the right side of the bar (when you’re looking at it) that will display the source – eARC, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth etc – and it will flash up when it’s playing a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, which provides peace of mind for the user.

On the underside of the soundbar are two recessed areas. One is solely for the power cable, while the other is where you’ll plug your HDMI cables and/or digital optical cable. One thing I have noticed is that this layout is best suited to Samsung’s own TVs, as the main bulk of connections can be found on the left of a Samsung TV (when viewed from the back) and so connecting an HDMI cable from this side of the screen to the left side of the soundbar (also when viewed from the rear) will be simple. On my LG TV, however, the HDMI inputs are on the opposite side, meaning I had to really stretch the cables as far as they’d go.

This may not be a huge deal breaker for many, but is something you might not initially consider when buying a soundbar.

The subwoofer I’m less enthusiastic about. It’s rather dinky and so won’t exactly be an eyesore in your room, but I’m not all that keen on the cloth cover on the front. In comparison to the main bar, I feel it makes it look dated. I would’ve been able to tolerate the cloth grille if it were removable, but alas, no such luck.

Samsung HW-Q700C subwoofer

(Image credit: Future)
  • Design score: 4/5

Samsung HW-Q700C Review: Setup & Usability

  • Controlled via app or remote
  • A few issues streaming via AirPlay

I definitely expected the setup of the Samsung HW-Q700C to go off without a hitch, but I did run into a few teething problems. Firstly, the aforementioned issue of input placement meant I had to move a few things around – as a sidenote, my usual JBL Bar 1300 has its inputs in the center of the bar, which I find to be far more logical. 

I also, naively, didn’t realise there was just a single HDMI input alongside the HDMI eARC port. So, again, I had to then plug devices into my TV to have the audio sent back down to the soundbar. Once this was all done, I expected them all to work harmoniously, in the sense of, when I turned my Apple TV on, the TV and soundbar should have come on at the same time. Only this didn’t happen… initially at least. I came home one day, about a week after having it all plugged in, to find that this was all now working as it should, without any intervention from myself. Perhaps my housemate is a secret technological guru. 

Samsung HW-Q700C soundbar sitting beneath LG G3 OLED TV

(Image credit: Future)

I was also directed to Samsung’s SmartThings app, which mimics the soundbar’s remote control – and is also where you can group other SmartThings compatible devices you may have in your home. The initial setup of this was relatively plain sailing. It detected the Q700C was in my room, and I was able to enter my Wi-Fi password and get it on my network in next to no time.

But a few days later I went to open the app to adjust some settings, and it either kept showing me the spinning loading icon while it tried to establish a connection with the soundbar again, or it didn’t connect at all. The app would tell me the soundbar was off, when I was literally sitting in front of it and it was playing a movie.

I occasionally encountered similar issues with my JBL soundbar, in that it would regularly lose its network connection, before reconnecting again automatically. During any downtime, I’m unable to use that bar’s companion app to make any changes, either. I’m willing to accept that I just have bad luck.

But more recently when I’ve used the Q700C, I’ve had no issues at all. I did find adjusting the volume using my Apple TV remote did suffer from slight input lag, but using the included Samsung remote worked perfectly.

Samsung HW-Q700C soundbar

(Image credit: Future)
  • Setup & usability score: 4/5

Samsung HW-Q700C Review: Value

  • The punchier Q800C doesn't cost much more
  • Optional rear speakers could be beneficial, but cost extra

The Samsung HW-Q700C is an interesting proposition. On the one hand it’s a relatively inexpensive soundbar (it’s available for much less than its MSRP in most territories) that certainly ticks the box of “boost TV sound”. But the ever-so-slightly better-specced 800C, which we deemed to be the best mid-range soundbar released in 2023, is hanging over it like a fantastic-sounding bad smell. And you don’t need to spend an awful lot more money at some retailers to take ownership of the more powerful sibling. 

So, which should you get? 

In my opinion, if you only have space for a single soundbar and subwoofer combo – and can stretch your budget – I would opt for the Samsung HW-Q800C for its extra couple of drivers. But if your room layout allows for it, I would argue the HW-Q700C plus the optional rear surround speaker units would create a far more convincing Dolby Atmos soundfield in your room. 

If your budget is constrained, however, but still want to make it go as far as possible, then the Samsung HW-Q700C as a standalone unit is still an utter joy to listen to. 

  • Value score: 4/5

Should I buy the Samsung HW-Q700C?

Buy it if...

You want an affordable route to great home cinema

The Q700C delivers a performance that belies its size and spec sheet, and it doesn't cost a whole lotta money.

Don't buy it if...

Samsung HW-Q700C review: Also consider

How I tested the Samsung HW-Q700C

  • Tested over two weeks
  • Tested with movie and TV content streamed from Apple TV and built-in TV apps
  • Music streamed via Bluetooth and from Apple TV

The Samsung HW-Q700C soundbar sat beneath a 65-inch LG G3 OLED TV on an entertainment unit, which is placed along a wall in a central position, as opposed to being in a corner. This allows the wide-angle tweeters to have space to deliver their sound. I left the subwoofer placed alongside the same wall, to the right of the soundbar when viewed from the front. I wasn't able to test the Q700C with the optional rear speakers. 

The majority of Dolby Atmos and 5.1 content came from movies and TV shows streamed on Netflix and Disney Plus via an Apple TV 4K. In particular Lightyear, Avengers: End Game and Money Heist.

For music playback, I mainly streamed tracks from Apple Music via the same Apple TV 4K. I also streamed some songs via Bluetooth from my iPhone 13 Pro. 

Panasonic DP-UB820 review: a fantastic, affordable 4K Blu-ray player that’s built to last
6:09 pm | December 20, 2023

Author: admin | Category: Blu-ray Computers Gadgets Home Theater Televisions | Tags: , , , | Comments: Off

Panasonic DP-UB820 review: One minute review

The Panasonic DP-UB820 is one of Panasonic’s mid-range 4K Blu-ray players that offers a strong suite of features, and supports a lot of audio and video formats including Dolby Vision and HDR10+ for video, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X for audio, and can even support up to 7.1 channels of audio directly with audio analogue output options. It has Wi-Fi for streaming apps such as Netflix, too.

Performance wise, the Panasonic DP-UB820 offers fantastic 4K image reproduction with vivid colors, deep black levels and stunning contrast, particularly when it comes to Dolby Vision – it's up there with the best 4K Blu-ray players. Its 4K upscaling is effective, giving regular (non-4K) Blu-ray a whole new level of detail. Even DVDs are given a new lease on life thanks to the UB820’s upscaling efforts, though you'll notice far more that it was a lower-quality source. 

Audio performance is also superb, with Dolby Atmos effects coming through clear and adding that extra layer of immersion to any movie. Paired with one of the best TVs and best soundbars, the Panasonic DP-UB820 completes the home theater experience beautifully.

The Panasonic DP-UB820’s software feels a little cumbersome at times, but it still gives plenty of options and settings for people to adjust to get the picture and audio of their movies to just how they like it. 

Design-wise, the Panasonic DP-UB820 may not be the most remarkable bit of kit, but it’s still a solid player that keeps things simple. Whilst its front panel that covers the whole device keeps things a little neater, it does mean people will have to think about where the hinged panel will open and close with the disc tray, meaning those with shelved TV stands may have to do some Tetris-esque moving.

In terms of value, the Panasonic DP-UB820 is one of the best Blu-ray buys today. Priced at under $500/£349/AU$760, this really is a well-featured and high-performing player for the price. Thanks to some personal history with this player, I can also confirm this will work and work and work until it can't give anymore; it's a solid investment.

Panasonic DP-UB820 remote

The Panasonic DP-UB820's remote (pictured) is a little button heavy but functional nonetheless. (Image credit: Future)

Panasonic DP-UB820 review: Prices & release date

  • Released in August 2018 
  • Priced around $499/£349/AU$769 

The Panasonic DP-UB820 is a mid-range,4K Blu-ray player that sits in the middle point of Panasonic’s range of 4K Blu-ray players, above budget models such as the Panasonic UB154, but below the premium Panasonic DP-UB9000. It's officially priced with a slighter higher tag of $499 in the US, but the DP-UB820 is competitive at £349 and AU$769 in the UK and Australia respectively. 

At the time of writing, we’ve seen the DP-UB820 for much lower prices than above, falling to around $399 in the US, £249 in the UK, and as low as $538 in Australia. Whilst these prices do fluctuate, they often drop to this level or only slightly higher. For a player with this level of features and capabilities, this is an excellent price. 

Panasonic DP-UB820 picture settings menu on Panasonic MZ1500

The Panasonic DP-UB820 offers lots of settings that you can adjust to get the picture how you'd like. (Image credit: Future)

Panasonic DP-UB820 review: Specs

Panasonic DP-UB820 rear panel

The Panasonic DP-UB820 comes with plenty of connections including twin HDMI (one is audio-only). (Image credit: Future)

Panasonic DP-UB820 review: Features

  • Dolby Vision and HDR10+ support 
  • Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support  
  • Built-in Wi-Fi and streaming capabilities

The Panasonic DP-UB820 is packed with features for its price tag. It supports playback of 4K Blu-ray, regular and even 3D Blu-ray, DVD, AVCHD, CD and various recordable disc formats as well. It  doesn’t support SACD, unfortunately, but you could step up to the Magnetar UDP800 if you need that.  

In terms of HDR support, the UB820 has covered all the bases with support for Dolby Vision, HDR10+, HDR10 and HLG included. 

For audio formats, the UB820 again supports the vital Dolby and DTS formats including Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD, DTS:X and DTS:HD Master Audio. Dolby Atmos and DTS:X are in bitstream output whilst Dolby TrueHD and DTS:HD MA are in bitstream and decoded outputs.

Music formats are also heavily supported including the usual FLAC, WAV, MP3 and AAC formats to name a few. There’s also support for Hi-Res Audio files including DSD at 2.8 MHz (2ch and 5.1ch), 5.6 MHz (2 ch and 5.1ch) and 11.2 MHz (2ch) and ALAC files (96 kHz/32 bit at 7.1ch and 192 kHz/32-bit at 5.1ch). 

Connectivity on the UB820 is again well-stocked, and includes two HDMI ports (one for audio and one for audio/video), digital optical output, analogue audio output (both LR and up to 7.1 channels) and two USB inputs (one 3.0 and one 2.0) for HDD playback. It also has Wi-Fi connectivity for streaming, with apps such as Netflix built into the streaming hub. 

The built-in software for the UB820 offers plenty of menus and settings to tweak so you can tailor the picture of your movies to what you need. Some particular highlights include choosing the display, labelled ‘HDR TV type’ in the Advanced Settings section, which offers options such as 'OLED' and 'Middle to High Luminance LCD', which made subtle changes to the picture based on choice. Although it didn’t make a huge difference, it was a welcome feature nonetheless.

Other settings, also in Advanced Settings, including Deep Color Output, HDR/Color Gamut Output and more for picture, and there were also adjustments for audio including Downmixing and 7.1-channel audio reformatting. Among these, there were also picture settings you could adjust such as black level, contrast and noise reduction for non-HDR sources such as regular Blu-ray.

Performance-wise, the UB820 was easy enough to navigate but there were some small frustrations. This included some settings that could only be changed when going back to the main menu of the UB820 itself, such as HDR10+ or Dolby Vision mode. During testing, the UB820 would favor HDR10+ over Dolby Vision when I tested it with a disc that supports both – which is frustrating because Dolby Vision looked better in most cases (more on that below). The only way I could find to avoid this is to deactivate HDR10+ – but I want it active for when I'm watching something that only supports it! This is only a problem if you have a TV that supports both HDR formats, but that includes the kind of home theater fan this Blu-ray is aimed at, right? There were also times where the software would stutter and pause, but this was not often. 

For the price however, the Panasonic DPUB820 is stacked with features and connectivity, especially at a very reasonable price.

  • Features score: 4.5/5  

Panasonic DP-UB820 with Godzilla on screen

Movies such as Godzilla vs Kong (pictured) looked incredible on the Panasonic DP-UB820, with vibrant colors and stunning contrast and depth. (Image credit: Future)

Panasonic DP-UB820 review: Performance

  • Excellent picture reproduction
  • Effective upscaling on most sources
  • Fantastic audio performance

Straight off the bat, the Panasonic DP-UB820 has great loading times, with the process from loading the disc into the tray to the first logos displayed on screen taking 35-40 seconds all told, not dissimilar timings to logging into some streaming apps and loading previously watched TV shows.

4K pictures look sensational through the UB820. Firstly, using Godzilla vs Kong to test both Dolby Vision and HDR10+ formats, in the climactic fight scene between Godzilla and Kong in Tokyo, the colors of the eye-watering neon signs buildings were bright, dynamic and had plenty of garish punch as you would expect. Contrast was also superb, with deep, rich black levels complementing the bright colors. Everything looks sharp and textures were crisp without being overly hard. 

When looking at Dolby Vision vs HDR10+ through the same player, on the same TV – which will only be a choice for those whose have TVs that support both formats such as the Hisense U8K, Philips OLED808 and Panasonic MZ1500 to name a few – Dolby Vision had the edge. During the same Godzilla vs Kong scene above, switching between the two HDR formats demonstrated that Dolby Vision offered deeper black levels, and this added contrast made the colors seem to pop more than through HDR10+, and even means there's an perceptive improvement in some texture and detail. That's definitely not to say HDR10+ looked bad, far from it in fact, but if you have the option of both I'd go for Dolby Vision.

In Top Gun: Maverick on 4K Blu-ray, and Dolby Vision performance was brilliant there, too. People’s skin tones and facial details during close-up shots were extremely rich, refined, and felt true-to-life. Brighter images felt natural yet vibrant. Motion was extremely well-handled by the UB820 and during any of the jet sequences, there was minimal judder and blurring. 

Moving on to lower-quality format discs, I started by viewing the same scene from Godzilla vs Kong as I’d used before for comparison, but on regular Blu-ray, and was blown away by the UB820’s picture, thanks to its effective 4K upscaling. Although it wasn’t quite as good as the 4K disc itself, the picture still carried enough vibrant color, rich contrast and crisp textures to make you look twice and question whether you’d put the 4K disc in. 

Watching a DVD of The Amazing Spider-man didn't deliver the same standard as Blu-ray upscaling (no surprise, given that it's now having to upscale to 16 times as many pixels), and textures appeared soft in places as a result – but the overall quality was still strong, as the UB820 maintained good levels of detail, punchy colors and solid textures overall.

I also tested older movies including the 4K Blu-ray of Alien and a Blu-ray of Thief to see how the UB820's processing handled film grain. Although there was film grain present, more so in Thief, the UB820 balanced keeping enough grain for the enthusiast alongside upscaling it to take advantage of a 4K screen. It didn't come across as artificially cleaned up, and there was no obvious problem of it struggling to find detail among the grainer scenes, such as the shots at dawn near the start of Thief.

Moving on to audio, the UB820 did a fantastic job of reproducing Dolby Atmos effects with the jets in Top Gun: Maverick feeling like they're gliding around the room with a suitable Dolby Atmos soundbar or surround system. 

Testing the DTS:HD Master Audio 5.1 mix of Alien, the foreboding and doom-ridden parts of the soundtrack were as claustrophobic as you’d hope, and those moments of noise cutting through the silence of the Nostromo’s landing early on were powerful and direct.

As for music, there is a built-in app called Berliner Philharmoniker featuring performances of classical music and listening to Mozart concertos, also in Dolby Atmos, which is a fun addition, and really shows off your sound system. Every instrument had room to breathe, and there was a fantastic balance between the trebles, mids and bass. 

Finally, I tested its CD playback, and although not mind-blowing, vocals were still clear, and there was a good balance between other instruments, with a healthy showing of bass. 

  • Performance score: 5/5

Panasonic DP-UB820 with disc tray open on white stand

The Panasonic DP-UB820 does have a hinged panel that opens with the disc tray which could be a problem for particular shelving in certain narrower units. (Image credit: Future)

Panasonic DP-UB820 review: Design

  • Lightweight but durable build  
  • Hinged panel in front of disc tray  
  • Plenty of connections for mid-range player  

The Panasonic DP-UB820 is lightweight compared to its more premium counterpart, the Panasonic DP-UB9000, with the former weighing in at a much lighter 2.4kg compared to the latter’s 8kg weight. Although it’s not made of metal like more premium Blu-ray players, the UB820 still feels durable.

The disc tray and digital display, which looks a bit old-school, are set behind a hinged panel that opens and closes with the disc tray itself. While this keeps things looking neat, it does mean the UB820 needs space across the whole front to allow the panel to open. This could cause a problem for those with restrictive TV stands in one way or another, though may not be a problem for most people.

There are plenty of connections on the rear panel of the UB820 including two HDMI ports, USB, digital optical output, up to 7.1 channels of analogue output, and LAN for wired network connections. For a mid-range player, this is a lot of connectivity and presents a lot of audio options for movie users.

The UB820’s supplied remote is on the smaller side and features plenty of buttons to press including a number pad. If anything, there are probably a few too many buttons, but there are also options to navigate the various menus that do make navigation that bit easier.

  • Design score: 4/5 

Panasonic DP-UB820 menu on Panasonic MZ1500

The Panasonic DP-UB820's software isn't the most dazzling, but it is effective and offers plenty of features. (Image credit: Future)

Panasonic DP-UB820 review: Value

  • Excellent price for the performance and features
  • Solid, reliable and built to work
  • Covers most of the bases extremely well

Quite simply, the Panasonic DP-UB820 is a workhorse. During my time working for a major AV retailer, the UB820 was the Blu-ray player of choice to display demo material across 15 TVs, for eight hours a day, seven days a week, using an HDMI splitter. In the nearly three years I was at that job, the HDMI splitter failed multiple times, while the UB820 simply trucked on doing its job. The UB820 is built to last and will give you years of entertainment. 

Price-wise, the UB820 has an extensive list of features and connectivity, supports a lot of physical sources, picture and audio formats and even has Wi-Fi built-in for streaming all for under $500 in the US, under £300 in the UK and $750 in Australia. Compared to similarly priced players, such as the Sony UBPX800 Mk II, the Panasonic is the total package. 

  • Value 5/5 

Panasonic DP-UB820 showing Top Gun Maverick

The Panasonic DP-UB820 produces excellent textures and sharpness, shown here on Top Gun: Maverick (pictured). (Image credit: Future)

Panasonic DP-UB820 review: Should I buy it?

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

Panasonic DP-UB820 review: Also consider

How I tested the Panasonic DP-UB820

Panasonic DP-UB820 with Panasonic MZ1500 and Sonos Beam (Gen 2) connected

(Image credit: Future)
  • Multiple sources including 4K and standard Blu-ray, DVD, CD
  • Tested with Panasonic MZ1500 TV
  • Tested over the course of two months

For testing the Panasonic DP-UB820, I connected it to a 55-inch Panasonic MZ1500 OLED TV, which supports both Dolby Vision and HDR10+. I then tested the DP-UB820 for picture using 4K Blu-ray, standard Blu-ray, DVD for disc playback and upscaling testing. 

Once I'd chosen the discs, I assessed pictures based on HDR performance including Dolby Vision, HDR10+ and more, and looked at 4K upscaling of non-4K formats such as DVD and Blu-ray.

For sound I tested the UB820 using CD, streaming apps and the same discs to test Dolby Atmos and DTS sound reproduction.

I also tested the software of the DP-UB820 looking at menu navigation, input speed, number of settings and more to see how comprehensive the DP-UB820 was for a mid-range Blu-ray player.

Sony HT-S2000 soundbar review: a Sonos Beam alternative with surprisingly big sound
2:00 pm | November 12, 2023

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets Soundbars Televisions | Tags: , , , | Comments: Off

Sony HT-S2000 soundbar: two-minute review

The HT-S2000 is Sony's entry-level 3.1-channel soundbar. Initially priced at $499 /  £449 / AU$695, it’s a compact, all-in-one model with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support, with the height effects in both immersive soundtrack formats delivered using virtual processing. 

Sony’s design for the HT-S2000 uses five speakers: three for the left, right and center channels as well as two dedicated woofers for the bass. Connections include HDMI (with eARC/ARC) and optical digital audio inputs. There’s also a USB type-A port to play music on connected USB drives. Unlike some of the best soundbars, the HT-S2000 doesn’t support music streaming using Wi-Fi or AirPlay, though its Bluetooth 5.2 support will let you play music wirelessly from a phone. For those looking to expand their soundbar’s capabilities in the future, the HT-S2000 can also be paired with Sony’s optional wireless surround speakers and subwoofers.

Sony’s soundbar has solid build quality and a sleek, no-nonsense look. It’s easy to set up, and Sony provides its own Home Entertainment app to help with that task – it also lets you tweak the sound for your specific installation. There are a range of Sound EQ modes, including automatic volume levelling, that can be accessed using either the app of Sony’s bundled remote control. The HT-S2000 also features Sony’s proprietary Vertical Surround Engine and S-Force Pro Front Surround processing, both of which work to enhance the level of audio immersion coming from the soundbar’s basic 3.1-channel speaker array.

The HT-S2000’s overall performance is great for the price. It delivers dialogue that sounds consistently clear even when pushed to a high level, and bass output is better-than average for an all-in-one soundbar. Sony’s proprietary processing allows for the height effects in Dolby Atmos soundtracks to extend beyond and above the screen boundaries of a TV the soundbar is connected to and there’s also a notably good surround sound ‘wrap-around’ effect when the S-Force Pro Front Surround feature is active.

When it was first released, the HT-S2000 wasn’t the strongest value as it lacked features found in some of the best Dolby Atmos soundbars selling for the same price, such as up-firing speakers and built-in Wi-Fi for lossless music streaming. But the HT-S2000 has since widely dropped in price to $349 / £299, making it a much more compelling value, especially given its performance.

Sony HT-S2000 soundbar on TV stand

Sony's soundbar is a good fit for TVs with a 55-inch (shown here) or a 65-inch screen size. (Image credit: Future)

Sony HT-S2000 soundbar review: price and release date

  • Released in March 2023
  • $499 / £449 / AU$695

Sony’s HT-S2000 soundbar was released in March 2023 at an initial price of $499 /  £449 / AU$695. Its price has since dropped to $349 in the US and £299 in the UK, though it’s still selling for AU$695 in Australia.

In the Sony 2023 soundbar lineup, the HT-S2000 sits below the HT-A2000, another 3.1-channel model that adds Wi-Fi streaming along with Spotify Connect and AirPlay 2 support.

Sony HT-S2000 soundbar review: features

  • Dolby Atmos and DTS: X support
  • HDMI and optical digital connections
  • Vertical Surround Engine and S-Force Pro Front Surround processing

The HT-S2000 is a 3.1-channel soundbar with support for the Dolby Atmos and DTS:X immersive audio formats, which it delivers using virtual processing. It doesn’t have built-in Wi-Fi for streaming, though you can stream music to it over a Bluetooth wireless connection.

Two Sony audio processing features found on the HT-S2000 are Vertical Surround Engine and S-Force Pro Front Surround. The first helps to elevate sound effects, music and dialogue to screen level or even above where they will sound more natural. The second provides a virtual ‘wrap-around’ so that surround effects sound like they are coming from the sides of the room.

Connection options on the HT-S2000 are basic. It has an HDMI-eARC port for connecting to a TV, an optical digital audio input, and a USB type-A port that can be used to play music files stored on a USB drive. Like other soundbars from brands including Sonos, Bose, Samsung, and LG, the HT-S2000 can be expanded by adding Sony’s wireless surround sound speakers and subwoofers.

  • Features score: 4/5

Sony HT-S2000 soundbar on white background

The soundbar's top-mounted controls (Image credit: Future)

Sony HT-S2000 soundbar review: sound quality

  • Very good dialogue clarity
  • Spacious virtual surround 
  • Sounds good with music

 A key benefit of the Sony soundbar is its handling of dialogue in movies and TV shows. Watching a few dialogue-heavy scenes from Top Gun: Maverick, voices sounded clean, and I could push the volume to relatively high levels without it sounding edgy. For comparison’s sake, I swapped out the Sony with a 2.1-channel model and found dialogue in the same Top Gun: Maverick scene to be significantly less clean-sounding. The comparison demonstrated the advantage to using a soundbar like the HT-S2000 with a dedicated center-channel speaker, which is a feature that 2.1-channel soundbars lack.

Skipping ahead to the aerial dogfight scene in Top Gun: Maverick, Sony's soundbar sorted the dialogue, music (The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again) and sound effects in an impressively clear manner. There was also a decent amount of bass, which enhanced the sound of drums in the music and added definition to the trajectory of the fighter jets. The soundbar’s virtual processing made height effects in Dolby Atmos soundtracks like Top Gun exceed the height of my TV’s screen. And while the presentation wasn’t as expansive as what I’ve experienced with soundbars featuring dedicated Atmos speakers, it still had a satisfying level of immersion.

Music also sounded surprisingly good on the HT-S2000, especially given its low price. It’s possible to listen to plain stereo with the soundbar’s virtual processing disabled, but pressing the Sound Field button on the remote control adds a level of spaciousness that enhances the stereo separation without making voices and instruments sound unnatural. Equally important, it elevates the presentation in the vertical dimension so that the sound doesn’t appear to be coming from a horizontal bar located beneath your TV’s screen.

  • Sound quality score: 4/5

Sony HT-S2000 soundbar on white background

Ports on the HT-S2000's left and right sides enhance the soundbar's bass output. (Image credit: Future)

Sony HT-S2000 soundbar review: design

  • Compact design
  • Above-average build quality 
  • Alphanumeric front-panel display

The HT-S2000 has a compact, all-in-one soundbar, measuring 31.5 inches wide by 2.5 inches high and 5.25 inches deep. Build quality is a cut above most budget soundbars, with the Sony’s sturdy black plastic cabinet fronted by a metal mesh grille. Ports located on the soundbar’s left and right sides allow for enhanced bass output, while its X-Balanced Speaker Unit design physically aligns the 3.25 x 1.8-inch drivers and 3.75 x 1.8 woofers to reduce distortion.

Capacitive controls on the HT-S2000’s top surface let you adjust volume and connect with Bluetooth devices, and there’s also a small remote with additional controls to switch inputs, select sound EQ modes, and adjust the bass level. Sony’s soundbar conveniently provides visual feedback to remote control commands via its alphameric front panel display. That feature is one you don’t regularly find on lower-cost soundbars, and it’s a superior option to basic LED lights.

Sony HT-S2000 soundbar inputs

Inputs include HDMI and optical digital connections (Image credit: Future)
  • Design score: 4.5/5

Sony HT-S2000 soundbar review: usability and setup

  • HDMI eARC/ARC connection to TV
  • App-based setup 
  • No voice assistant support

The HT-S2000’s single HDMI input makes the setup process simple. Just connect it to a TV’s HDMI eARC (or ARC) port, select that input on the soundbar, and you’re ready to roll. Another option is to use the soundbar’s optical digital input, but that connection type doesn’t support Dolby Atmos or the HDMI-CEC control that lets you adjust the soundbar’s volume level using the TV’s remote control.

Sony’s Home Entertainment control app duplicates all the functions of the soundbar’s hardware remote and also provides a range of setup options for initial installation and performance. The latter includes an A/V sync adjustment, automatic volume level adjustment, and DTS Virtual:X to enhance basic stereo or mono soundtracks.

The soundbar’s alphanumeric front panel display makes using it super-easy as you don’t have to rely on a sequence of flashing LEDs to let you know what input or sound mode is selected. There’s no voice assistant support as on some other soundbars in the HT-S2000’s price range such as the Bose Smart Soundbar, but that’s not a feature I imagine most users will rely on, especially when using their TV’s remote control for volume adjustment.

Sony HT-S2000 soundbar remote control held in hand

Sony's remote is larger than the ones provided with some other soundbars and has clearly marked control buttons (Image credit: Future)
  • Usability and setup score: 4.5/5

Sony HT-S2000 soundbar review: value

  • Affordable price
  • Very good performance for the money 
  • Lacks Wi-Fi and AirPlay streaming options

At its initial $499 /  £449 / AU$695 price, the Sony HT-S2000’s overall value proposition was just average. It faced very strong competition from the Sonos Beam (Gen 2), another all-in-one soundbar with virtual Dolby Atmos processing, and one with a built-in Wi-Fi for app-based control and audio streaming. Another competitor was the Bose Smart Soundbar 600, which provides upfiring drivers to deliver height effects in Atmos soundtracks and also features built-in Wi-Fi for streaming.

At the time of writing, however, the HT-S2000’s price has widely dropped to $349 in the US and £299 in the UK, making it a much better value given its overall performance and features. Being able to stream uncompressed music directly to the Sonos or Bose from a phone using Wi-Fi or using AirPlay does boost the value of both, but many people mainly use their soundbar for TV audio and are okay with a lesser quality Bluetooth option for their occasional music streaming. For those folks, the HT-S2000 will be the perfect entry-level soundbar.

  • Value score: 4.5/5

Sony HT-S2000 soundbar on TV stand with Netflix Black Mirror menu in background

(Image credit: Future)

Should I buy the Sony HT-S2000 soundbar?

Buy it if…

Don't buy it if…

Sony HT-S2000 soundbar review: Also consider

Sony HT-S2000 soundbar on TV stand

(Image credit: Future)

How I tested the Sony HT-S2000 soundbar

  • Evaluated using both 4K Blu-ray discs and streamed sources
  • Break-in time allowed before critical listening
  • Tested using reference movie scenes and music tracks

I tested the Sony HT-S2000 soundbar in a 12 x 16 x 9-foot room using a 4K Blu-ray player, Apple TV 4K, and music streamed from my iPhone via Bluetooth and the Tidal app on the Apple TV 4K. I allowed it to break in by watching movies and TV shows before settling in for more critical listening using reference movie clips and music tracks. 

The key things I listened for with movies were dialogue clarity, bass definition, and a sense of spaciousness with the soundbar's surround mode engaged. For music, I paid attention to the naturalness of the sound with acoustic instruments and voices, as well as the dynamics in louder tracks.

Having reviewed many soundbars in the same room over the years, I have a reference sound standard that the Sony HT-S2000 was compared to. For further comparison, I also used an Amazon Fire TV Soundbar, switching between the two compact models on identical movie clips and music tracks.

Read more about how we test

  • First reviewed: November 12, 2023
Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar review: a more compact Sonos Arc alternative
5:49 pm | November 9, 2023

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets Soundbars Televisions | Tags: , | Comments: Off

Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar review: two-minute review

The Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar arrives as the most upmarket, most expensive member of the Bose family of soundbars – and it’s been given the far-from-enviable task of taking the Sonos Arc down a peg or two as the most popular all-in-one big soundbar. Which means it has its work cut out.

First impressions – and second impressions too, for that matter – are very good, though. The Smart Ultra is properly built and finished from tactile, high-quality materials, and by the standards of the best soundbars, it’s of very discreet proportions. It’s well specified, including dedicated upward-facing speaker drivers – you’ve always a better chance of generating a convincing impression of spatial audio if you’ve got the physical equipment (rather than just some clever sound processing) to help you. And between a remote control handset, a couple of physical on-bar controls, voice-assistant compatibility, and one of the better control apps out there, getting what you want from the Bose couldn’t be any simpler.

In performance terms, it generally makes a good impression too. Certainly no one’s going to be disappointed by the width and coherence of its soundstage, nor by the impressive amount of detail it retains and delivers from a soundtrack. Dialogue, in particular, enjoys proper expression – and, as we know, that’s always the most important part of any movie soundtrack. There’s a slight shortage of low-end ‘punch’ and substance to the sound, though, and only a very modest sensation of the audio ‘height’ that is basically the whole point of getting one of the best Dolby Atmos soundbars.

And when you remember that ‘punch’ and ‘height’ are among the two real strengths of the usually cheaper Sonos Arc or the more expensive but exquisite Sennheiser Ambeo Plus, it becomes apparent that the Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar is sitting in a slightly awkward spot – however, it's notably more compact than the Sonos Arc, which may make it a winner for some people.

Bose smart ultra soundbar close up showing a grille for an upfiring speaker

The Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar is hiding an upfiring driver behind here. (Image credit: Future)

Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar review: price & release date

  •  Released October 10th 2023  
  •  £899 / $899 / AU$1499 

The Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar went on sale on October 10th, 2023. It's priced at $899 in the US, £899 in the United Kingdom, and in Australia it will set you back AU$1,499. 

This means it’s a little more affordable than the Sony HT-A7000 or Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar Plus, both of which we’re big fans of. And more significantly, it’s the same money officially as the very similarly specified (and extremely successful) Sonos Arc, though the Arc is regularly available with discounts now, which means in real terms you should expect to pay less than the price of the Bose.

Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar close up showing the curved corner of the soundbar

The Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar's build quality and finish is impressive. (Image credit: Future)

Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar review: Specs

Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar

Some of the soundbar’s connections  (Image credit: Future)

Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar review: Features

  • 9 speaker drivers arranged in 5.1.2 channels
  • Dolby Atmos support, but no DTS:X
  • TrueSpace turns regular audio into Atmos-like sound

The Smart Ultra Soundbar uses a nine-strong line-up of speaker drivers in order to deal with Dolby Atmos spatial audio soundtracks (and Bose's TrueSpace technology to up-mix non-Atmos content to the point that it uses all nine drivers too).

Six of these nine drivers are 100 x 50mm ‘racetrack’ full-range drivers, and are of plastic with ferrite magnets. There’s one behind each exposed metal grille on the top surface of the soundbar, angled in an effort to create the sonic height that’s basically the whole point of a Dolby Atmos soundtrack. The other four are grouped towards the center of the bar – there are two either side of a 25mm neodymium tweeter that’s positioned dead center. There’s another of these tweeters at each end of the soundbar, and they spread sound beyond the physical confines of the soundbar’s cabinet. 

It seems safe to assume there are nine discrete blocks of amplification powering this driver array, and it seems safe to assume it’s of the Class D variety. But having seemingly taken a leaf out of the Sonos' playbook of inexplicable secrecy, Bose is neither confirming nor denying. And there’s no indication of the amount of power this putative amplification turns out, either, nor of the Smart Ultra’s frequency response.

Physical connectivity is kept in a couple of little recesses on the rear of the cabinet. In the first you’ll find sockets for HDMI eARC, Ethernet, digital optical and a USB-C slot that’s purely for servicing. In the second there’s power, and a collection of 3.5mm sockets – they’re for data, for connecting the Adaptiq calibration mic, connecting a bass module, and an IR blaster respectively.

Having only one HDMI socket is frustrating here – it's so useful to have at least one passthrough – but the Sonos Arc has the same limitation, so Bose isn't alone.

Wireless connectivity is covered off by Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0. Chromecast is built in, Apple AirPlay 2 is available (both of which make multi-room set-up straightforward), and Spotify can be embedded into the Bose Music control app.

Sound format support extends to Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital, Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus. Bear in mind, though, that TrueSpace is constantly doing its thing, analyzing incoming non-Dolby audio content and deciding how best (or, more particularly, with how much spatial audio effect) it should be delivered. And you’ve further input into the way sound is presented thanks to the defeatable ‘AI Dialogue Mode’ that is constantly assessing audio content to give dialogue (and the midrange in general) a little push towards the front of the soundstage.

  • Features score: 4/5

Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar bass reflex port close-up

The Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar's rear-firing bass reflex port aims to help make up for its lack of real subwoofer. (Image credit: Future)

Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar review: Sound quality

  • Spacious, organized sound 
  • Poise and insight in equal measure 
  • The spatial sound isn't especially pronounced 

Like any worthwhile Dolby Atmos soundbar, the Bose Smart Ultra is at its most impressive and convincing when given some properly accomplished Dolby Atmos content to deal with - and when reproducing the painstakingly remastered Atmos soundtrack on a 4K UHD Blu-ray disc of The Shining to deal with, the Bose wastes little time in establishing its credentials.

For example, it’s impressively detailed from the top of the frequency range to the bottom. This is most immediately apparent through the midrange, where voices project well and are absolutely loaded with information regarding tone and timbre as well as character and emotional state. The Bose communicates freely where dialogue is concerned, and voices are distinct and explicit as a result. But it’s true of frequency information on either side, too – bass sounds are respectably deep and varied, while the top of the frequency range is crisp and attacking. 

The Smart Ultra isn’t the deepest-digging soundbar you ever heard, it’s true – those who equate ‘punch’ with ‘excitement’ may be a little underwhelmed – and there could be greater substance to treble sounds to balance out their shininess and bite. It’s possible to mitigate these traits just a little in the Bose Music control app, but the fundamentals of the tonality that’s available here will always be apparent.

The driver array does very good work in conjuring appreciable sonic width to the soundtrack – the distance it can reach both left and right is considerably bigger than the physical dimensions of the cabinet. By way of mild contrast, though, the vertical extension the Bose can muster is fairly modest – there’s some height to its presentation, for sure, but it’s not especially pronounced. If your expectations of a Dolby Atmos soundbar include a suggestion of overhead sound, there’s not going to be much about the way the Smart Ultra goes about things to excite you, especially when you can get the multi-channel mastery of the Samsung HW-Q990C for around the same price.

Switching to some two-channel content lets the TrueSpace technology do its thing – and its thing turns out to be pretty effective. The same accurate, detailed and slightly lightweight tonality is in evidence (though just a hint of sibilance creeps into the top of the frequency range) and the same spacious, well-defined soundstage is apparent too. Also apparent is the technology disinclination (or inability) to summon any meaningful suggestion of height to the sound it delivers.

Using Bluetooth to stream a file of Kraftwerk’s Computer World results in quite a lot of the Smart Ultra’s positivity where soundstaging is concerned going astray. Detail levels stay agreeably high, and there’s decent rhythmic expression to the square-edged four/four presentation – but a mild-but-definite vagueness creeps into the layout of the stage, and the latent edginess of the tonality becomes a little more pronounced. TrueSpace has its limits, and it seems that stereo music is among them.

  • Sound quality score: 4/5

Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar paired with the TV

The Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar's reflectivity isn't ideal… (Image credit: Future)

Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar: Design

  • Suitable for TVs of 48 inches and up
  • Very well-built and premium
  • Glass top is highly reflective

Of course, it’s not enough for a soundbar at this sort of money to simply perform to a certain standard – when you’re charging premium money, it’s important to try and add at least a little perceived value where design is concerned too. Bose has decided the way to do that is to top the Smart Ultra Soundbar with tempered glass.

And up to a point, it’s a sound strategy. This soundbar looks a) very similar indeed to the Smart Soundbar 900 it replaces, especially where the cutaways in the glass to expose the metal grille above the up-firing drivers are concerned, and b) a more upmarket and premium proposition than, say, the similarly priced Sonos Arc. But there are a couple of problems with the admittedly luxurious glass finish: it reflects the light of the screen above it quite readily, and it collects fingerprints like a scene-of-crime investigator. 

Otherwise, a combination of perforated metal that covers the front face and wraps around the sides of the bar and high-quality plastic make up the Smart Ultra. Build quality is well up to par, and the standard of fit and finish is appropriately impressive.

Its width is about the same as a 48-inch OLED TV, such as the LG C3, so it should work well with this size of TV and up – which is a plus over the Sonos Arc, which needs a TV of at least 55 inches.

  • Design score: 4/5

Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar remote on top of the unit

The Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar's remote control is nicely tactile. (Image credit: Future)

Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar review: Setup & usability

  •  'Adaptiq’ automatic room calibration
  •   Voice, app and remote control
  •  'AI Dialogue’ mode is new

You’ve got to hand it to Bose: it’s made setting up the Smart Ultra Soundbar about as simple as can be, and made whoever’s doing it look like a weirdo to any observers at the same time.

Once the soundbar is in position, and the appropriate connection to the TV and to power have been made, opening the ‘Bose Music’ control app that’s free for iOS and Android gives comprehensive control of the Smart Ultra. And first things first: it puts you in charge of the Adaptiq automatic room calibration system. Plug the Adaptiq mic into the rear of the Smart Ultra, and then put the mic on your head. You read that right.

The calibration system fires off the usual selection of test-tones in order to best set up the soundbar to suit your specific environment. The app will ask you to change positions as many as four subsequent times in order to do its thing – and after that you can take your little plastic mic-hat off and hope never to need to use it again.

The Bose soundbar's Adaptiq headset mic worn by a man who looks unamused

Your delighted correspondent mid-calibration. (Image credit: Future)

The app also features volume control, input selection, EQ adjustment for center, height, bass and treble, and an audio delay adjuster to help achieve perfect audio/video sync. It allows you to group your compatible Bose products together (including surround and/or bass speakers if you’re going the full home theater hog), gives access to Spotify and TuneIn internet radio, holds half a dozen assignable presets, and allows you to switch AI Dialogue Mode on or off. 

It’s where you can set up Amazon Alexa voice control – which proves sharp-earned and reliable. The Bose Voice4Video feature leverages the power of Alexa to allow you to take control of your TV, cable- or satellite TV box using your voice, meaning you can switch on the TV and switch inputs just by asking. The Smart Ultra can also be used with Google Assistant, provided there’s an appropriate speaker on a common network.

This is a responsive, useful app, and is admirably unfussy in the way it presents itself, too.

There’s a little remote control handset too, if you prefer. It covers only the headline controls – input selection volume up/down/mute, play/pause and power on/off – but its rubbery long-travel buttons feel quite good, and it’s useful if the device you’ve installed the app on isn't to hand.

There are a grand total of two physical controls on the soundbar itself, both capacitive touch-surfaces. One switches the integrated mics on or off, while the other is a multifunction ‘action’ control.

  • Setup & usability: 5/5

Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar on the AV rack

The Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar is the right width to match TVs of 48 inches and up. (Image credit: Future)

Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar review: Value

  • Big, organized sound 
  • Great build quality and excellent control options 
  • Seems a touch expensive next to its most obvious rivals 

If we accept that Bose has the Sonos Arc squarely in its sights with the Smart Ultra Soundbar, then I have to conclude that the Bose is just a little overpriced. Yes, it’s flawlessly constructed and finished, from materials that look and feel good (the suitability of glass in front of a TV notwithstanding), and it’s simple to set up in the first place and operate thereafter. 

But while there’s plenty of merit in the way it performs, not least in its wide, well-defined and nicely balanced presentation, it’s slightly lacking in a couple of areas. And given that these areas – low-frequency impact and the creation of appreciable sonic height – are among the Sonos Arc’s particular strengths as an all-in-one soundbar, they seem almost compounded. Which in turns serves to make the Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar seem a less compelling proposition than it otherwise would.

  • Value score: 3.5/5

Should I buy the Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar?

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar review: Also consider

How I tested the Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar

Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar

(Image credit: Future)
  • Tested a standard living space 
  • Used for over a week 
  • Tested with streaming services and 4K UHD Blu-ray content 

The Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar has been sitting beneath a Philips OLED TV (where it happily reflects part of the images coming from above) for well over a week. For several days it’s been working full 10-hours shifts while I assess its performance – plus, of course, it’s been doing its thing for an hour or two every evening while the household unwinds in front of the television. The room it’s in is open-plan, so side boundaries are fairly distant, but the ceilings are of unremarkable height, which is helpful to soundbars when it comes to generating overhead audio effects.

Content has been sourced from premium-tier video streaming services, from Dolby Atmos-enabled 4K UHD Blu-ray discs, from broadcast TV and, for music, via Bluetooth and the Spotify account embedded into the Bose Music app.

JBL Authentics 500 review: a speaker with Dolby Atmos chops to rock your socks off
6:00 pm | October 29, 2023

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Hi-Fi Wireless & Bluetooth Speakers | Tags: | Comments: Off

JBL Authentics 500: Two-minute review

The JBL Authentics 500 sounds more like an IndyCar Series race than a loudspeaker, but it’s actually the name of the newest premium Wi-Fi speaker with Dolby Atmos support from audio powerhouse JBL.

Launched alongside the more affordable Authentics 200 and 300, this is one of the best wireless speakers for people who are willing to toe the edges of their budget, without splurging too far. 

It’s one of the priciest speakers JBL has put out, and at the time of writing it heads up its line of Wi-Fi speakers (which doesn’t include the wallet-melting and LED-bedecked PartyBox line).

In terms of audio quality and features, there’s a good reason for this price. The Authentics 500 has audio chops that’ll rock your socks off, with sharp treble and bass that’s so ground-shaking that the speaker could be picked up by a seismograph.

You’re getting the connectivity tripartite here (Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and wired, with bonus USB-C connection in the US) and built-in functionality with a range of different music streaming apps: Spotify Connect, Tidal Connect, Chromecast, Amazon Music and more all have easy shortcuts and tie into the device.

The third-party collaboration extends to smart home assistants, and the JBL is so smart that it can actually run two assistants at once. This might just sound like a way to use each assistant for what they’re good at; letting Alexa control Amazon Music or Google to find web results, but it’s actually a vital tool for tech fans who have a diverse tech ecosystem that isn’t exclusive to one range.

So the JBL Authentics 500 ties cozily into a smart home and will please audiophiles with its excesses. So why have I only given it four stars out of five? Well, because it can be so damn fiddly to use!

The set-up process was quite a pain, because it involved wading through pages on the app store to find the exact right app and twiddling my thumbs while a massive firmware update was installed. And while connecting to the speaker was often a breeze, the app definitely wouldn't concur, as it sometimes couldn't sense the speaker even when the device in use was literally playing music onto it.

This may seem like a minor gripe, but speaker apps can be rather divisive for music fans, so featuring one that doesn't work perfectly might raise eyebrows. There's no doubt the Sonos Era 300 offers a simpler experience and similar audio quality for less – but it doesn't have as many features as the JBL.

JBL Authentics 500: Price and release date

  • Released in September 2023
  • Costs $699.99 / £579.99 / AU$999

The JBL Authentics 500 was announced alongside its 200 and 300 siblings at IFA 2023 at the end of August 2023, and went on sale shortly after.

The 500 costs $699 / £579 / AU$999, so it’s certainly not a cheap speaker – it’s the priciest of the brand’s current Wi-Fi speaker range, narrowly sliding above the Boombox 3. For context the Authentics 200 costs $349 / £299 / AU$499 and the Authentics 300 goes for £379 / $449 / AU$599.

Some of the close competitors to the JBL Authentics 500 you’ll find include the $449 / £449 / AU$749 Sonos Era 300 (which TechRadar gave 4.5 stars in our review), the $799 / £699 / AU$1,199 Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin (five stars in our review) and the $699 / £599 (roughly AU$900) Bang & Olufsen Beosound Emerge. 

This isn’t too premium as a speaker though, and most brands have one or more offerings in the four-figure range if you really want to splash out.

The JBL Authentics 500 on a gold table

(Image credit: Future)

JBL Authentics 500 review: Specs

The JBL Authentics 500 on a gold table

(Image credit: Future)

JBL Authentics 500 review: Features

  • Lots of tie in apps and assistants
  • Bluetooth 5.3 or Wi-Fi streaming or 3.5mm aux-in
  • Buggy companion app

The Authentic’s set-up process wasn’t exactly a breeze. While my first few days of testing solely utilized a Bluetooth connection to the speaker, which was simple, most of the device’s features require you to pair with the JBL app. That first hurdle is the biggest, as there are 10 different JBL-named apps on the Play Store, but it’s JBL One that you’re looking for. 

When I finally found the right app to install, the speaker told me it’d take 20 minutes to install firmware updates. After that, it decided to crash several times when trying to set up the voice assistants. Not exactly ideal.

My issues continued through the testing period. Occasionally, when I was streaming music from a phone via Wi-Fi, the JBL One app wouldn’t be able to connect to the speaker, even when Bluetooth was enabled. This meant I couldn’t play with the equalizer or control the music through the app itself.

The app is pretty useful when it works, though. You can use it to set up Wi-Fi streaming, set a ‘Moment’ or favored prompt that you can enact by pressing the heart button on the speaker (like a beloved playlist), play with the speaker’s equalizer, and enable voice assistants. 

The equalizer gives you a little more control over sound than the on-speaker dials, letting you tweak mid as well as bass and treble, but there’s no way to set or change presets.

Various screenshots from the JBL One app

(Image credit: Future)

The ‘Moment’ button lets you quickly draw from a range of music services including Amazon Music, Tidal and Napster, but curiously missing is Spotify. Spotify Connect is available for Wi-Fi streaming though, as is AirPlay 2, Amazon Alexa, Tidal Connect and Chromecast. 

A neat feature on the Authentics is that you can enable multiple assistants, like Alexa and Google Assistant, making this a useful option if you have multiple product ecosystems on the go.

Overall, the list of features and tie-in apps here is really neat. Whichever music service you use, you’ll be covered.

As stated, you can use the JBL either via Bluetooth (5.3, nice and reliable!) or Wi-Fi, giving you a range of ways to listen, with Wi-Fi streaming built into a lot of music apps these days including the ever-present Spotify. I never had any issues with either of these options in terms of dropping or cut-outs, though Bluetooth could sometimes take a while to pair, so I’d recommend you opt for Wi-Fi purely out of convenience. If you are still suspicious about wireless connectivity, there’s also a 3.5mm aux jack you can use.

  • Features score: 4/5

The JBL Authentics 500 on a gold table

(Image credit: Future)

JBL Authentics 500 review: Sound quality

If you want the short version, the JBL Authentics 500 sounds fantastic.

The bass is the killer here, thanks going to the 6.5-inch subwoofer hidden on the underside of the box for this miracle of music. Unlike some bass-heavy speakers, the element didn't overwhelm the other aspects of a song, instead underlining the rest of each tune. Balance in speakers like this is never a guarantee, so the JBL was pleasantly surprising.

That means the treble remains crisp and clear, no matter what kind of thumping bassline a song normally has. I did find that the top-mounted treble dial seemed to have very little effect, though, with the bass dial having more of a palpable impact on music.

Unfortunately bass does tie in to one audio issue, though the real culprit is the app's lack of sound profiles. The prominent bass became too dominant in certain types of audio, particularly when I used the speaker for podcasts (or other spoken word content) or movies. This could be fixed by changing the dials on the speaker (or in the app, if it wanted to work), but sound presets could make it much easier.

The speaker supports Dolby Atmos Music, the surround-sound tech that makes music and movies sound fantastic, but only for certain apps like Tidal. 

The max output on the Authentics 500 is 270W; in my general testing period, I never got even close to its volume limit, thanks to just how loud it was. Turning the dial up to full won’t just annoy the neighbors, but people several towns over.

I found this out the hard way (the neighbor part, not the hyperbole) when I accidentally knocked the volume dial up to about 70% volume with a toe: even at this level, my neighbor had to come around to have a word. That is to say, this is a loud loudspeaker, and no matter the size of your home, you won’t be straining to hear tunes. 

Another minor gripe is that there only seemed to be a few volume levels; when you turn the dial, each new volume tier (indicated by a new section lighting up on the dial) ratched up the noise by a noticeable margin. I spent a good while turning the dial just a few degrees one way then another, trying to find a Goldilocks spot, before realizing that one didn't exist. I was stuck deciding between music a touch too loud, or a touch too quiet, which is a first-world problem if ever you've heard one, but a problem nonetheless.

  • Sound quality: 4/5

The JBL Authentics 500 on a gold table

(Image credit: Future)

JBL Authentics 500 review: Design

  • Classy ’70s-esque design
  • Three main dials for volume, bass and treble
  • Big body and heavy

The JBL Authentics 500 is a big speaker; it makes its 200- and 300-named siblings look like they need to head back to the gym, and while that heft hints at its impressive speaker functionality, it does make this a challenging piece of kit to fit in your home.

Measuring 17.6 x 9.4 x 2.2 in / 447 x 240 x 255 mm, this is a piece of gear that you can’t just leave on any book shelf or window ledge (and weighing nearly 8kg, not all surfaces might support it!). Before buying the speaker, you should probably work out where it’ll sit on your house, and make sure you’ve definitely got space for it.

Not only is your home placement important to check that it fits, but you should also ‘vibe-check’ your home to make sure the speaker fits in with your decor. This is certainly a classy-looking speaker, with a black body and gold trim, and it could be as much of a fashion statement as it is a musical device if you want to channel some old-school cool. It's based on JBL's 1970s-era speakers.

Despite being such a big speaker, the Authentics 500 has a rather barebones set of buttons atop it. That’s mostly a good thing: it’s clear to see which is the dial for volume, bass and treble, the Bluetooth pairing and favorites buttons are clear and the pause/play function is easy to spot too. Privacy fans will also enjoy the physical slider which turns off the microphone, to make sure you’re not being listened to.

That slider is on the back, joined by the power port, 3.5mm audio jack, a USB-C port and an ethernet port, so you can get your internet wired if you’d rather. This USB-C port lets you input music digitally, but only with the US models of the speaker.

What’s missing is a power button: the instruction manual simply shows a picture of the power cable under the ‘Power On/Off’ heading, implying that the only way to turn the speaker off is to unplug the thing. When I wanted to use my phone’s onboard speakers I either had to manually disconnect the Bluetooth or turn the speaker off at the wall, which was rather annoying; a simple power button or switch would be appreciated.

  • Design score: 4/5

The JBL Authentics 500 on a gold table

(Image credit: Future)

JBL Authentics 500 review: Value

This has so far been a pretty glowing review of the JBL Authentics 500; perhaps the elephant in the room (other than the speaker itself, the chunky monkey!) is the speaker’s price.

This isn’t a cheap speaker, and you can get similar features and decent audio quality from the more affordable JBL Authentics 200 and 300. Plus they’re smaller, and in the case of the 300, is portable with a built-in battery.

So buy this if you’ve got the funds to cover its extra cost, but it’s certainly not the value option compared to its siblings.

Compared to other speakers, you can get the Sonos Era 300, with similar Dolby Atmos support and nearly as many speakers (but no subwoofer) for notably cheaper. But considering one of our criticism of that speaker was that we wanted more bass, and considering the extra connection options of the JBL, the extra money is warranted.

  • Value score: 3.5/5

Should I buy the JBL Authentics 500?

The JBL Authentics 500 on a gold table

(Image credit: Future)

Buy it if…

Don’t buy it if…

JBL Authentics 500: Also consider

How I tested the JBL Authentics 500

The JBL Authentics 500 on a gold table

(Image credit: Future)

As stated in this review, when I started using the JBL Authentics 500 I solely used Bluetooth, just to test how it worked alone; then for a day I used 3.5mm for the music. In both cases, this was for testing purposes, not because I'm a luddite, and then I moved onto using the app which I've covered in detail earlier in this review.

In full I tested the JBL Authentics 500 for roughly a week. A large part of this was with my default listening app: Spotify, using both Bluetooth and Spotify Connect for Wi-Fi streaming.

I also used the speaker for a few other things; I listened to an episode of my favorite podcast 'Fall of Civilisations' (which, at four hours long, counts as some pretty intensive testing) and connected it to my PS4 to watch the new movie No One Will Save You. At several times I accidentally also played autoplaying social media videos through the speaker, but this wasn't an intended part of the testing experience!

For some context on me; I was on the TechRadar team for several years as a staff writer and then editor. I've also tested plenty of other tech for the site, including loudspeakers and headphones since 2019.

LG B3 review: LG’s cheapest OLED TV packs a lot of performance
3:00 pm | October 1, 2023

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets Televisions | Tags: , , , | Comments: Off

LG B3: Two-minute review

The LG B3 continues a trend that LG has followed for years by providing a great-quality, more affordable OLED TV choice. Upon its release in April 2023, the LG B3 was not the best value set on the market, being roughly $100 cheaper than the step-up entry in LG’s 2023 OLED range, the LG C3, but with clear reduction in features and performance. Since then, B3 prices have dropped to a more reasonable level, putting space between it and more mid-range OLEDs.

Although the LG B3 does not feature the Micro Lens Array tech adopted by the LG G3, or even the Evo panel in the LG C3, its picture quality is nothing short of superb – something you’d expect from an OLED TV. Vibrant colors, deep black levels and great contrast mean the B3 has a picture that surprisingly rivals the C3 and even holds its own against the G3, which is one of the best TVs available in 2023. 

Sound quality is one of the weaker parts of the LG B3. The 2.0 speaker system doesn’t create the same quality sound to match the excellent picture quality even on Cinema Mode, which gives decent enough audio performance. This is a TV that  could almost benefit from a sound upgrade via one of the best soundbars

Gaming performance is another area where LG’s entry-level OLED TV shines. Thanks to excellent picture quality, smooth motion processing and an extremely useful Game Optimizer feature, the B3 is certainly a TV that gamers should consider if they want OLED gaming on a budget. It’s just a shame that it doesn’t come with HDMI 2.1 across all four HDMI ports. 

For smart TV software, the LG B3 uses webOS 23, which has seen an upgrade from last year’s webOS 22. The result is a neater home menu, more customization options and a Quick Cards feature that allows for quicker and easier navigation of apps if you need. 

When it comes to design, the LG B3 has a sleek design with an extremely slim bezel  for an “all-picture” look. Unfortunately, the stand supplied with the B3, although a nice color, is made of a cheap-feeling plastic material when other TVs like the C3 come with a more substantial stand. 

The LG B3 may not have the features and picture brightness of TVs like the LG G3 or Samsung S95C, but it’s hard to argue against what it does provide for its current price. Although other TVs may offer better sound, such as the Sony A80L or Samsung S90C, or more extensive gaming features, such as the LG C3, the B3 lets people experience OLED on a smaller budget and could certainly be one of the best 4K TVs released in 2023.

For this review, I tested the 55-inch version of the LG B3.

LG B3 TV with green butterfly on screen

Detail levels on the LG B3 rival TVs much more premium than it (Image credit: Future)

LG B3 review: Prices and release date

  •  Released April 2023 
  •  From $1,299/£1,199/AU$3,145 for the 55-inch 
  •  Up to $2,199/£3,099/$AU6,495 for the 77-inch  

The LG B3 is the most widely available entry-level TV in LG’s OLED range (with the A3 not available in several major territories). At the time of its release in April 2023, prices ranged from $1,699/£1,799/$AU3,415 for the 55-inch, $2,399/£2,699/AU$4,095 for the 65-inch and $3,299/£3,799/AU$6,495 for the 77-inch. Sadly, this meant that the B3 was only on average $100 less than the more premium LG C3, leaving people without a real ‘entry-level’ option.

Thankfully at the time of writing, several months after release, prices for the LG B3 have dropped and currently sit around $1,299 for the 55-inch, $1,499 for the 65-inch and $2,199 for the 77-inch, which puts it at a much more competitive price with other entry-level OLEDs like the Sony A80L.  (It’s worth noting that in the UK and Australia, the price for the 77-inch is significantly higher at £3,099/$AU6,495.)

LG B3 review: Specs

LG B3 TV with peacock feather on screen

Contrast is impressive on the B3 (Image credit: Future)

LG B3 review: Features

  •  Alpha 7 Gen6 processor 
  •  Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos support 
  •  Two HDMI 2.1 ports for gaming  

The LG B3 may not be as well kitted out as LG's higher-end C3 and G3 models, but it does still carry a lot of the same features that those TVs do.

As other OLED TVs evolve, the LG B3 still features a standard white-OLED (W-OLED) panel as opposed to the C3’s Evo panel, which adds to the overall brightness. The G3 also features micro-lens-array technology to further enhance the brightness up to 70%. The LG B3 does however support Dolby Vision, HDR10 and HLG formats, but like all LG TVs doesn't support HDR10+. 

For gaming, the LG B3 has two HDMI 2.1 ports with support for 120Hz Dolby Vision gaming, VRR, ALLM, Nvidia G-Sync and AMD FreeSync. It also has the same Game Optimizer and game bar featured in the C3 and G3. although its Alpha 7 Gen6 processor won't be as powerful as the Alpha 9 Gen6 processor found in the C3 and G3, the B3 is still packing some very good performance for both movies and gaming. 

The B3 features a 2.0 audio system and Dolby Atmos support, though without height speakers it can’t  deliver Dolby Atmos effects at their full potential. While its speaker system isn’t as comprehensive as the ones in the C3 and G3, the B3 still supports a lot of the same audio features such as LG Sound Sync and AI Sound Pro sound mode to upmix sound to 5.1.2 when selected.

The LG B3 also comes installed with LG’s latest smart software, web OS23. One of the biggest updates to webOS23 is the addition of a Quick Cards system, which sorts apps into different categories such as Movies, Sport, Music and so on. These can be customized to allow for quicker navigation of your most used apps. The home menu has also been slimmed down to two pages as opposed to the four found in last year’s web OS22 and features less intrusive ads and recommendations.

  • Features score: 4.5/5

LG B3 TV with Star Wars Ahsoka on screen

Textures and details like skin look natural and life-like on the B3 (Image credit: Future)

LG B3 review: Picture quality

  •  Punchy and vibrant color 
  •  Natural quality to picture  
  •  Great black levels  

Starting with some numbers, the LG B3’s peak HDR brightness measured on a 10% window hit 619 nits in Filmmaker mode and 649 nits in Standard mode. That’s an improvement on its predecessor the LG B2 but lower than the LG C3 which we measured at 830 nits in Filmmaker mode, though this is to be expected given the C3’s brighter Evo panel. On a full 100% window, the B3 hit 133 nits in Filmmaker mode, which is a respectable result considering its peak brightness. 

Measured again using HDR Filmmaker picture mode, the LG B3’s average color Delta-E was around 1.3, which is a surprisingly fantastic result. (The Delta-E value indicates the difference between a test pattern and what is actually shown on the TV’s screen, with a number below three considered to be an undetectable margin of error.) Average grayscale Delta-E values came to 1.4, which is another excellent result. DCI-P3 coverage (which is the color space used to master 4K movies and digital cinema releases) was measured at 98% and BT.2020 was 73.14%, both of which are great results and actually match  the more premium LG G3. 

When I tested it in our lab, I expected the LG B3 to struggle with the harsh overhead lights in terms of reflections as it uses a standard W-OLED panel and not the MLA technology or Evo panel in the LG G3 or LG C3. Although there were some reflections in darker scenes, I was surprised to find the B3 fared better than expected and my general viewing experience wasn’t too badly hindered. 

Testing the out-of-the-box preset picture modes, the LG B3 had a brilliant picture. When first viewing in Standard mode, colors were dynamic and punchy and stood out on the screen. There was also a good deal of brightness to rival the effect of the overhead lights in our testing lab. Black levels and shadows weren’t quite as well-defined but were still good. However, once I settled on Filmmaker mode, the overall picture quality improved, with deeper black levels and a more natural look, whilst still maintaining punchy colors. 

First watching scenes from John Wick and John Wick: Chapter 2, both of which are set in a nightclub, the pulsing colors of the lights were vibrant and contrasted well with the shadows within the scene when the lights flashed off. Blacks were deep but still had great levels of detail. This was especially obvious in Wick’s black suit, the textures of which you could see despite the overall dark scene. 

To test Dolby Vision when watching in the B3’s Dolby Vision Cinema Home picture mode, I watched some scenes from Star Wars: Ahsoka. Contrast here was again impressive, with lightsabers almost jumping out of the screen against the darker backgrounds, regardless of color. The most noticeable thing when watching Ahsoka was just how natural and true-to-life textures and skin tones looked. 

For motion testing, I used the opening scene from John Wick: Chapter 2 where John Wick pursues a motorcycle. During the chase, Wick’s car drifts around a corner and the camera quickly swipes from left to right. The B3 did a great job of processing this fast-paced scene, with the quick, panning shots looking fluid as the car and motorcycle weaved in and around traffic. 

Using the Spears & Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark Blu-ray to test professional demonstration content, the B3 did a remarkable job. Night scenes within cities looked crisp, with the lights of the skyscrapers standing out from the black backgrounds. Colors were also dynamic within scenes of nature, with bright blue skies seeming natural against the rocky landscape below. One thing that became apparent however was that the B3 did impart a cooler color bias during snow demo scenes, with the white taking on a blue-ish tint. But this didn’t detract too much from the superb quality of the picture and it can be adjusted for in picture settings. 

  • Picture Quality score: 4.5/5

LG B3 OLED with music menu on screen

The music Quick Card - part of webOS 23, though music won't sound the best on the B3's lacking sound system  (Image credit: Future)

LG B3 review: Sound quality

  •  2.0 speaker system  
  •  Decent bass levels 
  •  Speech lacking a bit overall 

The LG B3 features a 2.0 speaker setup outputting 20W of power per channel, with support for Dolby Atmos. With no upward-firing speakers, LG uses its AI Sound Pro sound mode to upmix the 2.0 configuration to a 5.1.2 output in order to try and get the best out of the B3's speakers. 

In Standard sound mode, bass levels were good but sadly everything else was lacking. Speech in particular was a bit lost in the overall mix, with trebles sounding a little scratchy and brash at times. Dolby Atmos effects within this mode were almost non-existent. However, when changed to Cinema sound mode the overall sound was definitely improved, with bass, treble and mid levels being balanced to create a better overall sound. Speech was still a little lacking, but greatly improved from Standard mode. 

As mentioned above, the B3 does feature an AI Sound Pro feature that will upmix the sound to 5.1.2 configuration and although through it Dolby Atmos effects were more apparent and treble and speech levels slightly enhanced, bass took a massive hit. Playing Top Gun: Maverick through both Cinema and AI Sound Pro, I found the most balanced overall sound to be through Cinema, as the rumble I expected from the jet engines was lost in AI Sound Pro. 

The B3's sound quality is probably one of its weakest parts. Although it has better built-in sound than a lot of other TVs, the B3 is definitely lacking compared to other OLED sets like the LG C3, Sony A80L and Samsung S90C. Admittedly, these TVs cost more for better built-in sound, so it might be worth investing in a soundbar with the money you would save.

  •  Sound Quality score: 3.5/5 

LG B3 TV stand

The LG B3's stand looks nice but sadly is a bit cheap feeling  (Image credit: Future)

LG B3 review: Design

  •  Slim, attractive bezel  
  •  Nice-looking but cheap-feeling stand 
  •  LG Magic Remote supplied  

The B3 features a surprisingly thin profile and a slim bezel at the top of its screen, running to about halfway down. However, the bottom half of the TV does bulk out and although this is noticeable from the back and sides, it doesn’t stop the TV from having an attractive design when viewed from the front.  

LG designed the B3 to primarily be on a stand, which is centrally located on the TV. With a dark gray finish, its design is simple yet effective. Unfortunately, compared to its more premium models like the C3 and G3, the stand is a plastic material as opposed to metal. This makes it feel a little cheaper and with the B3 priced as it is (which is mentioned above) this is a real shame. However, unlike the G3, the B3 does come supplied with its stand.

LG’s Magic Remote that’s supplied with the B3 is as great as ever. It has a nice balance and solid quality to it, with plenty of app shortcut buttons and an easy-to-follow button layout. The central wheel is a nice way to navigate menus and the pointer allows you to explore screens without having to press arrows, but you may take some time getting the hang of this.

  •  Design score: 4/5 

LG B3 with Quick Card menu on screen

The LG Quick Card menu which can be edited to suit your needs (Image credit: Future)

LG B3 review: Smart TV and menus

  •  webOS 23 re-design for tidier home menu
  •  Quick Cards feature categorizes apps
  •  No hands-free voice control like the LG C3 and G3 

The LG B3 comes installed with the latest iteration of LG’s own smart software, webOS 23. This has been streamlined compared to last year's software, webOS 22, by limiting the amount of ads and recommendations on its home page, making for a much neater look. 

Quick Cards are probably the biggest feature introduced on webOS 23’s menu system, with the ability to categorize apps by genre such as Music, Game, Movie and so on, meaning you can easily navigate to the type of apps you like. There are plenty of customization options as well, enabling you to organize your apps into these Quick Cards as you see fit. 

The Quick Menus featured in webOS 23 are also a welcome inclusion. Pressing the gear icon on the remote will bring up a pop-up menu in the corner of the screen that enables you to quickly change settings like picture mode, sleep timer, OLED pixel brightness and so on. 

Thanks to the B3’s Alpha 7 Gen6 processor, navigating the smart TV software and menus feels seamless and easy, with no pauses or stuttering. The B3 does feature voice control capabilities while pressing the mic button on the remote, but not the new hands-free voice control found in the C3 and G3.

  •  Smart TV and menus score: 4.5/5 

LG B3 with game menu and battlefield v on display

The LG B3 comes with LG's Game Optimizer and menu, which tailors the gaming experience depending on what you're playing (Image credit: Future)

LG B3 review: Gaming

  •  4K, Dolby Vision gaming support 
  •  Game Optimizer mode for better gaming performance 
  •  Only two HDMI 2.1 ports 

Much like the other OLEDs available in LGs’ 2023 range, the B3 comes with a great selection of gaming features, including 4K 120Hz Dolby Vision support, VRR, ALLM, AMD FreeSync and Nvidia G-Sync capabilities and a Game optimizer mode to get the best settings for your gaming experience. 

Using the Leo Bodnar 4K input lag tester measuring at 60Hz, the LG B3 yielded a respectable result of 12.6ms. However, when turning on its Boost mode, found in the Game Optimizer, the result improved to 9.2ms, which is not only an excellent result but the same as I measured in the higher-end LG G3.  

The LG B3 does an excellent job in terms of gaming performance. Playing Battlefield V on Xbox Series X, with Game Optimizer mode turned on to remove any annoying picture settings like judder reduction that would hinder the game, the B3 handled graphically intense moments well. During an ambush mission in a forest, quick targeting was made easy and wide, with panning shots from one side of the screen to the other feeling seamless. 

With the Game Menu in webOS 23, there were plenty of settings to tweak to get the best possible picture including black level and even a game genre setting, which when I switched it to First-Person Shooter (FPS) automatically adjusted colors and motion settings to suit Battlefield V. After doing this, details within the picture were crisp, colors were vivid and black levels and shadow detail were superb. 

Despite brilliant overall gaming performance, the LG B3 sadly does only come with two HDMI 2.1 ports, as opposed to the four you would find on some of the best gaming TVs. Those with both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X and a soundbar they hope to run through eARC (one of the two HDMI 2.1 ports) may have to seek out alternative options like the LG C3 or Samsung S90C for example. However, looking past this, the LG B3 still offers excellent gaming features and performance. 

  •  Gaming score: 4.5/5 

LG Magic Remote on brown TV stand

The LG B3 comes with LG's Magic Remote  (Image credit: Future)

LG B3 review: Value

  •  Cheaper alternative to the LG C3 
  •  Picture quality comparable to higher-end sets 
  •  Fairly priced after discounts for what features you get 

As the most widely available ‘entry-level’ OLED in LG’s range, the B3 wasn’t going to offer as many features in terms of gaming and performance as its more premium counterparts, the C3 and G3, which meant that it needed to hit a good price for those looking for a good value OLED.

At the time of its release in April 2023, the B3 was only roughly $100 cheaper than the LG C3, which comes with the superior Alpha 9 Gen 6 processor, brighter Evo panel and four HDMI 2.1 ports, meaning the B3 did not provide this cheaper alternative that should have been offered.

However, since its release, the LG B3 has seen fairly large discounts and now sits roughly $200-300 cheaper than the C3, which is a much more reasonable price and enables people to think about any soundbars or accessories they could get with the B3 with the money saved. It is worth noting, however, that at the time of writing there is quite a large disparity in prices between the US and other territories for the 77-inch model, with it being much better value in the US. 

Although there is some disparity in prices, it’s hard to argue against the B3 in terms of value, as you are getting a fantastic performing OLED TV with picture quality that in many ways rivals its more premium counterparts, for a now more reduced price.

  • Value score: 4.5/5  

LG B3 with bright image of hot spring on screen

The B3 has vibrant colors that rival some higher-end sets (Image credit: Future)

Should I buy the LG B3

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

Also consider

HP Omen laptop displaying Calman Portrait Displays calibration software hooked up to Murideo 8K test pattern generator

Testing equipment we use for our tests from Murideo and Calman - in this instance connected to the Panasonic MZ2000 (Image credit: Future)

How I tested the LG B3

  • Tested in our lab room with varying lighting conditions
  • Measurements taken using Portrait Display's Calman software
  • Tested through a variety of sources, both SDR and HDR

After running in the TV for a couple of days, displaying SDR content from live TV, I tested various picture modes on the LG B3 including Standard, Cinema, and Filmmaker mode through a variety of SDR and HDR sources from 4K Blu-rays to streaming and also through an Xbox Series X.

After choosing the best picture mode, Filmmaker, I tested the LG B3's picture thoroughly using Disney Plus for 4K Dolby Vision HDR content, the Xbox Series X for gaming, 4K Blu-ray for HDR content and SDR content through live tv and Full HD on ITVX and BBC iPlayer.  

When it came time to take measurements of the B3, I used Portrait Displays’ Calman calibration software. Using this, I measured peak brightness on a 10% window and 100% window in both SDR and HDR. I then recorded the Delta-E values (which demonstrates the margin of error between the test pattern and what is displayed) for color accuracy, grayscale and gamma again using Calman. I then measured the color space looking at DCI-P3 and BT.2020 coverage. For all tests, I used the Murideo Seven 8K test pattern generator.

Finally, to measure input lag for gaming, I used the Leo Bodnar 4K input lag tester.

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