The BDA’s Dan Schinasi (left) and Don Eklund (right) demonstrate HDR from 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

Ultra HD Blu-ray is bringing new life to physical media as sales of hardware and software continue to surpass expectations.

According to the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA), 2016 marks the first time that 4K Ultra HD capability in a television set ranked as the No. 1 most wanted feature.

Ultra HDTV shipments are expected to increase by more than 80 percent this year and another 40 percent in 2017, according to research compiled by Futuresource. This will result in some 16 percent of the 124 million U.S. households having a 4K Ultra HDTV by the end of the year.

According to a forecast from Strategy & Analytics, 50 percent of U.S. households will be 4K Ultra HD capable by 2020.

Read more on the BDA’s state of the 4K industry report after the jump:

Sales of TVs overall in the U.S. are expected to continue to be relatively flat at 38 million units this year, but the biggest growth segment of that is coming in 4K Ultra HD capable sets, which generally have screen sizes of 50 inches or larger and smart TV functionality.

“Almost every time we see a forecast on Ultra HDTV, the numbers are being raised,” said Dan Schinasi, chairman of the BDA’s U.S. promotions group and a Samsung spokesman. “Not surprisingly, then, it’s getting harder and harder to find Full HD 1080p TVs. They are still there, but there are fewer and fewer models to choose from.”

From the BDA’s perspective, the quicker the 4K Ultra HDTV market grows, the better it is for Ultra HD Blu-ray prospects, Schinasi pointed out.

In the first year in the market, there are eight player models available around the world from: Panasonic (2 models), Philips (2 models), Samsung (1 model), and Microsoft (3 Xbox One S configurations). In addition, Sony and Oppo have announced players are on the way from their sales and marketing groups by year’s end or early 2017.

In all, more than 80,000 Ultra HD Blu-players from all makers have been sold since the first player was introduced by Samsung last February, Schinasi said.

As for software, more than 90 Ultra HD Blu-ray titles have been released so far, with more being added all of the time. In January the group predicted about 100 titles would be introduced by the end of the year, and the industry appears to be on the way to surpassing that goal.

As for software sales, the industry has generated more than $25 million in sales revenue and is on the way toward reaching the 1 millionth disc sales number. Ultra HD Blu-ray discs typically sell for between $22.95-$29.95. The numbers eclipse sales of standard Blu-ray Disc sales at a comparable point in the two formats’ rollouts.

“The attachment rate of content to players (which at its peak was 8 to 1) is significantly higher for Ultra HD Blu-ray than it was for regular Blu-ray,” Schinasi said. “The sales performance so far has exceeded a lot of the studios’ expectations.”

“Sony Pictures is very happy with the Ultra HD Blu-ray performance so far. It’s succeeded their expectations,” said Don Eklund, Sony Corp. new format promotion senior VP. “That doesn’t mean it’s been a windfall by any stretch, but it’s doing better than was forecast.”

Interestingly, Sony recently launched its first dedicated over-the-top 4K Ultra HD streaming service called Ultra, which has been receiving much of the company’s promotional attention.

“Sony’s been licensing and experimenting with over-the-top for years,” Eklund said. “They still see all of this being relevant, but OTT is still a fraction of the overall revenue compared to packaged media.”

Currently, six major Hollywood studios are engaged in producing and selling Ultra HD Blu-ray titles, in addition to some smaller specialty publishers producing IMAX releases and similar documentaries.

The most noticeable missing studio so far is Walt Disney Studios, which is a BDA member.

The biggest competitive challenge to Ultra HD Blu-ray today is over-the-top (OTT) streaming. Major streaming services carrying 4K Ultra HD titles today include: Netflix, Amazon, Ultra, UltraFlix, and Vudu.

Ultra HD streaming content selections are ramping up, but not all of those are offering high dynamic range (HDR) capability along with the 4K resolution, however, and selections are small for those that are.

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In addition, the expanded data load necessary to stream 4K Ultra HD content limits the bandwidth available from most Internet service providers, making it difficult, if not impossible, to get 4K Ultra HD resolution in consistently high quality at all times of the day and from all titles.

The current average maximum broadband plan in the U.S. is delivering 15Mbps download speed, but many smaller services are still not providing more than 10Mpbs. In addition, many in-home Wi-Fi networks must overcome obstacles like walls and floors, which greatly reduce internet speeds to the receiving device.

All of these factors make it hard to get a consistently strong 4K Ultra HD experience via streaming, making Ultra HD Blu-ray players the best source devices for a state-of-the-art home theater experience.

Ultra HD Blu-ray is one of the few formats available to deliver up to 100 Mbps bit rates, for the most robust audio/video experiences possible. Many new releases in Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray now carry metadata for Dolby Atmos or DTS:X 3D surround sound.

The BDA is now engaged in consumer promotional efforts to get the word out about the new format. These efforts include producing a Retail Education Brochure for Ultra HD Blu-ray; interactive infographics on; a revamped Ultra HD Blu-ray centric website that is being revamped and updated now; new HD and UHD “sizzle reels” with short informational videos for online and retail use and distribution; and new social media outreach using educational video assets.

By Greg Tarr


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