Are You Ready for Video Nirvana?

One of the more unexpected non-events of January’s CES 2016 was the soft and lackluster launch of Ultra High Definition Blu-ray (UHD BD) players. While the industry had been expecting hardware capable of spinning new 4K discs to feed the millions of 4K TVs that have been sold, the fanfare at the show was surprisingly ho-hum. In fact, only three companies—Samsung, Panasonic, and Philips under the P&F brand—showed hardware, with the Panasonic model not even (currently) destined for release in the States. LG announced a wait-and-see attitude, and Sony has said it would have a player in early 2017.

In December we conducted an online poll asking the question “Will You Buy an Ultra HD Blu-ray Player?” that received nearly 2,200 votes. You’d assume Sound&Vision readers would be at the very center of the UHD BD enthusiast bull’s-eye, but the results were surprisingly tepid with only 14 percent of people saying they’ll buy a player if they sell for more than $500, including the 6 percent that responded, “I’m an early adopter! I buy all of the newest technologies!” (Oh, how the times have changed! I remember dropping just under $1,000 for my first DVD player, and it didn’t even include component video outputs!)

More encouraging to the UHD Blu-ray manufacturers is that 17 percent will buy if players are between $250 and $499, with another 10 percent jumping on board if players are less than $250. The good news is that Samsung’s UBDK8500 is selling for $399, with the Philips player expected to sell for $350 when it comes out in June.

The largest group of respondents—41 percent—are waiting until more content is available and the price drops (29 percent) and will only buy if UHD Blu-rays sell for the same or less than current Blu-ray Discs (12 percent). The initial launch of approximately 20 titles came out in early March, with most titles selling for $29.99 at Amazon and Wal-Mart. (The Expendables 3 and Ender’s Game are currently selling for $22.99.)

Most surprising—and disappointing—is that a full 18 percent say they’re sitting this format out: 11 percent responding they don’t care about UHD and 7 percent being done with discs and opting to get their 4K from streaming services.

So, what’s the big deal about UHD BD, and why should you at least be considering a player if not just downright thrilled by it?

The biggest advantage UHD BD has going for it is bandwidth — massive, massive bandwidth. With data rates up to 125 Mbps, UHD BD will push through the most glorious images your eyes have ever seen.

First, while the 8 million pixels are receiving most of the hype, the biggest advantage that UHD BD has going for it is bandwidth—massive, massive bandwidth. With data rates up to 125 Mbps (compared to Blu-ray’s peak of 40 Mbps), UHD BD will push through the most glorious images your eyes have ever seen. Contrast that with bitrates of around 15 Mbps for Netflix’s and Amazon’s streamed UHD 4K content, and it’s clear that disc-based UHD will require significantly less compression. This bandwidth allows UHD BD to accommodate 10-bit video to produce incredibly clean and pristine images, up to 60 frames per second for ultra-smooth motion, high dynamic range for far greater contrast, and supports the BT 2020 color gamut to deliver tremendously more colors.

Further, streaming requires a fairly “fat pipe” Internet connection. Netflix recommends at least a sustained 25 Mbps to stream titles, but if you have other people in the home using the Internet, your streaming quality is going to suffer. UHD BD, conversely, will give you maximum performance and instant gratification each time you press Play with no buffering or quality sag.

Beyond great video, a big part of UHD BD’s allure will be next-generation, object-based, lossless audio in the form of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. For Sound&Vision readers, this should be at least 50 percent of the equation, and UHD BD’s audio will be far superior to the Dolby Digital Plus provided by Netflix and Amazon.

Another disc-less solution for those seeking the ultimate in performance and convenience is Kaleidescape’s new Strato 4K Movie Player. Strato will download full UHD-quality movies from Kaleidescape’s movie store, and support all of the performance benefits of UHD BD. There are currently nearly 90 titles available for purchase. Watch for our review.

While UHD streaming will certainly remain a viable option for many viewers, and delivers picture quality on par with Blu-ray in my—and many other reviewers’—opinion, Ultra High Definition Blu-ray will be the reference standard in video quality for the foreseeable future and should definitely be on your must consider list.

Traveler's picture

Unless Netflix offers a lot of 4k disk titles I'll pass. Let the tv handle up conversion.

dnoonie's picture

I don't remember how I voted in that survey but I bought my first UHD disk, "The Martian", during it's release week. I watched the HD version and I'm happy to get the UHD version too.

I'm waiting on OPPOs next player to get a UHD player and I'm waiting on more content (and more $) to get a UHD TV. There's a good chance I'll wait and get the player and the UHD TV at the same time.


WildGuy's picture

you said 125 mbps for 4k UHD blu ray maximum data rate but i think its actually 128 mbps data rate.

Not sure what is the maximum bit rate for video and what is the maximum bitrate for audio is though. at a total maximum bitrate of audio and video of 128 mbp, maybe 112 mbps for video and 16 mbps for audio max?

hk2000's picture

I too don't remember how I voted, but to me the issue is content!! This is way overlooked by reviewers- to the point that a lot of reviews focus so much on the video quality regardless of whether it is something any sane person would want to see. As far as I'm concerned. I'd love to jump on the UHD BD bandwagon, but the problem is most of what comes out in new movies is despicable. I'll put it this way: Even if technology reaches a point of enabling one to see a recording as real as if it was enacted live, I'd still would not want to see anything coming out of Hollywood these days. There are black and white movies with barely passable video quality, yet are so enjoyable and entertaining that you would watch again and again and not even bat an eye at the video anomalies!!