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Blu-ray at 10: Paving the Way for UHD

24 Nov, 2015 By: Home Media Magazine, Blu-ray Disc Association

As its 10th birthday draws near, the Blu-ray Disc’s prospects have never appeared brighter.

The rapid advance of Ultra HD — the much-ballyhooed new technology 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 — is expected to trigger a resurgence in Blu-ray Disc sales.

Streaming services continue to have challenges transmitting HD, so just imagine the clogged pipes that await a format with four times the pixels — and significantly more data.

Ultra HD TVs are coming and will eventually become the standard. And if history repeats itself, the early adopters will be hungriest for content — which, at this point, is best delivered on disc.

“There’s a historical parallel — certainly the move over to HD sparked consumer interest in Blu-ray Disc, and for the same reason we expect a similar effect now,” said veteran entertainment industry analyst Tom Adams. “Networks struggle to provide the real deal, whereas the disc has the capacity to do it. So I expect people upgrading to 4K will be looking to Blu-ray as a way to get more content.”

After finalizing the Ultra HD Blu-ray spec and logo back in May, the Blu-ray Disc Association began licensing the technology in August.

And just a short time later, Samsung unveiled the industry’s first Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc player. The player quickly became the talk of IFA 2015, the big global trade show for consumer electronics in Berlin.

The player picked up a Top Tech of IFA award from Digital Trends, while Samsung’s accompanying 4K TV was named Best of Show.

Tom’s Guide, another popular tech website, also lauded the Samsung player — expected to be available for sale in early 2016 — on its Best of IFA 2015 wrap-up.

According to Digital Trends, “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. With backing by major movie studios, the flow of 4K content will soon transform from a trickle to a roar.”

Also at IFA, 20th Century Fox announced its intent to release upcoming movies on Ultra HD Blu-ray disc on the same day as standard Blu-ray and Digital HD. The studio also will go back and reissue recent films in Ultra HD, including Kingsman: The Secret Service, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Life of Pi and Fantastic Four.

“When my colleagues and I at Fox first saw the side-by-side comparison of Ultra HD with High Dynamic Range versus HD, it was reminiscent of the difference between standard def and high def,” 20th Century Fox President Mike Dunn said in Berlin. “This is a massive leap forward for the consumer experience.”

It’s also a way to keep Blu-ray Disc firmly in place as the ultimate consumer viewing experience.  As Tom’s Guide noted in awarding the Samsung player its “Best Home Entertainment” award, “The 4K Blu-ray discs have four times the resolution and 64 times the color accuracy of 1080p Blu-rays…. Streaming services come and go, but the UHD Blu-ray player will let you keep a permanent collection.”

"For years, Blu-ray Disc has set the standard for high definition picture and audio quality in the home. Ultra HD Blu-ray will do the same for UHD home entertainment," said Victor Matsuda, chair of the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) Promotions Committee. "The technical capabilities of Blu-ray Disc, in particular its significant storage capacity and high data transfer rates, will enable the delivery of an unparalleled, consistent and repeatable UHD experience."

The Ultra HD Blu-ray specification addresses a range of factors, beyond simply increasing resolution, that will significantly enhance the home entertainment experience for consumers. In addition to delivering content in up to 3840x2160 resolution, the Ultra HD Blu-ray format enables delivery of a significantly expanded color range and allows for the delivery of HDR and high frame rate content. Video dynamic range is defined as the ratio between the brightest whites and the darkest blacks in the image. Today’s TVs use standard range, which is significantly below the range the human eye can discern.  An important feature of the Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc is HDR video, with significantly more brightness and contrast. HDR, combined with an expanded color gamut, gives the viewer a picture much more like what we see in everyday life. Current TVs deliver 35% of the color spectrum visible to the human eye; Ultra HD Blu-ray and the new generation of displays deliver a color gamut of up to 75% of what they human eye can see, resulting in a much more lifelike presentation.

Next-generation immersive, object-based sound formats will also 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 the consumer 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 10,000 titles currently available on Blu-ray Disc.

In addition to Ultra HD Blu-ray's entrance into the market, the UHD Alliance (UHDA) is nearing completion of premium specifications for displays and content. The products that meet this specification will maximize the advantages of various technologies, such as HDR, wide color gamut and others, to create a premier Ultra HD experience for consumers. The UHDA, which was formed in January of last year, has grown to a membership of more than 30 companies, including 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.

Meanwhile, since that flurry of activity in late August and early September, more advances have been made. Panasonic in October said it will soon begin selling an Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc player in Japan. The DMR-UBZ1 will go on sale on Nov. 15 and was displayed at the CEATEC electronics show near Tokyo.

Both the Samsung and Panasonic players will include internal hard drives to make use of the Ultra HD Blu-ray format’s optional copy and export features. These will allow consumers to make and store a personal library of content from their discs, giving them a collection of films and other programming for instant access and viewing.

Then, in November, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment became the second studio to announce plans for Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs. Set to arrive in early 2016, Sony’s first batch of titles include The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Salt, Hancock, Chappie, Pineapple Express and The Smurfs 2, followed, the studio said, “by a growing roster of titles including new release film and television content.”

“By some estimates, consumers will own over 100 million Ultra HD television sets by 2019,” said SPHE president Man Jit Singh. “Sony Pictures’ 4K Ultra HD Discs will deliver consumers the ultimate home theater experience, with stunning picture and sound quality.”

Singh noted that the announcement comes exactly 10 years after SPHE authored the world’s first feature film on Blu-ray Disc.

Sony has an extensive library of Ultra HD, or 4K, content, including newer films and television shows, as well as classic catalog films restored from original film elements. Among them: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Men in Black, Ghostbusters, The Fifth Element, Bad Boys, The Da Vinci Code and Bram Stoker's Dracula, as well as such vintage classics as Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Guns of Navarone and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Other studios are expected to make Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc software announcements as well, either before or during the January 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, buzz around the CE industry is that Sony may be considering an enhanced PS4 capable of playing Ultra HD Blu-ray. The revelation came from Sony Consumer Electronics VP Masayasu Ito, in an interview with Japanese gaming website 4Gamer.

To be sure, Blu-ray Disc doesn’t have a monopoly on Ultra HD. Vidity (SCSA) has launched an ecosystem for Ultra HD Downloads. And Kaleidescape Inc. has a license agreement with Sony Pictures Home Entertainment to offer 4K Ultra HD films for download from the Kaleidescape Movie Store. But Blu-ray Disc will occupy a premium position in the Ultra HD food chain. As HD Guru observed in an Oct. 9 post, “What seems clear is that the Ultra HD Blu-ray system will stand as the reference quality playback standard for 4K Ultra HD, high dynamic range and wide color gamut content delivery going forward.”

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