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Blu-ray Disc Association: 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray On The Way

LAS VEGAS – Despite the rapidly accelerating popularity of video streaming, the Blu-ray Disc format continues to endure and evolve, and it will soon help lay the foundations for native Ultra HD viewing in the home.

That was the assessment of two ranking members of the multi-industry Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA), whose members recently approved plans to expand the specifications to include Ultra HD support, requiring greater disc capacity, new content protection, and potentially new connectivity solutions.

TWICE recently reached out to Andy Parsons, BDA spokesperson, and Victor Matsuda, the BDA’s global promotions committee chairman, for an update on where the Blu-ray format stands today and where it’s headed.

TWICE: How did Blu-ray Disc player sales fare in 2013, and what should we expect this year?

Parsons: According to Futuresource, the number of dedicated Blu-ray players in homes is projected to have increased by 23 percent over last year. This is remarkable considering how many options consumers have to consume content. Looking at total hardware, which includes dedicated Blu-ray players, PS3/4 and Xbox One, there’s been a 14 percent increase in sales over last year, and sales are projected to increase by another 14 percent next year. For the five largest markets in Europe, projections indicate an increase in sales of 9 percent for 2013 and 14 percent for 2014. Sales growth in Japan is projected at 6 percent for 2013.

TWICE: What will the introductions of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One mean for the format going forward?

Matsuda: Well, the population of Blu-ray-capable hardware will grow that much faster. We’re particularly happy to see Blu-ray playback added to the Xbox platform, and are hopeful this will introduce the format to a portion of that audience that might be experiencing it for the first time. In the U.S., by end of 2013, FutureSource projects that more than 5 million Blu-ray compatible game consoles will have been sold. Projections for 2014 sales of Bluray- compatible consoles in the U.S. are in excess of 8 million. In the five largest European markets, console sales are projected at over 5 million units in 2013 and almost 7.5 million units in 2014.

TWICE:What’s the status on the development of an Ultra HD spec for the Blu-ray Disc format?

Parsons: The BDA recently approved the addition of 4K/UHD to the Blu-ray Disc specifications, and the effort to get this done is moving forward in earnest. It’s too soon to know any of the details yet, as this all needs to be sorted out by the BDA technical groups. But we are excited to have a decision in hand, and are looking forward to sharing more news about it once the specification process has been completed.

TWICE: Does it look like this will be a fast process?

Matsuda: The technical group working on the specification includes representatives from the BDA’s board of director companies, so we have CE manufacturers and studios working side by side to complete the spec … As with the original specs, we need to make sure that we will deliver 4K/UHD performance that’s second to none, as this is what everyone will expect from Blu-ray.

This means not just looking at delivering the requisite number of pixels, but at the range of features that contribute to the overall consumer experience – factors such as high dynamic range, bit depth, color gamut, content protection and mobility and digital bridge opportunities that encourage content ownership and collection and enable flexible enjoyment of that content in mobile environments. We’re looking at the entire range and will be prepared to talk about those features as the specification approaches completion.

TWICE:Do you see Blu-ray providing a motivational driver for UHD adoption in the same way it did for HD, 1080p, 3D etc? How eager are the studios to get involved this go-round?

Matsuda: Absolutely. The very high data-storage and transfer-rate requirements of 4K/UHD – four times the spatial resolution of 1080p HDTV – means that optical discs will once again be the most practical way to move all that data around in a very convenient way. Blu-ray had a tremendous impact on HDTV adoption, and we think it will offer the same push for UHD adoption. Publishing formats like CD, DVD and Blu-ray represent long term, stable distribution media that I think consumers inherently trust, so a Blu-ray UHD format should provide a sense of security when investing in this new way to enjoy content in the home.

It’s hard for me to say how the studios feel about it at this point, but I would imagine they will become increasingly enthusiastic about another high-value way to showcase their products in the best possible way, and to offer something that comes ever closer to the theatrical experience in the home.

TWICE:How does the BDA see its role evolving in the UHD world?

Parsons: The Blu-ray format has evolved profoundly since we announced the original specs only eight years ago at CES 2006. We’ve added so much functionality, including BD-Live, Blu-ray 3D and, eventually, 4K/UHD. These are dramatic changes that have required a lot of ongoing collaboration by all of the 100-plus companies in the BDA, including spec development – a huge task – and promotion of the new capabilities as we achieve them. I’ve participated in the launch of several optical formats over the past 30 years, beginning with LaserDisc, and I’ve never seen one that has added so much functionality in such a short time period. I think the BDA will continue to be very busy for the foreseeable future.