4K Blu-ray Discs and Players Arriving in 2015

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4K Blu-ray Products Coming in 2015

The Blu-ray Disc Association announced plans for their long awaited 4K Blu-ray Disc specification at the IFA Electronics Trade Show in Berlin this week. The group will begin licensing the specification in Spring or Summer 2015, with the first 4K Blu-ray players and discs shipping by the holiday season of 2015, according to Victor Matsuda, chairman of the Blu-ray Disc Association global promotions committee.

Tearing Down Ultra HD Obstacles

Aside from the obvious lack of Ultra HD Content, another major obstacle for viewing 4K Ultra HD today is the inability to access to either physical or streaming formats. The majority of viewers have insufficient internet bandwidth at home, prohibiting the transport of quality 4K Ultra HD Content, which requires a minimum bandwidth pipe of 10-15 Mbps. Likewise, no physical disc capable of storing the vast ocean of Ultra HD data is currently available, that is, until now — with the introduction of the 4K Blu-ray Disc comes the consumer recognized and trusted “Blu-ray” brand, which will accelerate Ultra HD Content to the television viewing masses.

The 4K Blu-ray format will support 4K Ultra HD at 60 frames per second, and the future-proof capability of detecting and displaying a wider 10-bit color spectrum under the BT.2020 specification — the so-called “holy grail” among Hollywood and consumer electronics engineers. Matsuda further added, “The packaged media and that enclosed, stable environment — that’s part of being the best of the best.”

“With fireworks or flashbulbs or looking at the sun, you get the level of brightness as with anything else white in the scene,” said Ron Martin, vice president of Panasonic’s Hollywood lab and a member of the Blu-ray Disc Association’s task for for next-generation Blu-ray development. “Now we have 100 percent more signal range to capture those highlights to make a visible difference.”

“The expected capacity will probably be the 66 and 100GB versions,” Martin added. “UHD content, which may include higher frame rates and greater color gamut, might require more disc space. We want the extended Blu-ray format to be as robust as possible and be prepared to handle future demand of filmmakers and content providers. The goal will be to always have one movie on one disc.”

To Stream, or Not to Stream?

Society has become quite comfortable with streaming content over the internet [formally known as over-the-top content (OTT)] — and why not? It’s fast, easy, and convenient. However, such advantages might not be so apparent when attempting to stream Ultra HD Content, especially on a large scale. When you run the numbers, the bandwidth required to stream Ultra HD to every household in the neighborhood will begin to saturate the available Internet infrastructure. Even if you have a top tier internet plan, popular ISP’s will most definitely struggle to keep up with the heavy demand.

To this end, perhaps it is necessary to take a technological “step back” to physical storage in order to enjoy the glorious advances in Ultra High Definition Television — at least until we upgrade our unacceptable bandwidth infrastructure, which would eventually pave the way for 8K Ultra HD. Thankfully, the Blu-ray Disc Association has finally stepped up to the plate to address the physical alternative, allowing us to breathe a much needed sigh of relief. Not only will Hollywood be happy with the successful DRM protection used in today’s Blu-ray discs, but viewers will also enjoy a much higher quality 4K Ultra HD image (think 60 to 100 Mbits vs. 10-15 Mbits). Less compression, higher quality, and thus, a better overall experience.

Physical Discs Win the Popular Vote

In March 2014 we launched a poll on UltraHDTV.net asking, “At the cost of picture quality, would you rather stream or use a physical disc to watch 4K Ultra HD?” — We further explained the question before readers submitted their votes:

Today’s internet infrastructure simply can’t support streaming uncompressed 4K. Would you rather stream a 4K movie from home at a lower picture quality (compressed) for the sake of convenience and speed? Or, would you rather rent or buy a physical disc from an outside physical location to watch the film in uncompressed “True” 4K?

The poll results showed a total of 1,565 votes, with 498 votes (31.8%) for 4K streaming and 1,067 votes (68.2%) for 4K physical discs. To be fair, the question specifically mentioned “uncompressed” 4K Ultra HD, which the Blu-ray specification will not deliver. Instead, the 4K Blu-ray format will leverage the use of the new HEVC/H.265 compression format, which was ratified by the ITU in January 2013. With that said, feel free to draw your own conclusions from our poll; we believe the concept of physical 4K Blu-ray discs with higher picture quality will remain the popular vote for the foreseeable future.

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About the Author

Andrew Michael is the Founder of Ultra HDTV Magazine. His interest in the technology began in 2008, before the term "Ultra HD" became mainstream. Andrew has contributed numerous articles, and continues to evolve Ultra HDTV into the ultimate Ultra High Definition resource.

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