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CES: 4K Blu-ray Gets a Name; Fox Touts Virtual Reality

7 Jan, 2015 By: Chris Tribbey

LAS VEGAS — Speaking Jan. 6 at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Victor Matsuda, chairman of the Blu-ray Disc Association’s (BDA) global promotions group, couldn’t predict when 4K Blu-ray will hit retail.

He would only say that he expects licensing of Ultra-High-Def (UHD) Blu-ray to start in mid-2015, and “it would not be surprising to see production [of 4K discs] by the end of the year.”

But he did share what the product will be called when it’s finally available: Ultra-HD Blu-ray.

A minor announcement on its own, but important when considering the heap of home entertainment 4K news coming out of CES: the launch of the cross-industry UHD Alliance consortium, the debut of dozens of new, affordable 4K sets from consumer electronics companies, and the unveiling of a prototype 4K Blu-ray Disc player from Panasonic.

However, during the CES panel Matsuda took part in, everyone agreed that content would be the driver behind 4K’s success or failure.

“There’s been a lot of activity across [our] studio, from production to distribution,” said Rich Berger, EVP of worldwide distribution for Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, which has built up its catalog of 4K content to approximately 170 titles, 75 of those being feature films. “We’re really bullish on it, and the future is bright [for 4K].”

Sony isn’t the only one: Chris Fetner, director of global content partners operations for Netflix, pointed out that since “House of Cards” (the first original series Netflix produced in 4K), the company has made a commitment to produce all future original series in the high-def format. “We don’t think of 4K as just a higher resolution,” Fetner said. “It’s not just more pixels, it’s better pixels.”

Phil Goswitz, SVP of video for DirecTV, said every pay-TV broadcaster is shooting for live, linear 4K delivery. Mike Schreiber, SVP of content acquisitions for Comcast, noted that his company has already experimented with not only 4K, but also 8K, broadcasts.

But whether its streaming, broadcast or physical disc, it’s going to be crucial that the content industry is clear with the consumer regarding the 4K content they’re being sold, Berger said.

“It’s really important that consumers know what they’re getting,” whether its up-converted, mastered or native 4K content, he said.

In other CES news:

• Ted Gagliano, president of feature post production and virtual reality (VR) creation for 20th Century Fox, said he wants to take “baby steps” when it comes to incorporating virtual reality with home entertainment experiences.

But after seeing his smile Jan. 6 — while watching people experience a 360-degree VR encounter with Reese Witherspoon in Fox Searchlight's Wild — he admitted those small VR steps could soon become huge leaps for the entertainment industry.

“We’re doing something that compliments the medium, and 3- to 5-minute experiences work today. The hardware can be clunky right now, but as it’s perfected,“ Gagliano said.

Using Samsung’s Gear VR headset and Galaxy Note 4 smartphone, Fox’s Wild VR experience puts the viewer in the forest with Witherspoon, with a fully rendered look at her during her hike. You can follow her as she takes a break from hiking, or ignore her completely and just admire the scenery. You can keep an eye out for her co-star Laura Dern, or just spot the wild fox that pops up toward the end.

“Virtual reality is a new medium and a new language,” said Felix Lajeunesse, who directed the VR experience with his partner Paul Raphael. The duo run a VR studio based in Montreal. “It’s a form of magic, where the world reacts to your prescence.”

In the Wild VR experience, if you don’t look to your right, Dern’s character will never appear. If you don’t look left, that fox may never make an appearance. It may only be coding, but the fact that every VR encounter results in a different outcome presents tremendous opportunity for the entertainment industry, Raphael said.

“The medium is going to mature in the next 3 to 4 years, and it’s already advancing [exponentially] every few months,” he said. “The next step is to offer this storytelling in a way that’s longer than a few minutes.”

• DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group honored more than one company during its annual CES gathering, with the Video & Audio Center earning DEG Hardware Retailer of the Year honors and Comcast being awarded the Digital Retailer of the Year award.

“Kudos to Comcast for not just launching a successful electronic sellthrough service for Digital HD, but doing so in a leadership position amongst their peers,” said DEG president Amy Jo Smith. “We congratulate Comcast on their successful entry into EST and for being honored by the DEG membership.”

Walmart was honored as DEG Software Retailer of the Year, with Smith noting the retailer’s commitment to both physical and digital content.

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