BDA educational video on Ultra HD Blu-ray

Although the hype and promotion is significantly quieter than it was for other new physical media formats before it, Ultra HD Blu-ray continues to build momentum among early 4K Ultra HDTV adopters and audio and video picture quality enthusiasts.

During the recent CES 2018 in Las Vegas, we met with Victor Matsuda, chairman of the Blu-ray Disc Association’s (BDA) global promotions committee, to get an update on the state of the format that is now a little over a year and half years old in North America.

Matsuda said that format sales and shipments were tracking closely with what the BDA had anticipated at the start of last year. That included more than tripling the number of player shipments from the more than 300,000 units shipped in 2016 as the global adoption of 4K Ultra HDTVs continues at a robust pace.

The BDA also pointed to forecasts that one third of all households around the world were expected to have a 4K Ultra HDTV by the end of 2021.

The number of Ultra HD Blu-ray player brands has grown from three in 2016 to eight currently, and many of those brands have multiple SKUs.

The number of Ultra HD Blu-ray movies has grown from 110 at the end of 2016 to now more than 250, which Matsuda called “extremely healthy for year two.”

Some of these were older catalog titles published in yet another format, which Matsuda called “a good sign” that the studios see promise in the format’s long-term success.

Meanwhile, although streaming video remains a growing threat, many regions continue to suffer from lagging broadband speeds and availability, which makes delivering quality high-bit rate 4K video difficult.

Read more about the stated for Ultra HD Blu-ray after the jump:

Proir to CES 2018, the BDA announced the release of specifications for a new recordable Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc format, which will be used exclusively in Japan. There, recordable discs is integral to the use of the country’s satellite based pay-TV services from NHK, which are progressing to 8K resolution.

The Association also recently added to the Ultra HD Blu-ray specification (now version 3.2) additional optional high dynamic range (HDR) platforms including most recently, HDR10+, joining the Dolby Vision and the Technicolor/Philips HDR profiles. Content producers and player manufacturers now have the ability at their discretion to add support for those additional HDR profiles that deliver even more realistic levels of brightness and color.

They join the mandatory HDR10 profile that was approved in the original 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray specification, assuring that regardless of the HDR formats supported by the player, all consumers will be able to default to baseline HDR10 support. That profile is included in the vast majority of 4K Ultra HDTVs sold from 2017 forward. However, some TV models will present the benefits in a more visible way than others.

As forecast at the beginning of 2017, Ultra HD Blu-ray adoption is benefitting from cascading positive factors, that point to signs of continued success, Matsuda observed.

First, UHD TV shipment volumes continue to be very positive, which is fostering growth for the Ultra HD Blu-ray format in most regions of the world, except China.

North America remains “by far” the leading region of consumer sales and adoption for both UHD Blu-ray hardware and software, followed by Western Europe. Both of those regions rank Nos. 1 and 2 on the list of 4K Ultra HD TV adopting territories.

Part of the reason for this is a lag (which is approximately six months) between the home release of Hollywood features in the United States and other regions of the world. Recently, this gap has become shorter for many studios, Matsuda pointed out, but issues like the need to implement different language menus, subtitles and pre-marketing preparation for various countries slows the process down.

As for the lagging adoption rate percentages of Ultra HD Blu-ray players and software between the United States and the rest of the world, at least some of it has to do with slower availability of locally produced and released content from the various regions.

“It’s natural that there would be that lag time, to a certain degree, between format adoption percentages in the United States and the rest of the world,” Matsuda said. “In Japan and France, in particular, until the local content producers are fully engaged, you are not going to get that same kind of uptick.”

He explained that only 40 to 50 percent of the packaged media releases in some international regions are from Hollywood, after that, the Ultra HD Blu-ray format is dependent on local content.

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This fosters the typical chicken-and-egg scenario that plagues any format launch.

“Until consumers get their local content, they are not going to invest in a new format,” Matsuda explained. “That’s why the lag times might be longer than we have seen for other product categories.”

One region that is virtually nill in the Ultra HD Blu-ray adoption has been China, which, ironically, is the No. 1 region in the world for 4K Ultra HDTV adoption.

Matsuda said he suspects that in China the prevailing method of movie distribution is via internet streaming services, which are growing at a tremendous rate among domestic providers.

Another issue is related to copyright concerns which makes some content distributors hesitant to rush into that market too quickly.

For now, the BDA is pushing the adoption of Ultra HD Blu-ray around the world through internet-based educational initiatives on its own sites, as well as in conjunction with members’ sites, other multi-industry associations and through the tech and enthusiast media.

Matsuda said that in the launch of 4K video, “Ultra HD resolution, while easily indentifiable and very easy to retain, was not the No. 1 consumer benefit. It was HDR. Now the awareness level of 4K is pretty high. Especially for the United States and Western European countries. There is about a 30 to 50 percent awareness gap between 4K and HDR though. Not only that, but for the Ultra HD Blu-ray format in general. We are trying to create awareness to the consumer benefits on the assets that they are providing.”

In addition to its own work, the BDA continues to work with other industry groups, including the CTA, Digital Entertainment Group (DEG), Ultra HD Alliance (UHDA) and others.

Among some of the challenges facing Ultra HD Blu-ray player makers and disc distributors is, first and foremost, the explosive growth in the popularity of content streaming.

The BDA is trying to promote the significant quality benefits of 4K Ultra HD resolution and, more importantly, HDR, which brings a significant boost in contrast from deep blacks to bright whites along with accompanying detail visible within both areas. It also adds enhancement in color saturation, brightness and accuracy when presented on better engineered and equipped television screens.

When delivered by Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs, the bit rates of 100 Mbps and higher, enable the highest possible quality resolution along with the additional HDR color and brightness enhancements. Often times, this gets downscaled or diminished over congested broadband connections.

Meanwhile, Matsuda acknowledged that in the United States, the distribution of packaged media is shrinking among certain retail accounts. Some retail chains have reduced the movie and music disc footprint on the selling floor of brick-and-mortar stores. However, sales remain steady through leading e-commerce platforms.

At the same time, the Ultra Violet multi-format distribution service that served to provide digital copies along with discs is gradually being replaced by other alternative services like Movies Anywhere and digital copies.

Matsuda pointed out that most Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs continue to package a 4K Ultra HD disc, a Full HD Blu-ray disc and a code for a streaming or downloadable digital version of the title through various participating retailers. These digital versions in some applications act as a substitute for a DVD.

Together, the packs provide consumers will almost every possible format for playback at home or on the go.

In addition, the new Movies Anywhere service is offering an alternative form of digital distribution to the gradually disappearing Ultra Violet system (although Movies Anywhere currently is not providing 4K streaming versions of movies through the main portal).

 

By Greg Tarr

 

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