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Ultra HD Blu-ray Gets Off to Fast Start

27 Jun, 2016 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Studio executives are cheered by early Ultra HD Blu-ray sales numbers, which far surpassed expectations.

A total of 45 Ultra HD titles have been released on Blu-ray Disc since March — and according to Home Media Magazine market research, consumers bought more than 228,000 discs as of June 24.

By comparison, Blu-ray Disc, launched in June 2006, moved just 57,000 units in the comparable time frame.

That’s not surprising, analysts say. Industry observers expect the rapid advance of Ultra HD — the much-ballyhooed new format that not only offers viewers four times the resolution of HD, but also includes high dynamic range (HDR), which produces brilliant highlights, vibrant colors and greater contrast on compatible displays — to trigger a resurgence in overall Blu-ray Disc sales, which already are tracking up 3% for the year in units and 6% in dollars, Home Media Magazine market research numbers show.

“The new Ultra HD format with HDR allows us to give audiences the best-quality picture and sound available at home today,” said Ron Sanders, president of Warner Bros. Worldwide Home Entertainment Distribution. “With Ultra HD HDR televisions now widely available, filmmakers and consumers alike are excited about the way we are able to present our films to home viewers. It is truly the closest thing to what the filmmaker intended."

Man Jit Singh, president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, agrees. “In November 2005, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment authored the first Blu-ray Disc,” he said. “Since then, we’ve continued to innovate on the format by adding features like 3D, and earlier this year we released our first Ultra HD Discs. Early sales of the new format show that consumers still love collecting movies and TV series.”

Mike Dunn, president of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, said, “4K Ultra HD with high dynamic range is the next generation of TV technology and is a major priority for us here at Fox. We believe 4K Ultra HD with high dynamic range has redefined the premium entertainment experience and is the ultimate in content presentation.” Dunn said that by the end of 2016, Fox will have more than 30 titles available in 4K Ultra HD with HDR. All of Fox’s new-release films will be available in 4K Ultra HD with HDR. Most are available day-and-date on Ultra HD Blu-ray, timed to the regular Blu-ray Disc release, and on Vidity, timed to the Digital HD release.

“2016 will be a phenomenal year for 4K Ultra High-Definition (UHD) TVs — driven in part by the market introduction of next-generation technologies — with shipments of 4K UHD displays projected to reach 13 million units (an 83% increase),” the Consumer Technology Association said in its latest research report. CTA expects revenue from 4K UHD displays in 2016 to top $10 billion, a 65% increase from last year.

At this point, there are only two Ultra HD Blu-ray players available, from Samsung and Panasonic, but that situation is expected to change — and fast. In June, the 10th birthday month for the Blu-ray Disc, Microsoft announced its new Xbox One S games console is Ultra HD Blu-ray and HDR compatible, while Sony said it is developing an upgraded version of its PlayStation 4 gaming console that will  offer Ultra HD 4K resolution and richer graphics.

Other CE companies are expected to roll out players of their own in the coming months.

Meanwhile, the talent community also is going gaga over Ultra HD. Deadpool director Tim Miller told Tech Radar HDR is the killer feature for Ultra HD Blu-ray. In a talk with Tech Radar at 20th Century Fox’s Innovation Lab, Miller and colorist Tim Stipan had high praise for the disc's visual presentation, particularly “the ways in which [HDR] has been utilized to make the film even more vibrant and explosive than it was in theaters,” according to Tech Radar. “The Ultra HD is f***ing amazing in the level of detail,”Miller told Tech Radar.

Next-generation immersive, object-based sound formats also will be delivered via the Ultra HD Blu-ray specification. Additionally, with the optional digital bridge feature, the specification enhances the value of content ownership by embracing the notion that a content purchase can enable  consumers to view their content across the range  of in-home and mobile devices.

The specification also mandates all new Ultra HD Blu-ray players be capable of playing back current Blu-ray Discs, giving consumers access to the vast library of more than 12,000 titles currently available on Blu-ray Disc.

In January 2016 the UHD Alliance unveiled a consumer-facing logo to identify devices, content and services capable of delivering a premium experience to an Ultra HD market expected to grow eightfold by 2019. The Ultra HD Premium logo is reserved for products and services that comply with performance metrics for resolution, HDR, peak  luminance, black levels and wide color gamut, among others. The specifications also make recommendations for immersive audio and other features. These advances in resolution, contrast, brightness, color and audio combine to deliver a premium Ultra HD experience in the home. The UHDA includes most of the major Hollywood studios, consumer electronics companies representing the majority of today’s 4K Ultra HD TV market, cutting-edge developers of enabling technology and top players in content distribution.

The association in April 2016 expanded the range of products that can bear the Ultra HD Premium logo with the announcement of certification and logo licensing for Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc players. 

Meanwhile, innovation continues. Jargon Technologies, recently merged with Giant Interactive, has been at the forefront of new developments in Ultra HD with HDR through a dual-zone feature that allows a faster data transfer speed.

“The dual-zone feature enables the content to provide more than 100 Mbps of video,” said Bhanu Srikanth, the former Jargon CEO who now is CTO at Giant Interactive. “This is enabled by division of the disc into two zones. Structurally and physically, the disc is same. The higher bitrate content is placed on the outer area of the disc, so the player can read more bits at a time. We authored the first ever commercial dual-zone disc, Life of Pi from 20th Century Fox, a 4K Ultra HD disc with high dynamic range.”

Giant Interactive has also been working on the new “digital bridge” technology that allows consumers to make digital copies with a Blu-ray Disc.

“Digital bridge, or Vidity, enables consumers to enjoy their content untethered from the physical disc,” Srikanth said. “UHD content can be securely copied off the disc and onto a compatible device or player for easy enjoyment anywhere. HD and SD content can also be provided for lower resolution or limited-capacity devices.”

As a pioneer in authoring tool development, Sony DADC NMS has designed a proprietary 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray toolset to efficiently integrate and deliver advanced features and functionality to help major studios and content owners deliver a superior  consumer experience.

“As we have seen through the widespread adoption of Blu-ray Disc, consumers continue to embrace next-generation formats in order to improve their in-home experiences,” said Seth Hallen, SVP of  creative services for Sony DADC NMS. "As the 4K  Ultra HD Blu-ray format proliferates, we look  forward to continuing to play our role in  supporting the studios through its success."

NMS will be among the first to integrate Dolby Vision into its authoring tools for 4K UHD support, as well as offer the market an intelligent data  platform providing real-time analytics.

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