Ultra HD Blu-ray Players, Discs Poised To Hit U.S. Retail Shelves
CES 2016 marked the official launch of the Ultra HD Blu-ray format, with three companies showing players slated for deliveries later this year and top-level Hollywood studios announcing plans for supporting the new hardware with Ultra HD Blu-ray titles totaling at least 100 discs by year’s end.
Hardware companies that showed Ultra HD Blu-ray players included: Samsung, Panasonic and Funai’s Philips brand. As well, Sony and LG acknowledged plans to add Ultra HD Blu-ray players of their own later in the year but didn’t show any actual products in their booths.
As outlined in the Blu-ray Disc Association’s Ultra HD Blu-ray specifications, all players will support up to 4K Ultra HD (3840×2160) resolution; will be equipped to play and output baseline SMPTE ST.2084/2086 HDR formats with HDR 10 listed as mandatory and other formats compatible with ST.2084 EOTF such as Dolby Vision, listed as “voluntary” for inclusion by the player makers and disc replicators. EOTF is the process of translating digital code into visible light. The format calls for a color gamut container supporting up to the BT.2020 color gamut, which TVs will remap to the maximum levels each model is designed to support.
Although new 4K Ultra HD TV purchasers will have a range of content sources they can use to view 4K Ultra HD movies and TV shows, the disc-based Ultra HD Blu-ray platform is expected to offer the gold standard for picture and sound quality capability. This is due largely to the fact that Ultra HD Blu-ray supports a bit rate of up to 100 Mbps, where most typical 4K streaming services or cable/satellite pay-TV providers support up to 6 to 7 Mbps.
Ultra HD Blu-ray will also support higher frame rates of up to 60 fps compared to the 24/30 fps available through most streaming and pay-TV services.
Read more about the first Ultra HD Blu-ray players and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray titles after the jump:
Of all the Ultra HD Blu-ray player announcements, Samsung’s UBD-K8500/ZA (pictured at top) appears closest to market launch. In fact, the company is already offering its player for $399.99 on pre-sale now, with fulfillment expected on Feb. 14, 2016, according to a listing on Amazon.
The following is a list of the players and features announced so far:
Samsung’s UBD-K8500/ZA ($399.99) will offer built-in upscaling technology that enhances the picture quality of standard Blu-ray discs and DVDs. Among supported optical discs will be UHD Blu-ray, Blu-ray, and DVDs, as required by specifications. It will also support the optional audio CD and 3D Blu-ray Disc formats, Samsung said. As for high dynamic range, the player will only support the base level HDR 10 format deemed as mandatory in the specifications, but none of the optional HDR formats, like Dolby Vision.
Other features include: built-in Wi-Fi for streaming video and music from dedicated apps, including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video, Spotify, and Pandora; HEVC for watching streamed 4K content from sources like Netflix and Amazon Instant Video; AllShare to share and mirror screens from compatible Samsung smartphones and tablets; BD-Live and BonusView support for added bonus features; support for external storage via USB; Multiroom Link for syncing wirelessly with Samsung Shape wireless speakers; ripping of CDs to MP3 files with a USB storage device; on-board web browser; remote control; built-in audio decoding for Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS, and DTS-HD Master Audio; 2 HDMI outputs for separating audio and video signals with the main HDMI output supporting HDMI 2.0a for HDR and HDCP 2.2 content protection. The sub HDMI supports audio only.
Panasonic’s DMP-UB900 (price to be announced), is slated to arrive later this year offering a 4K high-precision chroma processor. It will play back 4K JPEG/video; supports 3840×2160 resolution and HDR metadata; supports high-resolution audio formats including: DSD, ALAC, FLAC, and WAV; and incorporates “high-quality audio parts,” including the power supply; audio circuit and digital circuit.
The DMP-UB900 (pictured above) will deliver up to 7.1-channel analog audio output and includes twin HDMI ports to isolate the audio signal from video. The DMP-UB900 also supports 4K streaming apps and DLNA. It will not support Blu-ray 3D. The company previously launched an Ultra HD Blu-ray player for the Japanese market, but that model incorporates a hard drive to record broadcast TV programming in addition to playing UHD Blu-rays. It also costs considerably more than the U.S. model is expected to run.
P&F USA’s Philips BDP7501 ($399.99) compact-design Ultra HD Blu-ray player is expected to ship this spring. It will offer HDMI 2.0a outputs with HDCP 2.2 copy protection needed for 4K HDR support, Wi-Fi connectivity to allow streaming from built-in Netflix and YouTube apps, and 4K UHD upscaling of lower-resolution Full HD, HD and SD content. The player will support the required Open HDR format, but Philips executives said it will not support the optional Dolby Vision HDR technology it is supporting in some higher-end TV models this year.
Other manufacturers said they continue to study the market for the best possible entry timing. Tim Alessi, LG new product development director, said his company’s Ultra HD Blu-ray player won’t launch until the second half, and the company will study the market for available software support, and SoC chip availability before committing to a firm launch date.
At CES 2016 last week, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment president Mike Dunn speculated that more than 100 Ultra 4K Blu-ray Disc titles would be available from the various participating studios by the end of the year.
Before, during and immediately following CES, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment; Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Lionsgate and Shout! Factory revealed that they each will support the format’s launch with Ultra HD Blu-ray releases.
Sony Pictures revealed last fall that it plans to launch UHD Blu-ray with six titles that will ramp up with catalog and new release titles from there. Initial titles will include: The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Salt, Hancock, Chappie, Pineapple Express and The Smurfs 2.
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment announced at the IFA 2015 show in Berlin, Germany last September that it would release new movies on Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc on the same day as standard Blu-ray and Digital HD. The studio plans to reissue recent hit films in Ultra HD, including: Kingsman: The Secret Service, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Life of Pi and Fantastic Four.
Warner Bros. revealed that it will release over 35 movies on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray this year. The first titles will include: Mad Max: Fury Road, San Andreas, The Lego Movie, Man of Steelv, Pacific Rim and Pan. Warner will also expand the titles available on 4K Ultra HD with HDR via digital retailers, the studio said, and Dolby Atmos surround sound will also be included on select titles.
Lionsgate was the first studio to announce a specific release date. The studio said that Sicario, The Last Witch Hunter, Ender’s Game and The Expendables 3 will be available March 1, 2016, shortly after the release of the Samsung Ultra HD Blu-ray player. For optimal sound quality, the UHD Blu-ray versions of Sicario, Ender’s Game and The Expendables 3 feature next-generation object-based Dolby Atmos audio. The Last Witch Hunter will feature advanced, object-based DTS:X Audio.
Lionsgate said each 4K UHD release will include a Blu-ray Disc and Digital HD copy and will contain all previously released special features. Sicario and The Last Witch Hunter will be available at the suggested retail price of $42.99. Ender’s Game and The Expendables 3 will be priced at $22.99. Lionsgate previously announced plans to re-master its top 100 movies in 4K Ultra HD for digital and broadcast release.
Shout! Factory said it will release 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs including initial IMAX theatrical releases. Initial titles will include: Journey to Space, Humpback Whales, Flight of the Butterflies, Rocky Mountain Express, Wonders of the Arctic and The Last Reef: Cities Beneath the Sea. The first releases are slated for the spring.
By Greg Tarr
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