Ultra HD Settles In Along with UHD Blu-ray & HDR

Late last year the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA), the consortium of technology companies and Hollywood studios responsible for developing the optical disc format, came to a hotel suite in New York to promote Ultra HD (UHD) and high dynamic range (HDR) while putting the PR spin on why we still need silvery movie platters in this age of streaming. Of course, as the editor of S&V, I needed no persuasion. But they shared some interesting updates on the march of UHD and UHD BD into the market, and the current environment for streaming 4K content to homes. Here are a few tidbits:

• UHD TV shipments for 2016 were estimated to be up by more than 80 percent in 2016 versus the year before, and to grow another 40 percent in 2017. By year-end 2016, U.S. household penetration was expected to be at 16 percent. By my calculation, using the current estimate of 125 million U.S. households, that amounts to 20 million homes now with at least one 4K TV.

• Since the launch last March of the Ultra HD Blu-ray format, more than 80,000 standalone players have been sold in the U.S. The BDA was counting nine models either on the market or promised, including those from Samsung, Philips, Panasonic, Oppo, Sony, and Microsoft .

• Nearly 90 UHD Blu-ray movie titles were out as of early November, and the sale of the one-millionth disc was expected to be imminent. Consumers were said to have spent more than $25 million buying UHD BDs. Fox, Lionsgate, Sony Pictures, Universal, and Warner Brothers are all participating in the market, and laggard Disney is rumored to be jumping in soon.

The BDA says our country’s network infrastructure is still woefully unprepared for the UHD revolution with the average bandwidth for U.S. households now at about 15 megabits per second.

• UHD content with HDR is now available on multiple platforms: UHD Blu-ray players/discs; streaming from 4K smart TVs and media players (Roku 4) via Amazon, Vudu, Netflix, and Fandango Now; and the Vidity download service also currently available via Fandango Now. This last option is noteworthy for enthusiasts: Vidity downloads are said to be full UHD Blu-ray image quality. You’re required to have a compatible, inexpensive hard drive such as the Western Digital My Cinema, which must be connected to a Vidity-compliant display (such as Samsung’s SUHD models) or other device such as a tablet, smartphone, or computer. These are movies for purchase, not rental, and once you own them, you can move them around to different secure drives/devices.

Vidity hasn’t gotten much traction to date, but the Secure Content Storage Association (SCSA), the consortium behind it, is expected to announce changes soon to make the service more accessible. Stay tuned for more on this.

Not surprisingly to those who have experienced 4K internet streams against UHD Blu-ray Disc quality, the BDA says our country’s network infrastructure is still woefully unprepared for the UHD revolution. Akami, a provider of media delivery services to the industry, puts the average bandwidth for U.S. households now at about 15 megabits per second. Many get much less.

Netflix is recommending a minimum of 25 mbps for streaming 4K with HDR, but even in markets with the fastest service providers who can accommodate those speeds, only about 30 percent of users get to 25 mbps or higher. UHD Blu-ray Discs, as we’ve previously reported, can hit bitstreams of 100 mbps, and standard 1080p Blu-ray about 40 mbps. No wonder you can see the difference so readily.

So, what’s the takeaway from all this? UHD has arrived and become the default now for primary TV purchases, and HDR, as the most discernible UHD feature, is likely to see a big push. And streaming? Well...that’s just not the way to watch UHD, with or without HDR. But then, you already knew that, didn’t you?

brenro's picture

I continue to be amazed by the number of people that shell out big cash for 4K TV's and then are perfectly content to get all their content by streaming. I don't quite get the aversion to physical media.

jnemesh's picture

Looking at bluray.com, the list of UHD titles is pretty lean at the moment. There are MAYBE 2-3 titles I would be interested in purchasing. Not enough for me to invest $300 in a UHD disk player. When the content comes, I will buy one, but that day isn't here yet.

In the meantime, I AM enjoying shows like "Luke Cage" on Netflix, "The Tick" on Amazon, and several games like Call of Duty on my PS4 (yes, I know it's not "full UHD", but it IS in HDR and does look better than the original PS4's output).

I have PLENTY of content to keep me happy, and on my Samsung UN65KS8000, even 1080p content looks amazing.

brenro's picture

Agreed on the lack of titles. Movies I'd like to see are many more times than movies I want to own. Wish Netflix would add UHD titles to thei service.

uavAVTheaterGuy's picture

PREFACE - This might seem like a slightly disjointed "COMMENT" because I've had to remove myself from the computer a few times to help customers decipher the confusing world of Video products currently available. So it wont read in a proper flowing story. Sorry...

Their are many issues with content delivery and modern technology. We see advertisements showing us "situation X", but actually we exist in "REALITY Y". We've come to this crossroad through a number of situations, and through the evolving tastes and preferences the consumer has. Our need for instant gratification, our expectations that the internet should just work, and the hyper-consumer model of retail and the sales model has COMPLETELY DESTROYED the electronics world.

We now have this automatic price decay built into a product. EXAMPLE -

"Let's go ahead and release a new product. We'll price it at $2500 when it first comes out... BUT WAIT!!! We know that MOST people will not buy it at FULL PRICE, because everyone knows that it will go on sale. However, we need to price it high at first, so that when it does go on sale we show the perceived value of getting a deal, nevermind actually screwing the early adopter (but they always get the shaft for their emotional choices, so who cares there). But the resellers can't afford to drop their pricing SOOO deep to get the client we'll go ahead and put in a manufacturer's rebate to the reseller to recoop the cost of the discount we've mandated they sell the product at."

THIS IS HOW RETAIL ELECTRONICS WORKS EVERYONE. I've worked in the Industry for 12 years now and this is how the retail eletronics world functions. Why I bring this up is because very few people look at products of quality and care anymore. In the TV world consumers will see "4K UHD" on the side of a retail box, and they've been told that THIS is the thing that makes it great. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? There are so many JUNK 4K UHD TVs on the market its easy to believe that these are GREAT units. Resolution is CHEAP... contrast, color-reproduction, black level, you know... the things that make TV's GREAT are not CHEAP. But through marketting we've made the public THINK with some labels that things are GREAT. I mean... Just look at the "MOTION RATE" of TV's today. SAMSUNG calls their 60hz TVs, MOTIONRATE 240 units, and their best 120hz models they call CLEAR MOTION RATE 240 and ULTIMATE MOTION RATE 240. Sony calls their best 120hz engine XRMOTION-1440, and LG calls their 60hz panels, TRUMOTION120hz. ARE YOU KIDDING ME??!! I've really never ranted in protest to the brand that pay for my livelihood, but I just can't be silent anymore. In an industry that is constantly pushing transparency and progress, the TV side depend on marketing nonsense to push their products because they go one buzzwords and inflated numbers to essentially trick the consumer into thinking their getting something good. I get it... put it on the consumer, they want the best deals, and want to pay the least for it... so lets dress up are bottom end products in new kingly robes, change the marketting slogans and say its great. SCREW YOU MANUFACTURERS...

On the content creation side of things, at the high level imaging technology is always pushing the envelope for, BETTER COLOR, MORE RESOLUTION, HIGHER FRAME RATES, etc. The delivery mechanism (The TV), follows pretty closely to the bleeding edge improvements.

The disconnect exists between actual content broadcast/streaming capability and the technology the consumers have available to experience the content. The options as we have it are...

BUY IT ON DISC (highest quality)
WATCH THE BROADCAST (3rd best quality in terms of RELIABILITY but has tons of other issues)
STREAM THE CONTENT (Easiest consumption method, no trip to a store, no waiting for download, no waiting for on demand to launch, and it's plagued by compression and variable quality depending on how good the network connection is AT THAT VERY MOMENT.

If BLU-RAY has a recommended bit rate of 40mbps, and it tops at 1080p WITHOUT HDR color... WHY ARE WE EVEN TRYING WITH 4K STREAMING?

That's kind of like giving everyone who wants to drive a car a high end sports vehicle which should go REALLY FAST but you'll only be driving on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles, during rush hour, and youre only destination is LAX... IT SOUNDS TERRIBLE.

So why do we push poop laced with gold? Our industry used to be all about THE BEST, now it's all about WHAT'S EASIEST, all the while we have these incredible machines, with most people unable to get the proper content to these super devices. I say "unable" because while consumers may have the means to get a great connection, the internet services that have been provided to the consumers are terrible choices with speeds that are advertised that will NEVER be reached. A simple internet ping (something I do at every job site I go to) tells the real truth about our streaming capability, and our overall internet aptitude as a modern media consuming nation.

We're simply not ready for it. The consumer's want it, the manufacturers need us to have it, and the content producers do their best to make the content as amazing as they can with the most sophisticated mastering technologies to ever exist.

And we pump it all down over an old copper infrastructure that was never intended to handle HIGH SPEED INTERNET, let alone pump it to 150 million plus homes nationwide.

pw's picture

When UHD discs can give me both then I upgrade..

Traveler's picture

When will cable, Comcast in particular, offer 4K versions of cable networks (HBO, ESPN, NBC, ect ect ect)?