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What are Ultra-HD Blu-ray players?

Couple watching TV on an ultra-HD blu-ray player
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The leap from DVDs to Blu-ray may not have felt as big as the jump from VHS to DVD, but while many have turned to the likes of Netflix and Disney Plus to watch their movies and TV shows, Ultra-HD Blu-rays have become the best way to watch video content.

Also known as Ultra-HD Blu-Ray, these discs aren’t just for new movies. In fact, many older classics have been updated to Ultra-HD format, complete with eye-popping color and crystal clear audio.

To play one of these fancy new discs, you’ll need an Ultra-HD Blu-ray player, which can often be round in the round-ups of the best Blu-ray players (opens in new tab). But what are they, and what do they do? Let’s find out.

What is an Ultra-HD Blu-ray player?

At its most basic level, an Ultra-HD Blu-ray player will play your 4K Blu-ray discs just as a standard Blu-ray player plays Blu-ray discs.

Look a little closer, though, and you may be surprised by just how much they offer. Your existing Blu-ray collection caps out at a resolution of 1080p, also known as “Full HD”. That means that if you have a 4K TV, the image will be upscaled via compatible players, but it’s not a true 4K image.

An Ultra-HD Blu-ray player, though, will playback a 4K disc at, well, 4K. It’ll also bump up the frame rate, where required, up to 60 frames per second for a smoother experience. It’ll also output HDR where applicable (high dynamic range) which is essentially a wider color palette to choose from. In short, your movies will be sharper, brighter, and more vivid.

It’s not just the visuals that improve, either. You’ll find that audio is much clearer on Ultra-HD Blu-ray because they tend to support Dolby Atmos or, in some cases, DTS:X. This means object-based soundtracks that are crystalline, even compared to standard Blu-ray audio.

Wondering how UHD Blu-rays hold so much data? They come in varying sizes all the way up to 100GB of data. The higher the storage, the faster the discs need to be, so the biggest ones will playback at 128 megabits per second.

While the main draw of an Ultra-HD Blu-ray player is undoubtedly the fact that it outputs in 4K, there are still reasons for non-4K TV owners to invest. As mentioned before, the audio is much improved, while many players can actually downscale HDR content from UHD Blu-rays to work on HD TVs. There’s also an element of future-proofing – if you’re expecting to pick up a 4K TV in the future, it’ll save you also buying another Blu-ray player.

Are Xbox Series X and PS5 Ultra-HD Blu-ray players?

If you’re lucky enough to own a current-gen games console, you already have access to an Ultra-HD Blu-ray player (so long as it’s not a digital-only PS5 or the Xbox Series S).

Pop a disc in either Microsoft’s Xbox Series X or Sony’s PlayStation 5 and you’ll be able to watch your 4K Blu-ray, standard Blu-ray, or DVD as you’d expect (and even CD on Xbox Series X). There are caveats, though, with HDR enabled but not via Dolby Vision or HDR10+ – the two main standards. The PS5 does have a slightly more capable Ultra-HD Blu-ray player on board, though, by being better with 24fps movies

Thankfully, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X are supported on both, and while you’ll need to navigate the console with the controller as opposed to a dedicated remote, there are both official and third-party options that you can buy as an added extra.

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Lloyd is a long-time contributor to Top Ten Reviews, and an expert in all things Apple and in computer and gaming tech. You'll find him regularly testing the latest iPhone or iPad, and you can also find him writing about video games all over the internet. He also has an interest in virtual reality, which he has written about extensively.