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Ultra HD Blu-ray finalized, 4K discs headed to the home theater

Announced by the Blu-ray Disc Association earlier this morning, the specifications on Ultra HD Blu-ray discs have been completed. This means Blu-ray software and compatible Ultra HD hardware may start hitting store shelves as early at the holiday shopping season at the end of the year. Anyone that has already upgraded to an Ultra HD 4K television set will be able to use the new format to take advantage of native 3840 x 2160 resolution, frame rates potentially up to 60 frames per second, high dynamic range color as well as support for advanced audio formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.

Speaking about the upgraded format, BDA promotions committee chair and Sony Blu-ray group vice president Victor Matsuda saidFor 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. 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.”

UHD-BD-LogoAvailability of Ultra HD Blu-ray discs will likely be advantageous to early adopters of the new technology, specifically due to the limited availability of streaming 4K content on services like Netflix and YouTube as well as the bandwidth requirements needed to streaming in Ultra HD resolution.

Monthly bandwidth caps on volume of data streamed is also a glaring issue, mostly because file size of a typical 4K movie is roughly three to four times the 1080p version. Binge watching the an entire season of House of Cards, for instance, eats up at least 75GB of data, assuming Netflix is using the latest h.265 codec.

The announcement also mentioned a “digital bridge” feature on Ultra HD Blu-ray discs that will provide a method of movie ownership on mobile devices, much like Ultraviolet works on Blu-ray discs today. Regarding data capacity on the new Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, studios will be able to fill up 66GB of data on dual-layer discs and 100GB on triple-layer discs. Comparatively, the current Blu-ray discs offer 25GB of data on single layer discs and 50GB of data storage on dual-layer discs.

Consumers will have to upgrade to new hardware to play Ultra HD Blu-ray discs. However, those players will be backwards compatible and play older movie formats such as Blu-ray and DVD. Hypothetically, it’s possible that both Sony and Microsoft will release upgraded gaming console hardware to support the new format. The additional storage space on Ultra HD Blu-ray discs could be beneficial to gaming developers. When the Blu-ray format originally came out in 2006, adoption of the high resolution discs was impacted significantly by the adoption of the PlayStation 3.

It’s likely that announcements related to the first films released on Ultra HD Blu-ray will occur later in the year. Of course, the current gamut of summer blockbusters could be ideal content to showcase the new physical disc format. However, it’s up to each individual studio to release films on the new format.