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4K UHD Blu-ray - Ultra-HD Specification now Complete

Many owners and potential owners of 4K/UHD projectors are eagerly awaiting the arrival Ultra-HD Blu-ray.  I have discussed the new technology in a number of previous blogs and this blog discusses the official announcement of the initial version of the Ultra HD Blu-ray specification is now complete.  For this blog, I will dicuss what we now believe to the baseline capabilities of this new UHD optical disc format and what are some of the potential options or extensions to the Ultra-HD Blu-ray that may be coming along over the next few years.

The Ultra HD Blu-ray Specifiation is now Complete

The Blu-ray Disc Association, which controls the Blu-ray related specifications and patent licensing, today (May 12, 2015) announced the Ultra HD Blu-ray specification is now complete.  It is often referred to as Blu-ray UHD, or UHD Blu-ray.  Below is the essential information from that press release:

LOS ANGELES--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) today announced completion of the Ultra HD Blu-ray specification and released the new logo that will delineate Ultra HD Blu-ray products. The Ultra HD Blu-ray specification, which represents the work of global leaders from the consumer electronics, IT and content creation industries, will enable delivery of Ultra HD content via Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc to the rapidly growing number of UHD TV households.

“For years, Blu-ray Dischas 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, chair, BDA Promotions Committee. “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."

The completed Ultra HD Blu-ray specification addresses a range of factors, beyond simply increasing resolution, that will significantly enhance the home entertainment experience for consumers. In addition to delivering content in up-to 3840x2160 resolution, the Ultra HD Blu-ray format enables delivery of a significantly expanded color range and allows for the delivery of high dynamic range (HDR) and high frame rate content. Next-generation immersive, object-based sound formats will also be delivered via the Ultra HD Blu-ray specification. Additionally, with the optional digital bridge feature, the specification 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 specification also mandates all new Ultra HD Blu-ray players be capable of playing back current Blu-ray Discs, giving consumers access to the vast library of more than 10,000 titles currently available on Blu-ray Disc.

Licensing of Ultra HD Blu-ray is scheduled to begin this Summer. The BDA is working closely with industry leaders in the authoring, testing, certification and replication industries to develop the tools and process 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."

Given the above information it appears the consumer electronics manufacturers and movie studios may be able to meet the timetable announced at CES 2015, back in January, to have the first players and movie discs available to consumer later this year.

Editor's note:  Finally!  Projector fans its time to start thinking of 4K projectors.  With Blu-ray UHD players and content out in time for the holiday season, it's time to demand projector manufacturers get serious about rolling out 4K projectors.  Hopefully more than Sony will have true 4K projectors this year at CEDIA, and hopefully more companies making native 1080p projectors will bring out projectors enhanced to handle Ultra Blu-ray content!  -art

What Capabilities Can We Expect

Panasonic 4K Blu-ray Player

So far, only a single manufacture has shown a prototype Ultra-HD Blu-ray player.  This was Panasonic whose prototype player that was shown at CES 2015 is pictured above.  It is expected that Sony, LG and Samsung will likely also be among the first consumer electronics manufacturers to offer Ultra-HD Blu-ray players.  At least some, if not all, of these manufacturers are expected to have their first generation Ultra HD Blu-ray players on dealers shelves before the end of 2015.

Over the past year, there has been a lot of conflicting information offered on the web about what Blu-ray UHD will offer, or not offer.   I offer the following information in an attempt to clarify what we really expect to see with Ultra HD Blu-ray.  The following combines official information released by spokespersons from the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA), officially information derived from manufactures internal documents that have somehow been leaked and posted on the web, and some reading-between-the-lines for what the Ultra-HD Blu-ray capabilities will be.  In my previous blogs I have attempted to indicate that the status of what information I have provided.   While the Blu-ray Disc Assoication has just announced the specification is now complete, the contents of that spec. has not been made public, so we may need to wait  little longer before we learn the specific details.

It appears to me that a lot of the confusion and conflicting information found on the web about what the capabilities of Ultra-HD Blu-ray will be comes from a lack of understanding of what the specification of this next generation format will define.  While I have not seen the approved specification, an understanding how the current HD Blu-ray Disc is specified along with information taken with comments by spokespersons from the BDA about the Ultra-HD Blu-ray specification, helps to create what should be an accurate picture of the very high level provisions of this new specification.

First, the spec. will cover both the recorded media (the movie discs you will buy or rent) as well as the hardware that will play these discs.  For the UHD discs themselves there will be a baseline set of approved formats and capabilities and a given disc title must use one of these allowed formats.  There will be optional features that a given disc may also support if the studio elects to do so.

For the players, the spec. is expected to define a set of baseline, mandatory requirements that all players must satisfy as part of the license agreement.  This initial spec. is also expected to define certain optional features/capabilities that manufacturers may elect to implement in their players, or not.  Finally, this initial spec. is also expected to include certain extensibility provisions intended to allow future updates to the spec. to define enhance capabilities while retaining backward compatibility with first generation hardware and discs.

The Ultra-HD Blu-ray players will also be required to be backward compatible with HD Blu-ray discs and probably also DVDs.

Since this blog is focused on the UHD (sometimes called 4K) capabilities, I'm not going to discuss playback of the existing 1080p Blu-ray discs.  So what will the mandatory requirements be for the UHD capabilities of these new Ultra-HD Blu-ray players?   So far, we only have a partial answer to that questions.  The most reliable information we have comes from official BDA spokespersons and from leaked Panasonic (Japan)  and Sony documents.  From this info it appears rather certain that all Ultra HD Blu-ray players will be required to play UHD discs with the following characteristics:

Disc Capacity:   66 GB (dual layer) and 100 GB (3 layer)

Maximum Data Rate:  greater than 100 Mbps (probably 128 Mbps max. rate for a 100 GB disc)

Video coding:  HEVC (ITU-T H.265)

Video Bit Depth:  10-bits (per color)

Note:  use of bit depths greater than 10-bits may be option or perhaps accommoded in a future update to the spec. through an extensibility provision.

UHD Video format:  2160p/24Hz up to 2160p/60Hz

Chroma Sub-Sampling Scheme:    4:2:0

Note:  higher fidelity chroma sub-sampling schemes (i.e., 4:2:2, 4:4:4) may be accommoded in a future update to the spec. through an extensibility provision.

Color Gamut:  Multiple color spaces (color gamuts) will be supported and delivered within a ITU Rec. 2020 transport format.  Most likely Rec. 709 and DCI-P3 color spaces will specifically be identified and the player will be required to map from the color space used for the recording to the color space that can be supported by the connected UHD display.

High Dynamic Range (HDR):  Is a feature that the Ultra HD Blu-ray players must support and is a option for use on Ultra HD Blu-ray discs.  HDR can be implemented with one or two layers of information on the recording. The SMPTE sfor HDR (ST 2084 and ST 2086) is consider the first or basic data layer for HDR and will be a baseline requirement that all players must support.  There will also be a option for a second layer of HDR support and players may optionally support the DolbyVision HDR or the Philip HDR extensions for this second layer.  Individual movies released on Ultra HD Blu-ray discs may elect to support the HDR feature or not.  If a disc is released that supports, for example, the baseline HDR plus DolbyVision HDR extensions, then this disc will still be compatible even with those players that only support the baseline HDR layer, in which case the DolbyVision extensions would simply be ignored.

Interface:  All Ultra HD Blu-ray players will support HDMI 2.0a along with HDCP 2.2 copy protection and the connected UHD display, as well as any intermediate device (e.g, AVR), must also support these standards for their signal connections in order to the display the UHD video coming from the Ultra HD Blu-ray with all of the available features and performance.

Audio:  In addition of the standard stereo, 5.1 and 7.1 formats found on today's HD Blu-ray discs, Ultra HD Blu-ray will also support "next-generation immersive, object-based sound formats."

Digital Rights Management:  A new generation of digital rights management will be used for Ultra HD Blu-ray discs with the introduction of AACS 2.0, replacing AACS 1.x used on current Blu-ray discs.  AACS 2.0 comes in a basic and an enhanced version where the enhanced version allows the movie studio to require the Ultra HD Blu-ray player to obtain a security key via the internet the first time a given disc title is played on that player.  The player will then store this security key such that internet access will not be required for any future playing of that disc title on that player.  At this point there is no indication if any of the movie studios actually intend to use this feature on their future Ultra HD Blu-ray disc releases, but it they do, then that would mean the user's Ultra=HD Blu-ray player would need to be connected to internet the first time the disc is played, and that would be certain to raise an issue with some potential home theater owners.

Potential Future Enhancements:  It is believed that the Ultra HD Blu-ray specification, as well the ITU specification for the HEVC UHD encoding, used by Ultra HD Blu-ray, include extensibility provisions that are intended to allow certain potential future enhancements, such as support for 2160p resolution 3D video, to be added in a future version of the specification.  The goal would be to allow future players and discs to support these advanced capabilities while allowing such advanced future disc releases to still be playable on the first generation of Ultra HD Blu-ray players as well as allowing advanced future Ultra HD players to play all pervious and current generation Blu-ray discs.


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