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4K: A New Format Unwraps for the Holidays

31 Oct, 2016 By: Stephanie Prange

After a successful launch this spring, the Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc with high dynamic range (HDR), the cream of the 4K crop, is gearing up for its very first gift-giving season.

“There is no question that the Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc represents a transformative time in home entertainment,” said Eddie Cunningham, president of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. “With our industry in full support of this superior format, we will bring to market this holiday season an exceptional array of films that are sure to dazzle and deliver to consumers an unprecedented viewing experience, which we expect in turn will cement the format as the best way to watch movies at home.”

“We are excited to have Star Trek Beyond join J.J. Abrams’ first two ‘Star Trek’ films on 4K Ultra HD this holiday season,” added Bob Buchi, president of worldwide home media distribution at Paramount Pictures. “These action-packed and visually stunning films really showcase UHD’s phenomenal capabilities to make every frame leap off the screen and bring the films’ worlds to life like nothing home audiences have seen before.

“We continue to evaluate all of our new theatrical titles as well as films in our library to increase the physical and digital offerings for the fast-growing and enthusiastic UHD consumer base.”

While 4K made its big splash in 2015, the premium version of the format — Ultra HD, with HDR, offering greater contrast and deeper, more life-like colors — was the talk of the 2016 CES. At the show, the UHD Alliance, a consortium of TV manufacturers, technology firms, and movie and TV studios, announced an Ultra HD Premium label in the hopes of preventing abuse of the term “HDR.”

Good luck with that. There’s plenty of so-called HDR content available, but its quality is questionable. The only sure bet is the next-generation Blu-ray Disc, 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, which began a slow rollout in March.

The new Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs, with vastly improved storage capacity, now include extra information, or “metadata,” that tells HDR TVs the proper way to interpret color and brightness. That’s why the picture quality of Ultra HD Blu-ray cannot be matched. Ultra HD with HDR content streamed by Netflix and Amazon comes close, but the experts say the disc still offers a superior viewing experience.

The first Ultra HD Blu-ray player, from Samsung, hit stores in March, followed by software from most of the major studios. That first volley of Ultra HD Blu-ray discs sold far better than expected, according to studio executives. Indeed, the format’s launch was four times as successful as regular Blu-ray Disc 10 years ago, according to an analysis of sales numbers by Home Media Market Research. More than 45 Ultra HD Blu-ray title releases were available in the first half of the year, with impressive sales of about 288,000 units.  By comparison, Blu-ray Disc, launched in June 2006, moved just 57,000 units in the comparable time frame.

“2016 has been the year of next-generation entertainment technologies, all designed to provide consumers with increasingly enjoyable and immersive experiences,” said Mike Dunn, president of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. “4K Ultra HD with high dynamic range offers a
premium entertainment experience with the most lifelike audio-visual experience available on TVs. At Fox, we’ve embraced the technology and will continue expanding our content for this impressive format.”

“4K with HDR provides the most detailed, vibrant and life-like viewing experience we’ve ever been able to present in the home,” said Jim Wuthrich, president of the Americas for Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. “With some really fantastic new titles coming out in 4K Ultra HD with high dynamic range, including new releases like Suicide Squad and favorites including Goodfellas, we’re excited for the holiday season and looking forward to a strong 2017 for home entertainment.”

“4K UHD is reinvigorating interest in the high-definition platform and the effect is the strengthening of HD packaged-media sales,” said Ron Schwartz, president of home entertainment for Lionsgate. “The early results are strong, roughly triple the sales of the industry’s last platform launch. We are bullish on the platform, supporting it with some of our strongest content, including the ‘Hunger Games’ franchise, which looks spectacular. Additionally, we have great action titles leading into the holidays and a robust theatrical slate; 2017 looks to be a banner year. With our deep library and rich content crossing multiple genres, we feel we can reach consumers many different ways. And we see the momentum continuing as the installed base of 4K televisions continues to grow.”

Things look bright on the TV front. According to an October 2016 report from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), consumers are on track to buy 15 million UHD TV sets this year, with revenue topping $12 billion. That’s a 105% increase over 7 million units in 2015 — and means that 4K UHD TVs will make up nearly half of all TV sales. According to the CTA, 40% of TV sets shipping this year will be 4K UHD, and virtually all TVs over 50 inches are now 4K Ultra HD.

According to research from Strategy Analytics, this buying surge is being fueled by rapidly dropping prices, as well as the gradual disappearance of regular 1080p TVs from large-screen product line-ups. By 2020, all 40-inch or larger TVs being sold in North America will be Ultra HD models, by which stage nearly one in two homes in the region will own at least one Ultra HD TV, the firm projected. The research firm also projected that by 2020, 250 million TV viewers around the world will be ready to watch shows with HDR. According to the report from Strategy Analytics’
Intelligent Home Group, annual worldwide sales of HDR-enabled TVs in 2020 will reach 58 million units, bringing the number of homes with at least one HDR-enabled TV to 107 million. Penetration of HDR TVs will reach nearly 25% of homes in the United States, the research firm projected.

“As the industry continues to evolve, people have more ways to consume entertainment than ever before,” said Man Jit Singh, president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. “4K UItra HD is exciting the category by offering the absolute best-quality picture with ultra-high resolution, high dynamic range, and immersive sound options for consumers who want to make the most of their home theater system. As we head into the holiday season, we will continue to offer our newest releases and iconic films from of our deep library of 4K content, including Ghostbusters, Sausage Party, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Labyrinth: 30th Anniversary.”

About the Author: Stephanie Prange

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