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Why 4K Blu-ray has a shaky future in home entertainment

by on January 20, 2016
 

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.

Samsung's new 4K Blu-ray player is already available on pre-order

Samsung’s new 4K Blu-ray player is already available on pre-order

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

19 comments
 
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  • Frank
    January 21, 2016 at 5:05 am

    Content rules. When, and if, a big if, you can pickup UHD-HDR disks in an $8 bin at Walmart, you will know the tech really, really, has arrived. Having been burned by HD-DVD, I’ll wait and see what Netflix and Amaxon, love those folks, deliver.

    Reply

  • CosmoNut
    January 21, 2016 at 9:12 am

    I think that UHD-BD will do okay. As long as ISPs and content providers deliver content that looks like crap over a connection with crappy bandwidth, physical media will still have a place. The death knell for UHD-BD would be high bitrate content available on gigabit or greater to the home. We’re a LONG way off from ISPs embracing that business model … because profits.

    Reply

  • Sean
    January 21, 2016 at 3:08 pm

    A lot of the 4K UHD blu-rays announced for release are not legitimate 4K. I’m not even talking about DCI 4K (4096 x 2160p) vs UHD 4K (3840 x 2160p). A lot of these movies were either shot, conformed, or mastered in 2K or some other sub-4K resolution. In order for these movies to be legit 4K, you need to shoot them in a camera that’s 4K or above (like the Sony F65). I know there’s a debate about whether cameras like the Red cameras are considered true 4K or not, since it uses the bayer pattern (which means that it only captures 50% of the green, 25% of the blue, and 25% of the red, with the rest added in later after capture). Another way to get true 4K is by shooting in 35mm film and then scanned at 4K or above for the digital intermediate, like the facilities at FotoKem in Burbank, CA. Regardless, the footage will need to be conformed and mastered for DCI 4K. Again, a lot of these movies are using a sub-4K bottleneck at some point in the filmmaking chain of events.

    Reply

  • Bart Simpson
    January 22, 2016 at 11:18 pm

    Ultra HD Blu-ray (108Mbps) > Netflix’s 4K Ultra HD Stream (16Mbps)

    Streaming can’t come close to the quality that a physical disk provides.

    Reply

    • Stephen
      Stephen
      January 23, 2016 at 10:34 am

      Hello Bart… Yes this is true in many cases and it seems to often be the case that upscaled Full HD or Blu-ray content on a high quality 4K TV looks better even than streamed 4K video, at least in some cases. Likewise, native 4K content from a hard media source via HDMI connection looks much better than either upscaled Full HD or streamed 4K.

      Reply

      • Sam
        September 23, 2016 at 7:51 am

        Is bandwidth really an issue. On the old IBM CICS terminals, data was only transmitted what changed and not the whole screen. So, if a pixel/address/region hasn’t change in 1/2/60 seconds, there’s a whole lot of bandwidth not needed.

        Reply

        • Stephen
          Stephen
          September 27, 2016 at 7:49 am

          Hey there Sam. This is already the case with all 4K video compression technology like that used in the Blu-ray format and other 4K content display/transmission systems. H.265 and VP9 codecs both essentially practice what you describe by comparing different parts of a frame of video to find areas that are redundant in that frame and other frames. and then replacing them with a shorter descriptions instead of all original pixels. Even 4K cameras practice something very similar with pixel binning on 4K video.

          But even with these processes, the pixel density of 4K means lots of data, enough for bandwidth to be an issue in many situations.

          Reply

  • JV
    January 23, 2016 at 5:48 pm

    Inconvenient is wanting to watch a movie but you can’t because your streaming company doesn’t license it any more. The other problem with streaming is that even if your internet provider will give you a pipe fat enough to stream a 4K movie in real time the cost of streaming 3 or 4 movies will be greater than the cost of buying them on disk.

    Reply

  • David Hoffman 5
    January 24, 2016 at 5:35 pm

    No new problems. They happen every time a new recording medium arrives.

    Reply

  • MrSatyre
    January 24, 2016 at 5:46 pm

    Didn’t we hear all of these arguments about high quality audio (a.k.a. high resolution audio) vs. MP3? CDs cost too much. They pretty much killed the tape and vinyl markets overnight. It’s easier to download MP3s and they sound “good enough” (then why are hip hop artists like Kanye West purchasing online CD-quality subscription audio streaming sites like Tidal? why are expensive records and turntables now not simply a niche market anymore, and more and more labels releasing new titles on vinyl as well as digital?). And so on, and so on. Sure, physical media will one day go toes up once and for all, but that day is nowhere nearby when the state of our Internet infrastructure is so incredibly complex and widespread, creating unintentional but enormous speed bumps for any and all who want to improve it. People who are buying Premium 4K displays want premium media players to connect them to.

    Reply

  • Kris
    January 26, 2016 at 1:17 am

    Well, how could you say that with a practical average bitrate below 5Mbps (see Netflix Bitrates survey per country) 4K will be better on broadband network than via UHD Blu Ray discs (with a guarantee of 100 Mbps ! and no latency !) .

    The future viability of the UHD BD depends only on the number of the disc offer (movies).

    In this B2C business, majors are more important than manufacturers.

    (today, big blockbuster classics are still not present in BD : The Abyss, 20 000 Leagues Under the Sea , etc. and the major archives (if present) are provided by little(but good) distributors (Olive, Kino Lorber, etc.).)

    if you want to kill a format, print technical nonsenses and keep your movies in the cellar…

    Regards.

    Reply

  • Mark
    February 10, 2016 at 8:20 pm

    People like this still don’t understand that many people still prefer to have a hard copy of a film rather the BS of streaming something that can’t be stored for later use. For them it is a “disposable” world, while others treasure the “classics” enough to want to actually have them on a more-or-less lasting format. This guy sounds just like the people who believe books will disappear in favor of e-readers, which unlike hard copies are not susceptible to loss of power or accidental “deletion.”

    Reply

    • Stephen
      Stephen
      February 10, 2016 at 10:18 pm

      While I actually agree with your sentiment in many ways Mark, the fact is that comparing the book industry and its ebook variation to that of digital film/audio media isn’t entirely correct due to the different trends in each market. In literature, what you say is indeed largely correct. Physical books still perform very well in sales and their digital versions haven’t seriously dented the hard copy publishing industry. Furthermore, a paper novel or book of any kind can last for centuries if stored properly (unless chemical ingredients in certain types of paper destroy it from within).

      On the other hand, when it comes to video media and music, the actual, existing trend since the near demise of DVD in favor of streamed and downloaded materials has been one of hard video/audio media badly weakening in favor of purely digital media from streaming or download sources. This is what diminished sales of DVDs, of HD Blu-rays and will likely also be what prevents 4K Blu-ray from ever seriously developing once internet transfer capacity catches up to 4K enough for wide streaming to most homes. I myself love physical copies of both books and movies, as well as music, but the practical reality of at least film and music has been one of consumer preference for “disposable” non-physical sources whenever it becomes convenient and easy to access them.

      Reply

  • David Pullen
    February 14, 2016 at 3:45 am

    I would not worry too much, the internet connection for 90% of the world is no where near ready to stream 4k material, maybe in another 10 to 20 years that may be different, but then even 8k will be old hat. Most old 35 and 70 mil films have been digitised in 8k and so will easily transfer to 4k and most recent movies have been filmed in 4k digital, there is only a small collection of material that was mastered in the 2k format around 2000 like the star wars trilogy. And everybody appears to be on the 4k TV track at the moment, so just wait until they look at a proper 4k movie on a 70″+ screen, it will have much more of a 3d effect than those silly glasses. Most people making these adverse comments have not seen a proper 4k movie on a good quality screen. If you think moving up from a dvd to blu ray was a big step wait until you see this. The codec itself is amazing and the colour well that will blow your socks off because there is a lot more of it with the new format and that is the very reason it will look better than 3d because objects will start to appear very real to the eye.
    But all this will become very apparent when your very own eyes are subjected to this exciting new medium.
    Bring on the eye candy…

    Reply

  • Bob
    March 24, 2016 at 6:54 pm

    Those who put big bucks into awesome home theater systems aren’t going to settle for anything less than the best. That means 4K Blu-ray! While streaming has its place, it will always play “second fiddle” to 4K Blu-ray among true home theaterphiles. Nobody puts big bucks into a good home theater system to settle for second-best, second-rate, buffering, or pixelated material via the Internet. That means Blu-ray and 4K Blu-ray rule!! It isn’t just about a good 4K TV. It’s also about the audio experience. Blu-ray, in many cases, has far superior audio compared to its streamed counterparts. Streaming will only be popular among non-home theater owners. Owning the physical discs also have the undeniable advantage of being at your fingertips anytime you wish to watch a flick; regardless of whether your internet service is down or not! Many home theaterphiles who built extensive TV/movie collections during the days of Laserdisc, will always stick with the superiority of physical media. Today, this means 4K Blu-ray; Blu-ray all the way, baby!!

    Reply

    • James
      June 3, 2016 at 3:09 pm

      That needed to be said. Discs rule, not to mention that there are vast swaths of little to no broadband in America, and satellite internet is expensive. This fact is often left out of the conversation. Until broadband becomes cheap, omnipresent, and 100% reliable, which it isn’t, I’ll stick with discs until I die. Another thing too is with streaming, you never own a copy of the content. It can be taken away from you at any time.

      Reply

  • Sam
    September 23, 2016 at 7:54 am

    I think, if they want to make 4k bluray a success, you have PC makers include them as massive data backup burners.

    Reply

  • C. Malstrom
    January 26, 2017 at 6:06 pm

    Why would you pay extra for 4 K DVD players, 4.K TV’s & 4.K DVD,s if many of the merchandise is not truly 4.K? Seems like a lot of the information you are being given is not totally accurate. I was told by one honest salesman the truth about the misinformation being given by many sales people who are being told to follow their training, after all everyone knows nothing is going to be completely accurate for months & even years to come. Much of the research I have done holds this to be true. How can consumers know the real truth when so many people in the industry know there is much the average person is not being told. Is there any place to get the honest truth about this topic?

    Reply

  • Frank84
    July 20, 2018 at 2:56 pm

    For me and I imagine most other people, it’s a matter of price which will cause the 4K UHD format serious long term problems. I bought a decent budget 4K HDR in the Hisense H65M7000 – I know it’s decent because numerous review site have given it significant praise and I bought it brand new for only £850, that’s £400 cheaper than what is was going for at most other retailers and reviewed at. And I’ve spent money upgrading my 7.2 to a 7.2.4 (in-ceiling) set-up to get the benefits from Atmos. Now I’d like the actual films themselves to be a bit cheaper. The best deals as I type this are the 2 for £30 offers on Zavvi or HMV Online, or some unusual deals on eBay. While they’ve come down a little on price over the years, and £15 per film isn’t terrible, you have to spend at least £30 to achieve this and only on select movies. I know it’s still a relatively new format and that means higher prices, but come on film industry, throw us a bone stop pricing the consumer out of the format. How much money do these multi-million dollar/pound film companies think people have spare after upgrading their hardware to 4K TV/Blu-Ray player etcetera. Plus, as some other people have noted, they’re palming off movies shot in 4K or higher but have a finished 2KDI and packaging them as 4K UHD. Ironically, it usually the catalogue releases that are in native 4K UHD Blu-Ray. If these formats fail it’ll be entirely the producers of the products fault for not encouraging the consumer to buy with good product and reasonable prices. Diatribe over!

    Reply

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