Projector Reviews

Countdown to Ultra HD Blu-ray Introduction

I have written a number of previous blogs during the long process of creating the new standard for what is now officially called Ultra HD Blu-ray.  In my most recent blog I reported that the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) had announced that the first version of the Ultra HD Blu-ray specification had been completed.  For this new blog I would like to report on a few technical details and throw in some informed speculation as to what the first products will be and when they may be introduced.

 

The Technical Info for Ultra HD Blu-Ray

The BDA recently released a white paper on the HEVC encoding to be used for Ultra HD Blu discs. Note that the new discs will support both 4K/UHD video (i.e., 2160p:  3840 x 2160) as well as enhanced 1080p HD video (enhanced beyond what is possible to record on the existing version of HD Blu-ray Discs).  That white paper from the BDA lists the following formats for Standard Dynamic Range (SDR) and for High Dynamic Range (HDR) video:

  • 1920 x 1080 Rec. 709 10-bit depth SDR
  • 1920 x 1080 Rec. 2020 10-bit depth SDR
  • 1920 x 1080 Rec. 2020 10-bit depth HDR
  • 3840 x 2160 Rec. 709 10-bit depth SDR
  • 3840 x 2160 Rec. 2020 10-bit depth SDR
  • 3840 x 2160 Rec. 2020 10-bit depth HDR

Also all of these format can be used with any of the following refresh rates:

  • 60Hz
  • 59.94 Hz
  • 50 Hz
  • 25 Hz
  • 24 Hz
  • 23.976 Hz

Thus the new Ultra HD Blu-ray discs will be recorded using the relatively new HEVC coding (ITU H.265) which is more efficient than any of the 3 coding types supported by the current generation of Blu-ray Discs.

The supported resolutions will be 1080p (i.e., HD) and 2160p (UHD, sometimes referred to as 4K).  The supported refresh rates vary between 23.976 Hz and 60 Hz.  For comparison, the current HD Blu-ray disc do not support 1080p at 50Hz or 60 Hz for the recordings.

Video will be recorded with 10-bit depth (i.e., 10-bits for each of the 3 primary colors) as compared to 8-bit depth used for virtually all consumer HD video sources today, include existing Blu-ray Discs.

The color gamut will be either Rec. 709 (the standard for HD and what is used today for all HD Blu-ray Discs) or the extremely wide Rec. 2020 that ITU has recommended for UHD video.  However, the Rec. 2020 color space can be considered as the container and the actual color space (or gamut) of the actual encoded video can use a more limited color gamut (e.g., the DCI-P3 color gamut used for commercial cinemas).

The encoding will support use of either standard dynamic range (SDR) or high dynamic range (HDR) video.  The required baseline HDR that players must support is based on the HDR standard from the SMPTE (ST 2084) and extensions are allowed for the optional support of Dolby’s version of HDR or Philips version of HDR.

There are currently no plans to offer support 3D at the 2160p resolution (i.e., only at 1080p) and support for 3D playback is optional, as it is today with the current HD Blu-ray Disc players.

As a result the movie studios and the other produces of Ultra HD Blu-ray discs will need to decide which options that want to use on a given title they are going to produce.  There has been indications that certain movie studios may release many of their more recent movie titles with HDR and Rec. 2020 encoding.  Since virtually no current UHD-TV nor any 4K/UHD projector can support these enhancements, the Ultra HD Blu-ray players will process the video back to SDR and Rec. 709 for delivery to such existing 4K/UHD display devices.  Thus, with such current and previous generation 4K/UHD displays, you will get the benefits from the 2160p resolution, perhaps also from the 10-bit depth, but not the increased dynamic range nor the expanded color space.  Some next generation UHD displays, a few of which will be appearing shortly, will be able to support some level of HDR and expanded color space enhancements.

 

What and When

Based on fairly recent comments by representations from the consumer electronics manufacturers and a few comments from movie studio officials, it appears that we are now perhaps about 4 months away from the initial rollout of Ultra HD Blu-ray players and discs (i.e., November 2015).

As for the players, Ron Martin of Panasonic has indicated, in a recently published interview, the expected price for a Ultra HD Blu-ray player will be 2 to 3 times as much as for a standard Blu-ray player.  This probably puts the starting retail price in the $500 price range since the initial offerings will almost certainly be higher-end models that would compare to the higher-end regular Blu-ray player models that today sell for $200 to $250 from companies such as Panasonic, Sony, Samsung, etc.

There has been a lot a speculation on the web that the updated PS4 game console that has recently was introduced in Japan may be positioned to add Ultra HD Blu-ray support via a future firmware update.  This possibility doesn’t apply to the millions of existing PS4’s, because they simply don’t have the necessary hardware support, but perhaps the updated version will serve a similar role that the original PS3 did for getting acceptance for the new Blu-ray format.  In any case, my crystal ball is telling me that we will see 3 or 4 alternatives for a Ultra HD Blu-ray player available by the end of 2015.

Of course in order to sell new Ultra HD Blu-ray players we will also need a reasonable selection of movies released in this new UHD disc format.  Again Ron Martin of Panasonic has indicated that he doesn’t expect these discs to carry much of a premium price over the price for newly released standard HD Blu-ray titles.  However, it will be up to each movie studio to decide what price to attach to their discs and perhaps the premium will be similar to what is charged for a 3D version of a given title today (around $5 extra).  Now I’m not talking about those bargain bin $8 disc specials for older catalog titles.  I talking about the price for new movie releases which for typical HD Blu-ray titles have been carrying retail prices in the $30 to $40 range, before any discounts.  So what will the Ultra HD Blu-ray version sell for?   Perhaps $35 to $50?

 

Several of the movie studios are known to be working on UHD video for release to consumers.  While none have yet released any specific information on what titles or when they will be releasing their movies on Ultra HD Blu-ray.   However, some have made announcements related to planned UHD releases via streaming services, and some have indicated there is ongoing work related to Ultra HD Blu-ray.  Then there is the Ultra-HD Alliance where Fox, Warner, Disney and Sony Pictures are founding members.  We shouldn’t expect a vast number of movie titles to be released in the initial roll out, but perhaps 100 titles would be a realistic estimate with a few hundred more added during 2016.