Countdown to Ultra HD Blu-ray

We’re only a couple of months away from the scheduled introduction of Ultra HD Blu-ray players and the UHD discs to play on them. At CES both Samsung and Philips announced players due in March, and 17 titles are currently listed on Amazon for release March 1.

Here's a quick rundown of that initial lineup:

Sony PicturesSalt, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Chappie, Hancock, The Smurfs 2, and Pineapple Express

20th Century FoxThe Martian, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Life of Pi, Fantastic 4 (2015), Hitman: Agent 47, and X-Men Days of Future Past

LionsgateThe Expendables 3, Ender’s Game, Sicario, and The Last Witch Hunter

Sony’s titles are priced for Amazon preorder at $32.39 ($35.99 list—The Smurfs 2 is inexplicably listed at $35.99 rather than the $32.39 discount price of Sony’s other titles—perhaps an oversight unless Sony considers The Smurfs 2 to be the jewel in their Ultra HD crown), Fox’s at $29.99 ($39.99 list), and Lionsgate’s at $20.60 ($22.99 list) apart from Sicario and The Last Witch Hunter each of which are priced at $38.69 ($42.99 list).

Some of the new UHD Blu-ray titles will be mastered in high dynamic range, though likely not all of them. Warner Brothers, for example, has stated that its first four releases Mad Max Fury Road, San Andreas, The Lego Movie, and Pan) will be HDR. Warner’s releases aren’t included in the above or following discussions since they haven’t yet announced a release date and aren’t currently listed on Amazon for pre-order.

The prices above are clearly all over the map, as the studios try to feel out what the market will tolerate. You’ll note that apart from the Fox titles the discounts from list price are relatively small, suggesting that either the studios haven’t built in much of a profit margin for retailers or that Amazon is also testing the waters for salable prices. It’s still a highly fluid situation. I find the Fox discounted prices tolerable, but street prices approaching $40 (looking at you, Lionsgate, though the split in its prices might indicate higher prices for more recent titles) won’t enhance the format’s chances for success.

As for the titles themselves, there are a few that are justified, a few that are marginal, and a few dedicated to the proposition that early adopters will buy just about anything and this is our last chance to squeeze some money out of them for these dogs. When I averaged the IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base) scores for each title, I arrived at a rating of 6.48 (out of 10) for Sony, 6.87 for Fox, and 6.65 for Lionsgate. While Fox’s average was suppressed by the lowest rated title of all, The Fantastic 4 at 4.3, that studio otherwise had the highest percentage of the most highly rated titles: 8.1 for The Martian, 7.8 for Kingsman, 8.0 for Life of Pi, and 8.0 for X-Men. No other studio had a title rated higher than 7.8 (Lionsgate with Sicario).

In the early days of Blu-ray some studios entered the race tentatively, fearing that until there were enough players in consumers’ hands it would be self-defeating to release their prize titles. If there were too few sales of, say, Star Wars on Blu-ray at first, when the population of players became large enough those titles would then be old news and wouldn’t sell well (this was probably before they hatched the concept of the Special Blu-ray Limited Edition). In any case, our current understanding is that most or all of the first Ultra HD Blu-ray titles will also include a standard Blu-ray so the buy will be more or less future proof—or at least until that Special Ultra HD Blu-ray Limited Edition arrives!

Disc Supremacy and a Call for Choice Titles
To drive the success of the UHD Blu-ray format, with its inherent superiority over downloading and streaming in everything but convenience, we need a flood of choice titles—the sort of titles that collectors will eagerly want to make permanent additions to their collections even if they already own them on 1080p Blu-ray. The world has changed since the leisurely 1080p Blu-ray launch. We need such titles ASAP to enhance the chances that Ultra HD will succeed, not spread out over the next two years.

Such films need to be not only popular but also capable of showing off the benefits of the Ultra HD format—films like Lawrence or Arabia, Star Wars (the original trilogy), E.T., My Fair Lady, Apollo 13, Braveheart, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Gravity, Gladiator, Harry Potter (any or all of them), Iron Man, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, Star Trek (any or all), Saving Private Ryan and, in animation, Frozen, The Incredibles, Inside Out, and King Fu Panda (the latter chosen for its eye-popping palette to take advantage of UHD’s enhanced color).

In my opinion, street prices higher than $30 (even with two discs) could either drive the failure of the UHD Blu-ray format before it even begins or make Ultra HD Blu-ray a niche product like LaserDisc. The latter would mean that many favorite titles will never be released in the format.

As you peruse the Amazon listings for UHD Blu-rays, you’ll see a large number of documentaries labeled “Filmed in 4K.” These titles are not 4K but rather were filmed in 4K and downconverted to 1080p. The disc inside is a standard Blu-ray. All of the upcoming Ultra HD Blu-ray movies are in a case with a black band on top, while the “Filmed in Blu-ray” titles have the blue band typical of 1080p Blu-rays. The same is true of several “Mastered in 4K” titles that Sony released a couple of years ago. In both cases the results may look very good, but they are not Ultra HD Blu-rays. This may have been obvious before Ultra HD sets became widespread and the recent finalization of the Ultra HD Blu-ray standard, but today their labeling is certain to mislead consumers.

jerrybruckheimerfan's picture

WARNING: A lot of the 4K UHD blu-rays announced for release are not legitimate 4K. I'm not even talking about DCI 4K (4096 x 2160p) vs UHD 4K (3840 x 2160p). A lot of these movies were either shot, conformed, or mastered in 2K or some other sub-4K resolution. In order for these movies to be legit 4K, you need to shoot them in a camera that's 4K or above (like the Sony F65). I know there's a debate about whether cameras like the Red cameras are considered true 4K or not, since it uses the bayer pattern (which means that it only captures 50% of the green, 25% of the blue, and 25% of the red, with the rest added in later after capture). Another way to get true 4K is by shooting in 35mm film and then scanned at 4K or above for the digital intermediate, like the facilities at FotoKem in Burbank, CA. Regardless, the footage will need to be conformed and mastered for DCI 4K. Again, a lot of these movies are using a sub-4K bottleneck at some point in the filmmaking chain of events.

haseo461x's picture

Someone correct me if i'm wrong, but most of the movies out there are recorded at resolutions higher than 4K or at 4K. It is the mastered at that same resolution for cinema, and then down mastered for 1080p releases. For UHD discs, I would assume they would go back to the 4K mastering and then release it after making minor adjustment to the resolutions due to the used resolution on 4k tvs.

jerrybruckheimerfan's picture

No, that's incorrect. More than half of the movies announced for 4K UHD release were shot on the Arri Alexa cameras which shoot 2.8K or (3.4K open gate). Pretty much all regular Alexa movies do a 2K conform & master. Some others were shot on Red cameras, which shots 4K or above but only did a 2K conform & master. You can look up which films were shot on what cameras and what their master format resolution was (2K or 4K).

jerrybruckheimerfan's picture

Legitimate 4K:

- Salt
- The Amazing Spider-Man 2
- Chappie
- Hancock
- The Smurfs 2
- The Expendables 3

Illegitimate 4K

- Pineapple Express
- The Martian
- Kingsman: The Secret Service
- Exodus: Gods and Kings
- Life of Pi,
- Fantastic 4 (2015),
- Hitman: Agent 47
- X-Men Days of Future Past
- Ender’s Game
- Sicario
- The Last Witch Hunter (4K master but was upscaled from Arri Alexa 3.4K open gate)

Tangential's picture

UHD-BD - can't see it being that successful. Blu ray itself hasn't really taken hold, which is a shame.

Spence's picture

As Thomas pointed out, the new format launch would likely have a much greater chance of succeeding by taking that first step with some prime titles offered. It will likely cause many to wait on the fence, and sales will accordingly be affected.

pgbinder's picture

Based on your article, I'm pretty sure that I will not replace existing Blu-Ray discs with 4K versions. My price point is about $25, and its appears that most will be above that price point. It is shame that the studios are pricing so high, as I suspect that their production costs will be only slightly higher than Blu-Ray discs. I am just looking to replace my Panasonic Plasma with a 4K TV. Will only consider 2016 models, as seems that even 2015 models have issues playing 4K material due to HDMI issues. I ask S&V if they thought 2016 TV's would have any possibility of being "software upgraded" to the new 4K "over the air" standard ASTC 3.0, but have not had a reply......

jmilton7043's picture

...well as long as Smurf 2 is in 4K, I'm good.

Steve117's picture

My limit is $25 for a Blu-Ray disk. If prices don't drop, I see 4K disks quickly dying.I'm totally content with the up-scaling capability of standard Blu-rays on my 65" UHD LG.

COBill's picture

Interesting; many said that same thing when Blu-Ray came out (they would watch upscaled SD DVD.)

Steve117's picture

But, there was a significant difference in quality between DVD vs Blu-Ray. DVDs were not up-scaled to anywhere near Blu-Ray quality in the same way that 4K is.

8traxrule's picture

The REAL travesty in all of this is that a large number of initial titles were released in 3D, but UHD doesn't support 3D so you'll be watching those in 2D! Either give the format 3D support from the get-go, or only release 2D movies on it!

Joe97478's picture

It seems the studios never learn. Rather than do everything they can to make a new format succeed, they discourage it by starting out with high prices that no one except hardcore first adopters will pay. Blu-Ray looks fine, and even better when upconverted to 4k on my Samsung UHD television. But things can always be better. Even an incremental improvement is better if you want to continue making progress. At one time people thought Super Beta was more than satisfactory. Had we not kept wanting better we might still be watching tape.

Joe97478's picture

It seems the studios never learn. Rather than do everything they can to make a new format succeed, they discourage it by starting out with high prices that no one except hardcore first adopters will pay. Blu-Ray looks fine, and even better when upconverted to 4k on my Samsung UHD television. But things can always be better. Even an incremental improvement is better if you want to continue making progress. At one time people thought Super Beta was more than satisfactory. Had we not kept wanting better we might still be watching tape.

drny's picture

T.Norton comments are spot on. I've delayed purchasing of a Hi-end 4K Tv, Yamaha A/V receiver with 2.a HDMI for 4K and Atmos/DTX. All in wait for a UHD Bluray player and UHD movie releases.
In essence the availability and cost of UHD movies will determined to a large extent $10,000 worth of my hard end money on A/V equipment.
Movie studios, for thousands like myself, the future of movie watching enjoyment is in your hand. I go to see a movie in IMAX 3D, and will purchase the movie on a Bluray format based on a price cost to quality of audio visual ratio.

jerrybruckheimerfan's picture

Anyone who buys an illegitimate 4K movie and thinks it's really 4K is a complete sucker.

Bosshog7_2000's picture

4K Blue Ray is DOA for the same reason there is no more Blockbuster. The average Joe killed Blockbuster because he/she didn't care about the quality of even 1080P BluRay and preferred to stream. The majority of consumers do NOT buy discs anymore because it's too expensive.

As for me....after wasting my money first on HD DVD and then on BluRay, neither of watch can you rent discs I will never buy another disc media player. Yeah, I would prefer the better quality but I'm not going to drop $30 and buy yet another disc (forever cluttering my house) just to watch a movie.

Thomas J. Norton's picture
The majority of consumers NEVER bought video discs of any kind. If you really believe that Blu-ray is dead then go to and check the listings of dozens of new releases still coming out every week. Someone still believes in the superior quality that a packaged medium can offer vs. streaming inferior video and audio. Checked your download speed lately?

The question isn't who wants it, but whether or not the subset of consumers still willing to pay for it is large enough. And the bigger that subset, the better chance that the prices will be reasonable. LaserDiscs were expensive ($90 boxed Special Editions, anyone?) for a reason.

Bosshog7_2000's picture

You're missing the point...
As you said the majority of consumers may not have bought video discs of any kind...but the majority most certainly rented them when they were available! The point is, you can't rent discs (Blu Ray/UHD wahtever) so the only option is to buy. The majority of consumers will NOT buy UHD discs for the improved quality.

I most certainly appreciate the improvement in quality but I refuse to pay $30 for every UHD I want to watch. These days iTunes with a 4K Dolby Vision stream is pretty impressive for a fraction of the cost.

Thomas J. Norton's picture
I agree with you that UHD discs are a bit overpriced, but many videophiles might well buy one or so a month if they have a UHD player and a UHD set. And that $30 buys you both a UHD disc and a standard HD disc--helpful for those who plan to upgrade to UHD but haven't yet done so.

The quality of downloads seems too vary with the location. I agree that at best it can be good enough for most viewers, just as MP3 is good enough for many music listeners. But both the audio and video are significantly compressed, and whether or not this is obvious depends on the size and quality of the display, and the quality of the audio system.

In the latter situation, no streaming video offers Dolby TrueHD or DTS HD Master Audio. It's nearly always Dolby Digital+. This is NOT typically superior to plain Dolby Digital. It can be, but DD+ was originally invented to allow DD quality at half the data rate. Streaming services will inevitably use this capability, as conserving bandwidth is their first priority.

Bosshog7_2000's picture

Thomas, you keep talking about the quality of audio/video from UHD vs're preaching to the choir. Trust me, I get it. My point all along is that there isn't enough people who care....that's why Blockbuster died years ago...and it's also why Oppo just announced they are exiting the business.