Why 4K Blu-ray has a shaky future in home entertainment
Stephan Jukic – January 20, 2016
On the whole, 4K Blu-ray discs represent an interesting and superb new entry into the ultra HD content marketplace. This can’t be denied; for potentially millions of movie and 4K video fans who want access to native content but don’t like the tedium of waiting for a gigantic 4K VOD movie to download to a set-top box and even more importantly don’t have access to the kinds of internet speeds which are necessary for streaming 4K content from sources like Netflix and Amazon among others (about 15 to 20Mbps at a minimum), 4K Blu-ray is one very impressive new technology.
Not only is the quality of the 4K video on these new discs even better than that of most streamed 4K content, it also by default comes with HDR enhancements and other extras for superior color and audio, as long as your particular 4K TV is capable of rendering or displaying of these technologies. Furthermore, 4K Blu-ray discs are in certain ways more flexible than their streaming content counterparts. For example, if your internet goes on the frtiz but you’ve got a hankering for “The Martian” in beautiful HDR-laced 4K resolution on your Samsung JS8500 4K HDR TV, no problem with Blu-ray. Just pop the disc in and you’re good to go. Likewise for setting up a heavy duty vacation home entertainment system in some more remote country regions with weak internet. 4K Blu-ray player and 4K TV in place, connectivity isn’t a problem.
However, aside from these cool benefits of Blu-ray, plenty of problems also present themselves, and these may eventually mean the demise or at least the deep weakening of the media in the near future, just as was the case with HD Blu-ray and DVD before that.
On this other side of the fence, we can first start with pricing problems: 4K Blu-ray players, at least the three which have so far been announced for mass market release in the upcoming months from Philips, Panasonic and Samsung, are all expensive. With average prices of around 400, every one of the players currently on the way adds a hefty extra layer of spending on top of the already none-too cheap 4K UHD TV you own and the price of 4K Blu-ray discs themselves, which are already out on pre-order for prices of just below or just above $30.
While these prices will almost certainly fall across the board in the long run, for now they’re something a lot of consumers will definitely think twice about and especially those 4K TV owners who do have internet with enough speed for UHD streaming. Why spend $400 to $500 (if you throw in at least three 4K Blu-ray discs) on a new media source if your TV’s or set-top boxes streaming 4K media apps will let you watch the same movies and more for just a few bucks a month and even throw high dynamic range into the bargain for little or no extra cost (assuming your TV is built to handle it)?
Then there’s the simple but even more dangerous obsolescence problem. Yes, the new 4K Blu-ray players are marvels of home entertainment technology, but even with all their superb specs, they’re only as good as a perceived consumer need for them allows. Once average internet speeds connectivity catch up with the needs of 4K data streams or new compression techniques are developed to crunch 4K video down even further, 4K Blu-ray suddenly becomes little more than a luxury for a whole bunch of consumers.
Many of these factors were definitely a major factor in the demise of HD Blu-ray and DVDs in particular, and there’s nothing that protects 4K Blu-ray from the same eventual fate.
Finally, we have the content availability issue to deal with. While several studios have now proclaimed their imminent releases of UHD Blu-ray disc movies in the next few weeks or months, the same films will be coming to streaming sources just as quickly or possibly quicker. Unless other providers of entertainment content step up and broadly expand the potential richness of the Blu-ray content experience in 4K, the format will only lose attractiveness to consumers and electronics makers alike, potentially creating a sort of self-reinforcing cycle of decline which mostly kills this new media very soon.
For now, Blu-ray in 4K has promise. This we don’t deny. We also can’t deny that these new discs and their players provide a truly fantastic home entertainment experience, one which in fact even beats conventional 4K streaming in many visual and sound-related ways. However, convenience is what rules the roost in home entertainment and no amount of HDR or color enhancement will overcome that
Story by 4k.com