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CES: UHD Blu-ray Gets a Hardware Boost

6 Jan, 2016 By: Chris Tribbey

LAS VEGAS — The first Ultra High-Def (UHD) Blu-ray Disc titles will hit retail this year, with Warner, Fox and Sony having already announced their initial slates for the latest disc format. And they did so before any consumer electronics company announced a Blu-ray set-top to handle the format.

Tuesday, Jan. 5, at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the hardware side began doing its part, with three companies —Panasonic, Philips and Samsung — showing off the first 4K Blu-ray players that will be available at retail.

Samsung’s UBD-K8500 player (first unveiled at IFA in Berlin last year) will retail for $400 and will be the first UHD BD player available in U.S. stores, arriving in March. Philips’ BDP7501 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player will also retail for $400 and is slated for a spring retail debut. Panasonic’s DMP-UB900 player doesn’t have a release date or SRP attached to it yet.

“Philips is committed to delivering the very best possible viewing experience for our customers, so we’re offering [high dynamic range] support throughout our entire 2016 4K line and doubling down on our 4K commitment with the launch of our new Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray player,” said Karl Bearnarth, EVP of sales and marketing for P&F USA, a subsidiary of Funai Electric Co, the North American licensee for Philips consumer TVs and home video products.

One notable absence from the UHD Blu-ray player mix was Sony Electronics. While its sister company Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has already announced its intent to release titles on UHD Blu-ray this year, Sony Electronics did not announce a 2016 UHD Blu-ray player during its Jan. 5 press event. Instead, Sony touted “Ultra,” a Sony Pictures Home Entertainment app that will allow consumers to purchase and stream 4K Sony content.

Still, the content side of UHD Blu-ray did get a new member: Los Angeles-based distributor Shout! Factory became the first independent to join the UHD Blu-ray march, announcing during CES it would release at least a half dozen titles on the format this year.

“As the Ultra HD devices and entertainment content begin to populate the consumer marketplace this year, we are announcing our commitment to the UHD format, joining industry leaders and major consumer electronics companies,” Melissa Boag, Shout’s SVP of kids and family entertainment, said in a statement.

Everyone Backs HDR

While the hardware support for UHD Blu-ray may have been underwhelming to start CES, high dynamic range (HDR) had no such problem.

A major selling point of 4K TVs and content, HDR technology offers the best-possible contrast between light and dark images and gives more detail to every video frame.

Every major TV manufacturer used CES to announce support for HDR in their 2016 UHD TV lineups, more content owners came out to back HDR, and the companies behind differing HDR technologies (including Dolby, Technicolor and Philips) announced gains for their respective HDR offerings.

Dolby shared that it added both new hardware and new content owners to its stable of backers of Dolby Vision, the company’s HDR technology. This year Universal Pictures Home Entertainment (UPHE) and MGM will begin delivering content mastered in Dolby Vision, Dolby announced. Warner was the first studio to agree to master its films with Dolby Vision.

“With 4K UHD content becoming more prevalent, we are excited to provide consumers an elevated home-viewing experience and showcase our content with Dolby Vision HDR,” Jose Gutierrez, EVP for MGM, said in a statement.

Michael Bonner, EVP of digital distribution for UPHE, added: “Together, we are committed to ensuring that home entertainment consumers can enjoy the richest, most remarkable movie-watching experience yet with Dolby Vision.”

On the hardware side, both LG Electronics and TCL shared that much of their 2016 lineups of UHD TVs will support Dolby Vision.

Meanwhile, Technicolor and Philips had already kicked off CES week with the announcement that they would collaborate on their HDR encoding and decoding software and content creation tools, to help simplify HDR deployments for distributors.

And HDR in general was found everywhere in the early CES announcements from consumer electronics companies. LG, Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp, TLC and Hisense all stressed HDR support in their 2016 UHD TVs.

“Sony knows HDR from the lens to the living room,” said Mike Fasulo, president and COO of Sony Electronics. “We were among the first to use cameras that film in 4K and HDR and have been on the forefront of offering consumers technology that can bring the stunning experience of 4K and HDR into their homes.”

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