4K HDR Blu-ray in 2018: HDR10+ And Other Developments
Stephan Jukic – January 31, 2018
The 4K Blu-ray disc format has enjoyed some rather solid success since it first emerged for the consumer market in March of 2016. The combination of market timing that involved rising ultra HD TV sales, a dearth of broadly sourced 4K content options and easy accessibility for 4K Blu-ray discs themselves (partly due to a lack of the regional playback restrictions found in the older HD Blu-ray format) have all come together to make 4K Blu-ray disc releases into brisk sellers. Even Blu-ray Disc Association chairman Victor Matsuda was recently prompted to state that the format’s success has come as a “pleasant surprise” to many in his industry.
These were the words used by Matsuda in a conversation with the website HDTVTest during an interview at CES 2018 held in January of this year. During their conversation with the BD Association chief, numerous other interesting themes about the future of the format and its HDR prospects were also brought up.
Most importantly based on the HDTVTest report, UHD Blu-ray will also be getting support the recently unveiled HDR10+ high dynamic range format that has been developed through leadership by Samsung and other companies. This will be coming sooner or later in 2018. 4K Blu-ray already offers support for the widely used HDR10 format and some discs also come with Dolby Vision high dynamic range for the TVs that support it, but HDR10+ was until very recently a relative unknown in the high dynamic range format competition on the content and TV display market. The HDR10+ format was developed by Samsung and others to address deficiencies in HDR10 and thus more effectively compete with the superior Dolby Vision standard. It offers a cheap, open source and royalty-free method of integrating high dynamic range for color and contrast in 4K Blu-ray (or streaming media) content that it has been designated for consumer market release.
The older HDR10 standard has enjoyed wide popularity in both 4K content and 4K displays with HDR due to its ease of implementation and the low cost of adding it. HDR10+ will offer the same benefits but with the added bonus of superior visual specs for color/contrast in any content source or TV that adopts it. This will make it more of an effective competitor to Dolby Vision which, while better at HDR rendering, is also proprietary and thus expensive to use.
Matsuda and TV industry representatives are of course also hoping that HDR in a general sense gains more consumer familiarity in 2018. Findings by market research firm FutureSource have shown that while at least 75% of consumers on the U.S market know about 4K ultra HD resolution and TVs, only some 44% know about high dynamic range and what it means for digital video. To counter this lower level of familiarity, the BDA has started releasing videos that explain what HDR means on its own website and to major digital media platforms like YouTube.
Beyond HDR10, it’s cousin HDR10+ and the Dolby Vision HDR format (developed by Dolby Labs and now also supported by most brands of 4K UHD TV but few content sources) other high dynamic range standards also exist that aren’t quite as widely used yet. One of these is called Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) and it’s being implemented as a broadcast-fed source of HDR mastering for select sources of content. Developed by the BBC and Japan’s national broadcasting giant NHK, the HLG format is designed to be mastered into content that can then be easily sent via cable or broadcast television sources as well as over the internet. Many of the 4K HDR TVs released by almost all of the major brands in 2017 and into 2018 offer or will offer HLG support as well.
Other even lesser known HDR formats include the Philips Technicolor standard, developed by both Philips and (you guessed it) Technicolor. Also called the SL-HDR2 standard, Philips Technicolor is actually also supported by Blu-ray Disc but barely used by any content makers or supported by many 4K TVs so far.
In addition to surprisingly good and growing sales of 4K Blu-ray disc titles, 4K Blu-ray players themselves have been getting lots of traction as well in 2017. Sales of these devices have expanded 133% for this last year and the range of different models has expanded a lot, with many brands offering multiple different models and extremely well-known media devices like the Xbox One S and One X consoles coming with built-in 4K Blu-ray players of their own. This of course increases awareness of 4K Blu-ray and as a result, awareness of the HDR that goes into nearly all UHD Blu-ray discs.
Finally, going back to the core of all Blu-ray talk, the movies themselves, talks between Matsuda and HDTVTest covered the expanding selection of content offerings that’s making this format so popular and as a result feeding the release of even more movies in 4K UHD HDR Blu-ray. This self reinforcing cycle has led to a growth in the number of available titles from 110 at the end of 2016 to well over 250 by the end of 2017. This is a far cry from the sheer number of HD content options available to anyone today but by the standards of 4K UHD content, these 4K high dynamic range disc options cover a nice chunk of available entertainment, especially for people without access to streaming broadband internet powerful enough for 4K UHD streaming from sources like Netflix or Amazon Prime.
Also interesting is the quantity of 4K Blu-ray disc releases of older movies with new HDR and 4K formatting built into them. For one thing, these kinds of movies flesh out the overall selection of 4K Blu-ray titles available into something that can appeal to multiple tastes, not just fans of new release blockbuster titles. And secondly, that these films continue to be released moving into 2018 shows a wider purchase-justifying consumer demand for the quality of the 4K HDR BD format for old movies already seen on DVD or VHS.
Now almost all of the titles available via 4K UHD Blu-ray are also available through streaming media 4K content sources like Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Vudu, Hulu and numerous others. The selection of streaming UHD entertainment is if anything even bigger than what a person can get via 4K Blu-ray. However, where this physical media format still has room for growth is among consumers who either can’t get access to a fast enough internet connection for 4K streaming or whose geographical location limits their access to streaming content options due to DRM restrictions by studios.
In the U.S alone, nearly 75% of internet users don’t have the minimum 25Mbps connectivity speeds recommended by most streamed 4K content providers for smooth viewing, and on the DRM side of things, 4K Blu-ray discs are playable worldwide, with no regional encoding, allowing, for example, a Pakistani tourist on vacation in NYC to buy all the UHD BD movies they like without worries about enjoying them back home.
On a final note, based on what we’re hearing from the BDA chair about the future of the 4K Blu-ray format, there are going to be plenty of new and exciting developments in 2018. These discs aren’t going anywhere forgotten quite yet.
Story by 4k.com