Will 4K Blu-ray Die Before It Grows Up? Samsung Seems To Think So.
Stephan Jukic – February 20, 2019
Samsung has thrown in the towel on the Blu-ray player market, at least for the giant U.S market and if even all those hundreds of millions of potential customers weren’t enough to keep the giant brands interest in making more Blu-ray and 4K Blu-ray players, it doesn’t bode too well for their decision-making in other countries either.
This is what Samsung recently announced to both Forbes and CNET, stating that it was getting out of the business of making any existing Blu-ray players for the United States and it also seems that they will also stop introducing any new Blu-ray players of any kind anywhere else. The brand’s last Blu-ray player release happened back in 2017 and despite rumors of a new device finally coming out for 2019 after CES, the odd silence regarding such a device during the giant Las Vegas electronics event was a major clue that it wasn’t going to happen, as it turns out.
What Samsung hasn’t yet clarified to any media source are its reasons for making this decision but we’re suspecting more of a combination of whys. None of them might be strong enough to compel other electronics makers into making the same decision but this one key brand’s exit from this still modest market is still quite a blow, especially when it comes to 4K Blu-ray, which just recently came out of its infancy with only several hundred official release UHD Blu-ray titles available for sale worldwide.
For one thing, digital streaming editions are being given consistent priority over hard disc releases of 4K HDR movies. We even recently saw at least one movie studio decide to stop releasing 4K Blu-ray editions of its films completely in favor of their digital versions. Furthermore, it’s common to see major movie releases become available for purchase or rent online in UHD with HDR included weeks before their 4K Blu-ray versions can be bought anywhere. Then of course there’s pricing making things still more complicated for 4K Blu-ray adoption. The disc editions of any movies available in 4K HDR often cost more than their digital streamed versions and they’re also quite a bit pricier than the HD Blu-ray or DVD releases of these same films. For many consumers, this means simply ignoring 4K HDR Blu-ray, regardless of how good it’s claimed to be with the right player.
Then there are format problems to consider, mainly around the HDR features that are pretty much an obligatory part of any 4K Blu-ray player. Samsung never opted for supporting the Dolby Vision HDR standard in any of its devices and this includes their UHD HDR Blu-ray players. Instead, the company stuck to HDR10, which it helped develop. It would have presumably released its newest 4K BD player with the even better, newly developed HDR10+ format integrated into it but this would further complicate things for fans of UHD HDR Blu-ray discs who also want to enjoy the Dolby Vision versions of them. Movies are coming out now in 4K Blu-ray with HDR10+ included but it almost seems pointless for now with so few devices being able to play them back from a disc format (streamed HDR10+ content is an entirely different story since all newer Samsung 4K TVs support HDR10+ already).
Given these factors above, it’s not too surprising that 4K Blu-ray discs in the U.S accounted for only 5.3% of sales while even the aging DVD format still claims 57.9% according to the latest data from 2018. Those figures wouldn’t look too promising to Samsung either, whose existing 4K Blu-ray players have to compete with Sony, LG and Panasonic models while also failing to deliver complete HDR format support.
As for the 4K HDR Blu-ray format itself, it has been damaged by Samsung’s recent announcement but it’s not quite ready for the grave yet. The numbers of new ultra HD Blu-ray titles being released do keep increasing despite the very low market penetration mentioned above, and the 4K HDR disc format has its loyal share of followers. Most crucially of all, there are still several other major electronics brands that still make players for these discs.
One thing that’s also really worth mentioning in all this is just how genuinely good the 4K HDR Blu-ray format is. We think it absolutely deserves a longer future and more growth.
Why? For a few solid reasons: First, for delivering the best of ultra HD high dynamic range content, even high quality 4K HDR streaming doesn’t quite deliver the same sheer color and resolution quality as 4K Blu-ray, possibly due to content transmission and compression differences. Furthermore, millions of people have already bought a new 4K TV or are going to sooner or later but lack access to internet connectivity broad enough for ultra HD streaming (at least 25 consistent Mbps). For a number of these many, many owners, letting their TV simply upscale available SD and HD video sources isn’t going to be good enough and the 4K disc format fits perfectly as a solution. UHD Blu-rays are also a useful fix when it comes to limited regional content access. Unlike streamed releases of major movies, which can be unavailable in certain regions for all sorts of international licensing reasons, 4K Blu-ray discs are playable and deliverable world-wide.
Then finally, there’s the simple pleasure of truly owning your movies and other content, in a hard, concrete form that can’t be taken away because some media megacorp decides to randomly change its content policies and erase stuff you’ve actually bought from your DRM encased digital content library in your UHD TV. Think this couldn’t happen? Think again, and note that it’s not possible if you have a 4K Blu-ray edition of something.
Despite its benefits however, the 4K Blu-ray market might still never really take off seriously unless its ideal fan-base keeps buying more of the discs that do get released, and maybe Samsung has seen certain writing on the wall indicating this.