More signs of the decline of the physical disc player market surfaced with the recent release of the Consumer Technology Association’s (CTA’s) 2020 January Sales & Forecasts Report, which now shows that shipments of Ultra HD Blu-ray players to the United States declined in both 2018 and 2019, following the withdrawls of Oppo and Samsung , respectively, from the category.

Most alarming is that North America led by the U.S. is the region with the heaviest percentage of overall 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player and disc-based software sales. Since the format’s launch in 2016, all other regions have lagged significantly behind.

The numbers were an adjustment of the CTAs forecasts from a year earlier that called for the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray category continuing to show growth in 2019. However, those forecasts were made prior to the withdrawl of Samsung from the physical video disc player market.

According to the report’s forecasts, U.S. factory shipments of 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray players hit their peak in 2017 at 884,000 units, and plummeted 37% in 2018 to 559,000 units. The CTA estimated that full-year U.S. shipments of standalone (dedicated players not including video game consoles) 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player shipments fell another 8% to 514,000 units in 2019. It is now predicting shipment levels to decline another 7% in 2020 at 478,000 units.

The shipment estimates and forecasts indicate that digital streaming of 4K/HDR video, particularly from popular Subscription Video on Demand (SVoD) over-the-top (OTT) service providers like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV+ and Disney+, has become the preferred system of access for home video viewing by consumers and studios, alike.

As we recently reported, CES 2020 provide nothing in the way of new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player models for 2020, with several manufacturers indicating their 2019 models would be carried over into 2020, at least for the first half of the year with no known model refreshes on the way at the time.

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4K Ultra HD Blu-ray players continue to be the best medium for viewing 4K/HDR movies in the home, primarily due to their significatly high transfer rates of 100 bits per second, support for multiple HDR formats and freedom from the constrictions of narrow bandwidth pipelines that force streaming services to down-rez content on the fly to variable bit rates during periods of peak use. The high-resolution physical disc players also currently remain the best way to view movies with Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, along with Dolby True HD and DTS-HD Master Audio encoded soundtracks, respectively.

The format’s decline began following the withdrawl of Oppo from the home AV market in 2018. Samsung exited the disc market in February 2019. The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player market now appears to be a mere niche segment for discerning videophiles looking for the best picture and sound quality sources to play on their new 4K Ultra HD and 8K Ultra HD TVs.

Further, the outlook for the future of physical video disc players of all formats — DVDs, Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray — has been winnowing down for several years, although the other formats are coming down from much higher peak sales volumes. See chart at top.

Despite this, discs and players aren’t likely to go away overnight. Major studios continue to deliver software for each format, answering demands from the massive installed player base — particularly of DVDs and Blu-rays — around the world.

Carried-over 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray players are still available from: Sony, LG, Panasonic, Pioneer. One year later at CES 2017, LG and Sony joined the movement while Samsung and Panasonic expanded their line-ups. CES 2018 brought us the first combo player with support for Dolby Vision and HDR10+, and at CES 2019 Panasonic and Sony announced new models.

In addition, the launch versions of next-generation video game consoles coming from Sony and Microsoft–PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, respecitively–this holiday season will each have optical drives support 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc media. These are likely to sell in huge numbers and will give studios a reason to continue feeding the market with software.

Just the same, if you are looking to get a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player, you might want to jump in now, as it wouldn’t be surprising to see more brands pull out of the market leaving fewer models and feature sets and price points to choose from.

By Greg Tarr

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