Ultra HD Blu-ray logo

Updated! The long-awaited specifications for the Ultra HD Blu-ray™ format were officially released Tuesday by the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) along with a new logo indicating Ultra HD compatibility.

The BDA said the Ultra HD Blu-ray specification “will enable delivery of Ultra HD content via Ultra HD Blu-ray disc to the rapidly growing number of UHD TV households.”

More on the new Ultra HD Blu-ray spec. after the break:

The specifications were developed in collaboration with global leaders from the consumer electronics, IT and content creation industries, and will deliver higher data rates than are possible with streaming content. Many experts have said they expect Ultra HD Blu-ray will produce the highest-quality 4K Ultra HD video and sound experience possible in the home.

The group said that licensing of Ultra HD Blu-ray technologies is scheduled to begin this summer. Spokesmen for the BDA have said that if the specifications were released by mid-year they had hoped to see deliveries of the first Ultra HD Blu-ray players by the end of 2015.

A BDA spokesperson told HD Guru: “that [player availability] is really a question for individual manufacturers and studios, as the BDA is not privy to individual company plans. That said, licensing is expected to begin in July and based on timing of past products (and the fact that Panasonic already had a demo at CES), I think you can expect to see products reach the market pretty quickly, particularly given that the holiday buying season will be right around the corner.”

According to the formal BDA statement, the association is “working closely with industry leaders in the authoring, testing, certification and replication industries to develop the tools and processes needed to ensure interoperability between players and software and to facilitate the development of a robust ecosystem to support the hardware and title launch of Ultra HD Blu-ray.”

“For years, Blu-ray Disc™ has set the standard for high definition picture and audio quality in the home. Ultra HD Blu-ray will do the same for UHD home entertainment,” said Victor Matsuda, chairman of BDA Promotions Committee, said in a statement. “The technical capabilities of Blu-ray Disc, in particular its significant storage capacity and high data transfer rates, will enable the delivery of an unparalleled, consistent and repeatable UHD experience.”

Still to be revealed is the new copy protection system and/or watermarking that will be used to protect against illicit content duplication. The BDA expects to be posting the full specifications shortly, the BDA said.

The completed Ultra HD Blu-ray specification addresses a range of factors, beyond 4x greater resolution than Full HD 1080p, to expand the 4K Ultra HD home entertainment experience, the BDA said.

Among those new capabilities will be delivery of a “significantly expanded color range,” support for high dynamic range (HDR) and high-frame rate (up to 60fps) content. Players will also support both H.264 and H.265 (HEVC) digital compression standards, the latter of which affords greater efficiency needed for Ultra HD content.

A greater range of colors will be supported reaching up to the BT.2020 color gamut standard, although no televisions can currently achieve that full specification. The format also supports up to 10-bit color depth and 4:2:0 chroma subsampling. The BDA has said the primary reason for selecting 4:2:0 subsampling, as opposed to 4:4:4 used in professional camera gear, was data savings and ease of compression, which allow for longer content to be stored on the disc media.

The bottom line is that Ultra HD Blu-ray movies connected to supporting 4K Ultra HDTVs will be able to present richer and truer shades of colors that exist outside of the range of visible colors covered by today’s ITU Rec.709 format. That standard is used in most currently available 4K UHD and HDTV sets. For comparison, today’s HDTV sets supporting Rec.709 produce about 30 percent of the visual color spectrum, where the B.T. 2020 spec. extends beyond 70 percent.

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Spokesmen for the BDA confirmed for us recently that Ultra HD Blu-ray content carrying HDR can be supported by the new players through a mandatory single-layer solution, however, studios will have the option to add metadata for other optional HDR formats.

The spec calls for “HDR format – open system (mandatory SMPTE 2084/2086); optional: Dolby, Philips, Technicolor,” a BDA spokesperson told HD Guru.

The HDR information will be signaled using static metadata, and supporting televisions will be able to read this and utilize it to improve visual detail and actual brightness in dark and bright white segments of an image, for a more life-like experience.

Next-generation immersive, object-based sound formats will also be deliverable under the Ultra HD Blu-ray specification. Like today’s Blu-ray Disc players, all Ultra HD Blu-ray players will play the immersive audio formats, including Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, passed through the bit streams. Signals are not decoded by the player but passed on to an external decoder or A/V receiver equipped to decode the formats. Whether or not an Ultra HD Blu-ray disc carries the enhanced audio metadata will be left to the discretion of the studio, however. It is not mandated.

These immersive audio systems allow placement of more speakers around the listener (including overhead) to create the illusion of objects moving around the audience. Remaining to be seen is how studios will opt to support these new advanced audio formats.

The Ultra HD Blu-ray spec also supports a new “digital bridge” feature that was designed to simplify and expand upon today’s “Digital Copy” system used in some Blu-ray Discs and DVDs to enable transferring a digital copy of a movie from the disc to a supporting mobile device. The BDA said the new voluntary digital bridge “enhances the value of content ownership by embracing the notion that a content purchase can enable the consumer to view their content across the range of in-home and mobile devices.”

“The digital bridge is optional and consists of copy features that enables local playback.  What that means for each disc/player is up to the manufacturer and although the Ultra HD Blu-ray spec is complete, we’re waiting to hear how manufacturers will implement these features,” a BDA spokesperson told us.

The specification also mandates all new Ultra HD Blu-ray players be capable of playing back current Blu-ray Discs, although adding support for 3D Blu-ray Discs will be voluntary for the manufacturer. There are no current plans for 3D Ultra HD Blu-ray support. Whether or not the player supports other disc formats, like DVDs or CDs, will be left to the voluntary discretion of the manufacturer.

A spokesman for the BDA confirmed for us recently that the specifications called for new 66GB (dual layer) and 100GB (triple layer) Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, at data rates of 108 mbps and 128 mbps, respectively. The extra layers will provide space for additional data some studios might wish to include, without the need to add extra discs.

Stay tuned for updates as further details on the spec. arrive.

By Greg Tarr

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