4K media

The best 4K media players tested

Apps & Software

To play your own 4K media files, you need a suitable media player. They are available in all kinds of appearances. Which 4K media player like the best?

Virtually all 4K televisions have a ‘smart’ operating system, so users can stream videos in ultra HD via apps like Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon Prime Video. A disadvantage is that these smart platforms are aging relatively quickly. Due to the lack of updates, apps may no longer work after a few years. In addition, smart TVs cannot display all the movie files due to the limited video codec support. A big loss for people who sometimes secretly download something from controversial networks such as BitTorrent and Usenet newsgroups.

Modern media players are an interesting alternative to the outdated smart environment and moderate file support for smart TVs. For example, there are all kinds of playback devices that process all common audio and video code, including films in 4K. These are reviewed in this comparative test. Various players discussed even have their own smart environment that stays up-to-date. So you can stream Netflix in the highest quality!

Operating system

Just like a computer, every media player uses an operating system. Especially Google we see with its operating systems (Android and Android TV) back on all kinds of playback devices. The advantage of this is that users can install their own applications via the Play Store, such as TV apps. There is also a snag in the grass. Most so-called Android boxes are equipped with an Android operating system that is actually developed for mobile devices (smartphones and tablets).

These devices are usually not Netflix certified and usually cannot play streams from this provider in 4K. We pay close attention to these models. Furthermore, many media players still run on a (self-developed) version of Linux. The interface and file support of these devices are usually well cared for, but a slick smart environment is often hard to find. Finally, under the name TVOS, Apple develops its own operating system for the Apple TV 4K.

Test responsibility

After a thorough inspection of the housing, we connect each media player directly to a modern receiver with an HDMI cable. By connecting an external disk to the media player, we release all sorts of video formats on the device. Think of original blue-ray rips, DVD folder structures, iso-images, 4K movies including hdr and high-res audio files. In this way, we get a good picture of the file support, where we also see to what extent the media player processes frequently used surround formats such as DTS-HD master audio and Dolby digital. Finally, we take a look at the user interface and the quality of the smart environment (if present).

Apple TV 4K

The design of the Apple TV 4K has not changed much compared to previous versions. The housing still exists in black colored plastic. There are only two connections on the back, namely gigabit Ethernet, and HDMI 2.0a. Compared to its predecessor, Apple has added a faster chipset and more memory. A loss is a USB port for connecting external storage media with its own media files, although Apple is mainly targeting fans of streaming video services.

As soon as we switch on the device with the clear remote control, the App Store is not to be missed. For 4K content, the Netflix and Amazon Prime Video apps are ready to display, with smooth images including HDR on televisions that support this. Unfortunately, the YouTube app remains stuck at 1080p, because the Apple TV 4K cannot decode the required vp9 codec.

Yet this media player does have added value because the iTunes Store nowadays has a lot of 4K films. You can rent or buy that, after which you stream the 4K images (temporarily) to the Apple TV 4K.

Dune HD Pro 4K

Those who want a stable media player with the necessary connections have a good partner with the Dune HD Pro 4K. Although the sturdy casing does not accommodate an internal drive, you can add various external data carriers via an eSata connection, micro SD card reader and three USB ports. Furthermore, it is nice that apart from via HDMI you can also transmit audio separately via an optical and analog output. Handy in case your receiver does not contain HDMI ports or does not support the transfer of 4K images.

The design of this device is sober with a small display at the front. Inside, Dune HD has opted for a media processor from Realtek that is capable of decoding almost all media formats. After switching on the device, a simple wizard appears to configure, among other things, the language, and screen resolution and network settings. Fine, because unlike many other players, you do not have to dive into the settings yourself.

Within the menu, you can access the contents of local storage media via the Resources section. All common file formats appear smoothly on the screen, while the device does not shy away from hdr content at a refresh rate of sixty frames per second. A (simplified) menu appears on the screen from the original Blu-ray and DVD rips. In short, the local file compatibility is fine. To use apps, the menu includes a link to Android, so you can install streaming video services. Through the YouTube and Netflix apps, you play 4K streams that way.

Google Chromecast Ultra

The cheapest way to show 4K images on your television via an external device is via the tiny Google Chromecast Ultra. This device costs just fewer than eighty Euros. The round housing only has an HDMI2.0 connector for connection to television, receiver or soundbar. Unlike the regular Chromecast, an Ethernet port has been integrated into the adapter. A smart choice, because streaming 4K images require a stable internet connection with sufficient bandwidth.

The Chromecast Ultra does not contain USB ports or a card reader, so for playing local media files, this device is unsuitable. However, you can stream the content of apps to the Chromecast Ultra after a smartphone or tablet. This works fine for Netflix, YouTube, RTL XL, NPO Start, and TV.

You can also stream your own video files from media servers in the network. You can use Plex or VLC for this. To set up the Chromecast Ultra, you can rely on the Google Home app. After a few user-friendly steps, the device is ready to receive ‘cast orders’ from mobile devices.

Nvidia Shield TV

The Nvidia Shield TV is the only media player discussed that can be placed flat as well as upright. The pyramidal enclosure has two usb3.0 ports plus ports for hdmi2.0b and gigabit Ethernet. Sending audio separately to a receiver or soundbar will not work.

As a user interface, Nvidia has provided this media player with Android TV 7.0.2. An excellent choice, because this operating system develops Google especially for use on large screens. With the supplied remote you can navigate smoothly through apps like YouTube, Amazon Prime Video and Netflix, where you can count on 4K picture quality. Unlike regular Android-based players, fewer apps are available. No disaster, because thanks to the Chromecast module present, you can use these apps via a Smartphone on the Shield TV.

To view your own media files, you can call on the Kodi app. That goes flawlessly! For example, analog-ray rips, iso-images, and 4K files appear without a murmur at a high refresh rate on television. It is striking how smoothly the user interface navigates because we do not have to wait anywhere. The inside contains the Nvidia Tegra X1, a powerful chipset. You can even play 3D games via the built-in game store. Nvidia supplies a controller for this. If you have nothing to do with games, you can purchase a version without a controller for 199 Euros.

Conclusion

The ideal media player plays both its own video files and Netflix streams in 4K. In that case, only the Dune HD Pro 4K and Nvidia Shield TV remain. The latter player has just a dash since Android TV as the operating system has a very smooth and user-friendly interface. The apps from YouTube and Netflix are designed specifically for the big screen, while you can stream content from standard Android applications thanks to the built-in Chromecast module. A disadvantage is that the Nvidia Shield TV sends audio through HDMI only, which gives problems, especially to older receivers. In that case, the Dune HD Pro 4K is an excellent alternative. Since you also transmit audio via an analog or optical cable.

 

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