Blu-ray Disc Resurgence Likely — But Not Overnight13 Nov, 2015 By: Thomas K. Arnold
Now that Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (SPHE) has become the second studio to announce Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc releases, two months after 20th Century Fox became the first, we’re likely to see most if not all the other majors follow.
It reminds me of the Blu-ray Disc launch 10 years ago, although back then the studios waited until the days leading up to the Consumer Electronics Show in January to issue their proclamations of support.
Of course, back then there was a competing format, HD DVD, that was stealing much of Blu-ray Disc’s thunder. With Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc, there is no rival packaged-media format, at least none that I am aware of. The competition will be other methods of Ultra HD delivery, including hard drives and, of course, streaming.
Still, the good old Blu-ray Disc certainly has an advantage over its competitors, which is why a growing number of analysts and observers, me included, expect a resurgence in sales once Ultra HD takes hold — particularly if, as rumored, Sony is considering an enhanced PS4 capable of playing Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs.
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.”
The Ultra HD Blu-ray specification, finalized last May, 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 high dynamic range (HDR) and high frame-rate content. 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 giving consumers, through an enabling technology like Vidity, the ability to view their content across the entire spectrum of in-home and mobile devices.
As for the future of Ultra HD, let there be no mistake: This is no tangent, like 3D, but, rather, the next step in our natural progression toward true movie-theater quality. DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group recently reported that Ultra HD TV set sales shot up 494% in the third quarter, with nearly 2 million sets sold so far this year. The Consumer Technology Association (until Nov. 9, the Consumer Electronics Association) has forecast 4K Ultra HDTV shipments of 4.5 million units for 2015, up from the 1.4 million units shipped last year. And according to IHS DisplaySearch, sales of 4K Ultra HDTVs are expected to reach 100 million units by 2019.
But studios and retailers won’t realize the benefits of this until 2017, at the earliest. While Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc software and hardware will begin appearing in stores next year, initial player prices of more than $3,000 (for the Panasonic DMR-UBZ1, which went on sale in Japan Nov. 15) will keep the lid on sales, mostly likely through next year’s holiday season.
But that’s the normal consumer electronics pattern. The first DVD players to hit the market, in 1997, cost more than $1,000; it took three years before prices plunged below $100. Similarly, back in 2006, the first two Blu-ray Disc players, from Sony and Pioneer, retailed for $1,000 and $1,800, respectively.
How long will it take Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc players to reach the “affordable” mark, generally considered below $300? It’s hard to tell — but if consumer electronics companies are smart, they will do so quickly, in light of the continued proliferation of home entertainment options.
Once they do, a Blu-ray Disc resurgence will be almost unavoidable — almost, because of the PS4 factor.
The fact that Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is one of the first studios to say it will release Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs is certainly an encouraging sign, but in this business I think we’ve all learned to take nothing for granted.
I will keep my fingers crossed — and I encourage you, all of you, to do the same.