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Industry Gears for UHD Blu-ray

10 Sep, 2015 By: Chris Tribbey

Samsung and its industry first Ultra High-Def (UHD) Blu-ray Disc player quickly became the belle of the ball at this year’s IFA consumer electronics trade show in Berlin.

The CE company unveiled the UBD-K8500 4K UHD Blu-ray player, which quickly made the “best of” lists for several covering the IFA conference — concurrent with 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment announcing the first Blu-ray titles for UHD players.

“The new Ultra HD Blu-ray standard means UHD movies, as well as HDR movies and movies with Atmos and other object-oriented audio tracks, can be distributed on discs instead of depending on some extreme bandwidth requirements for streaming,” PC Magazine’s Will Greenwald wrote, while awarding Samsung’s player “Best Home Entertainment” gadget out of IFA.

Caleb Denison, audio-visual editor for tech news site Digital Trends, named the Samsung UBD-K8500 the No. 1 video device out of IFA, saying the player (due at retail in early 2016) will help 4K go mainstream.

“Samsung will allow 4K UHD TV owners to finally enjoy the very best picture quality their TVs can produce — and we’re not just talking about higher resolution; we’re talking about more color expression and high dynamic range (HDR), the likes of which can’t be matched by any modern streaming service,” he wrote. “With backing by major movie studios, the flow of 4K content will soon transform from a trickle to a roar.”

And tech review site Tom’s Guide also gave the player its top IFA “Best Home Entertainment” nod, praising its backwards compatibility with Blu-rays and DVDs, 4K streaming functions and HDR capability.

“Streaming services come and go, but the UHD Blu-ray player will let you keep a permanent collection,” the site concluded.

For Samsung and any other stakeholder in UHD Blu-ray, the early accolades for the first 4K Blu-ray player is welcome news, especially coming just a month after the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) began licensing for the format, with the goal of the first 4K home entertainment products being ready just in time for Christmas.

Every major TV manufacturer has already made UHD TV a priority — with entry-level UHD sets quickly becoming affordable for households — and industry research firm IHS estimates there will be nearly 96 million UHD TVs in homes by 2019 (up from 11.7 million in 2014). But to date, the only 4K content available has been via limited streaming and download services, or dedicated 4K hard drives (with live 4K broadcasts still on the horizon).

That’s why Victor Matsuda, chair of the BDA’s Promotions Committee, said he sees consumers picking up on the next generation of physical disc in a big way, and quickly: 4K Blu-ray will be the easiest, most consistent way for consumers to enjoy content suited for 4K displays, with being subject to bandwidth constraints or other external factors that can impact picture quality.

“The BDA is very eager to begin licensing Ultra HD Blu-ray, and we think it is fantastic news for consumers,” he said. “Since its introduction, Blu-ray has been, and remains, the standard for HD picture and audio quality in the home. Our goal in creating Ultra HD Blu-ray is to do the same thing for Ultra HD home entertainment.”

For those companies involved in getting 4K Blu-ray players and discs out to market, the attention the product is receiving is good news. That includes Burbank, Calif.-based Deluxe, which is already working on a number of UHD Blu-ray services, including compression, encoding, authoring, dubbing, subtitling, menu creation and more.

Sherry Kao, VP of new technology for Deluxe, said there will be challenges with the first UHD Blu-ray products: 4K TV manufacturers haven’t agreed on HDR standards, which means that feature may not work consistently with 4K Blu-rays. And the digital bridge feature (which will allow 4K Blu-ray Disc owners to make a bit-for-bit digital copy of their content for playback on other devices) is still an optional, untested feature.

Bhanu Srikanth, CEO and co-founder of Burbank-based Jargon Technologies — which has developed an authoring platform for UHD Blu-ray — said the HDR issue will prove challenging for content providers looking to offer consistent, quality output across all displays.

“Even as consumer migrates to HDR displays, there will be the challenge of maintaining quality across displays which support various types of HDR,” she said.

And adoption of digital bridge would “need to be driven by clear consumer education and messaging. 

“It definitely has the potential to finally bridge the gap between digital and physical media,” she said. “It also drives the point that physical and digital content can be complementary and consumers need not to be forced to choose one over the other.”

Ramón Bretón, CTO for Culver City, Calif.-based media quality control company 3rd i QC — which has helped several of the major studios put their catalogs on DVD — sees the addition of UHD Blu-ray as a way to “extend the life of physical media.”

“The decrease in physical disc sales is well documented. However, for cinephiles the best way to ensure the highest-quality reproduction of their favorite content is on a physical disc,” he said. “This group of consumers will be — and in many cases already are — among the first to bring UHD televisions into their living rooms.”

“Pricing continues to drop for UHD sets … and they’ll need something to watch on those TVs, not just the excellent crop of newly-created UHD streaming content which continues to expand, but also their favorite catalog titles. They’ll be turning to Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs to satisfy this demand.”

That’s a point Paul Erickson, senior analyst at IHS, made about UHD Blu-ray during a recent BDA presentation: If 4K content isn’t easily available, consumers may shy away from latching onto the format at all. And disc has proved over and over that it can lead adoption of a new format.

“Quality becomes the expectation … with high-def, people have become accustomed to that being the norm now,” Erickson said. “HD has reset the norm for what’s expected. And I’m curious to see if Ultra HD does the same thing. A 4K option [for content] will be needed, because down the road, it’s going to be expected.”

And with all of the studios engaged in the development of 4K Blu-ray, it’s only a matter of time before more join Fox in announcing titles, the BDA’s Matsuda added.

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