4K Blu-rays are coming in spring 2015, should look sharper than streaming

blu-ray discs
For a long time now, the gradually growing collection of 4K content needed to fill out all those glorious pixels of 4K/UHD (Ultra High Definition) TVs has been promised to land in your living room from the Web. Netflix, Amazon, Sony, and a few other services have helped pioneer the compression of the massive 4K files to beam them to your TV. However, this week at IFA, the Blu-ray Disc Association (not surprisingly) had something to say about that.

Related: Everything you need to know about 4K/UHD

Speaking before a crowd at the electronics show in Berlin, representatives of the association claimed the creation of a new 4K Blu-ray disc is almost complete. According to a report by Cnet, the organization will debut its new Ultra High Definition discs for licensing in the spring or summer of 2015. That may sound like a ways off, but then again, there aren’t a whole lot of folks out there who have the gear to play them or display them on — yet.

Ultra HD TVs, often referred to as 4K TVs due to their resolution standard of roughly four times that of 1080p HD, are picking up steam, and are predicted to become the new standard in homes in as little as 10 years. Just as we now view standard definition CRT TVs as bulky paper weights, a UHD TV will eventually make your gorgeous HD TV look like a fuzzy mess.

But all those extra UHD pixels, 3,820 x 2,160 being the consumer standard, need accompanying content to make them sparkle. That means TV and movie studios have had to start shooting in 4K in order to entice users to buy the new hardware, and companies like Sony, Samsung, M-Go, and many others have all begun working together to bolster remastering of older collections of content, and pioneer new 4K productions for film and TV.

Related: Amazon set to begin streaming in 4K as early as October

Even with all those efforts, currently there are few ways for most viewers to actually watch 4K content. Apart from dedicated hard drives that connect via HDMI, the best way for early 4K/UHD adopters has been to stream the limited content available such as House of Cards, remasters of Breaking Bad, and a few nature films from Netflix. Sony is pushing around 200 4K titles, but its streaming service is essentially limited to Sony TVs.

The streaming model also comes with the inherent issues of Internet compression, including artifacts and gradients, especially present in darker scenes  — and that’s if you’re Internet speed can even keep up with the required bandwidth. Besides that, many 4K TVs can’t even accept the Netflix 4K streams, with only LG, Samsung, and Sony on board at present, and Panasonic knocking at the door.

A hard-copy format could ease, and even eliminate many of those issues. Blu-ray Disc Association Chairman Victor Matsuda promised that the new discs will not only provide better compression of 4K files for smoother imaging with less artifacts, but they will also showcase a more brilliant color gamut, as well as a higher dynamic range to showcase the richest blacks and the brightest whites. The color spectrum of the new discs is expected to be about twice what is offered now, which is more than even today’s latest UHD TVs can handle.

Like 4K streams, the new discs will transmit data at a lightning-fast rate of 60 frames per second, and using the top compression codec, HEVC, the organization can fit the files on the current 50GB capacity Blu-ray discs. And looking forward, the association plans to use larger capacity discs, which would allow even larger file sizes, and therefore, better resolution. “The roadmap says we have the capability to do that — to increment to 66GB or maybe 100GB. those things are under study,” said Ron Martin, VP of Panasonic’s Hollywood lab, and member of the Blu-ray Disc Association.

The new discs will need to be followed by new Blu-ray hardware, meaning users will have to buy one more piece of gear. There’s no doubt that some viewers will find the growing availability of 4K streaming options a much more enticing way to easily approach the content. Still, while the new project is still in development, the Blu-Ray Disc Association is a powerful consortium, with reps from some of the biggest names in the film industry, like Disney and Sony, gracing the board.

At least for now, it seems the world of little plastic discs still has a future.


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