2016 Home Entertainment Visionary: Ultra HD Alliance Defines Quality in 4K Viewing25 Jan, 2016 By: Stephanie Prange, Thomas K. Arnold
In just a year after its founding, the Alliance has created Ultra HD standards that will boost the format
The drive to get consumers to adopt Ultra HD continues to gather support, as studios and consumer electronics manufacturers gear up for what they maintain is a vastly improved viewing experience from high-definition. A key player in the development of the new format is the Ultra HD Alliance — Home Media Magazine’s 2016 Visionary Award winner. In just a year, the Alliance has created specifications for top-quality 4K Ultra HD with high dynamic range (HDR), an invaluable contribution to the format.
Ultra HD is the next-generation viewing format that features four times the resolution of HD. HDR produces brilliant highlights, vibrant colors and greater contrast on compatible displays.
Founded in January 2015, the Alliance has grown to more than 35 companies. UHDA board members include executives from Dolby Laboratories, LG Electronics, Netflix, Panasonic Corp., Samsung Electronics, Sony Corp., Technicolor, The Walt Disney Studios, 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. Entertainment. The specifications reflect not just industry expertise but also significant input from consumer testing.
In addition to specs, the UHD Alliance (UHDA) at the CES show in Las Vegas also unveiled a new logo to identify to consumers devices, content and services capable of delivering the premium viewing experience. The UHDA also announced the start of licensing of its Ultra HD Premium logo.
The Ultra HD Premium logo “is reserved for products and services that comply with performance metrics for resolution, high dynamic range (HDR), peak luminance, black levels and wide color gamut, among others,” according to the Alliance.
“The diverse group of UHDA companies agreed that to realize the full potential of Ultra HD the specs need to go beyond resolution and address enhancements like HDR, expanded color and ultimately even immersive audio. Consumer testing confirmed this,” said UHDA president Hanno Basse of 20th Century Fox.
“The reason the UHD Alliance was formed was we all felt that Ultra HD has a lot of future and has all the hallmarks to become the new next-generation audio visual format. But we felt it wasn’t really well-defined yet as to what we mean when we say Ultra HD, what we mean when we say next-generation audio visual experience.”
The move to complete specs and a logo coincides with explosive growth in 4K Ultra HD TVs. Sales of UHD TVs, which observers say are hitting the market at a faster pace than HDTVs did, were up 287% in the fourth quarter of 2015, and household penetration is now at more than 5 million U.S. households, according to data from DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group. Research firm IHS Technology predicts annual worldwide shipments of UHD TVs will grow by nearly 719% over the next several years, from nearly 12 million in 2014 to nearly 96 million in 2019, with more than 300 million in use by the end of 2019.
During a panel discussion after the UHDA CES press conference Jan. 4, Mike Dunn, president of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, predicted "full household penetration" within 10 years. He said that a year ago, “we saw a side-by-side comparison of 4K UHD with HDR versus our current Blu-ray, and we saw that it was a full step up in consumer experience. It was mind-blowing.”
Dunn was joined on the panel by Ron Sanders, president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment; Man Jit Singh, president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment; and Michael Bonner, EVP of digital distribution for Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
Their presence signified the strong support among the content community for Ultra HD and the Alliance, which sees the new format as a way to both invigorate Blu-ray Disc sales and push consumers toward buying movies electronically.
Singh said the UHDA’s development of the logo and specifications is important "because we have to be careful not to confuse the consumer." He said indications are the transition will be smoother than the introduction nearly 10 years ago of Blu-ray Disc, a launch marred by a brief format war with HD DVD.
Singh added that the change is very similar to the difference between standard-definition and high-definition.
“This is truly an immersive consumer experience, where the consumer can actually see the quality difference,” he said. “It’s the first time we have a medium at home where we can provide the range that the 35 mm film provides and show a film the way that the creator actually thought of it, so it’s a unique consumer experience. This represents a quality standard that is so different and so dramatic that I think in the fight for consumers, where you have so much free stuff, content like this will really lead to us getting a larger share.”
Sanders echoed Dunn’s sentiments about the growth potential of Ultra HD, saying, "it's going to become ubiquitous.” He added, “The exciting thing about this is that we are going to be first — there is not a lot of broadcast out there. We think there could be over a billion dollars in consumer spend by 2019.”
Sanders said Ultra HD content will be delivered into consumer homes through a mix of digital and physical, with digital ultimately bigger but physical — the Blu-ray Disc — the primary entry point for consumers.
He said Warner should have 60 titles out this year, digital and physical, with "bigger materiality" in the fourth quarter.
Dunn said Fox will release at least 35 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs in 2016. (Other studios, including Shout! Factory and Lionsgate, have also announced titles.)
All four panelists stressed the importance of presenting a unified front to consumers, and that marketing and education will be key. Sanders said quality in-store demonstrations, with side-by-side comparisons, will be critical.
Bonner said he is encouraged by the unity among content owners and consumer electronics manufacturers, a sharp contrast to the divide that marked the introduction of Blu-ray Disc.
“It will be really important for studios, consumer electronics companies [and others] to come together and collaborate on marketing and education,” he said.
Dunn said the UHDA standards are like “glue” for defining quality on different platforms.
Like the other executives on the panel, he expressed high praise for UHD on Blu-ray, noting physical disc delivers the highest quality for the new format.
“When you have a home theater system, it lights that bad boy up,” Dunn said.
"The innovative advancements and quality improvements with TVs are evolving rapidly, as seen throughout CES. The UHD Alliance will benefit consumers by identifying products and content that will give the true 4K Ultra HD experience."
— Mike Dunn, President, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
“We think that the UHD Alliance is a great example of how to bring the industry together to ensure alignment around a new format. There was a broad coalition of input and collaboration to come up with the specs, the branding and the consumer messaging. We are very excited for the potential of 4K with HDR and think that the UHD Alliance will help ensure a successful consumer launch this year.”
— Ron Sanders, president, Warner Bros. Worldwide Home Entertainment Distribution
“The UHD Alliance has been instrumental in establishing standards for 4K Ultra HD, which is critical to the introduction of the next leap forward in home entertainment.”
— Bob Buchi, President, Worldwide Home Media Distribution, Paramount Pictures
“The UHD Alliance has made critical inroads in uniting the industry, guiding them to work in lockstep toward the technical development and consumer launch of what is certain to be the next generation format. With the momentum for 4K Ultra HD content steadily growing, the UHD Alliance’s role is more important than ever in ensuring that the industry continues to lead in advancing the format, educating the consumer and delivering a truly differentiated premium experience.”
— Michael Bonner, EVP, Digital Distribution, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
“I think we are really pulling together to make [4K Ultra HD] a success.”
— Man Jit Singh, president, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
“Building consensus for Ultra HD Premium among a diverse group of competitors and industries is an incredible accomplishment by the UHD Alliance. The UHDA tackled the daunting task of creating not only a premium performance standard, but also certification testing, the logo and licensing program, and promotion of these efforts — all within a year. The UHDA’s visionary efforts truly are in keeping with the theme of this tremendous honor.”
— John Taylor, VP, LG Electronics USA
“The UHD Alliance offers a terrific example of what can happen when the industry works well together. Consumers are always hesitant to adopt new standards without some certainty that they will have a combination of content, services and devices that will support it. The announcement of a unifying specification means that content owners can confidently create 4K HDR content knowing that devices will preserve that artistic intent and consumers can buy new devices with the confidence that the content will be rendered correctly and look the best it can."
— Mark Turner, VP, Partnership & Business Development, Technicolor, and UHD Alliance Board Member.