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Blu-ray 4K Spec Not Expected Until Spring

LAS VEGAS – In what is becoming a message of uncanny consistency, 4K Ultra HD enthusiasts must hurry up and wait for any formal announcement concerning finished specifications for a next-generation Blu-ray Disc 4K standard.

That’s the latest to International CES attendees from Victor Matsuda, Blu-ray Disc Promotions Committee chairman, in TWICE’s annual Q&A interview on the status of the popular, though now aging, optical disc format.

The following are Matsuda’s recent answers to our questions before leaving for the mother of all technology trade events:

TWICE: What is the status on completion of the Blu-ray Disc 4K specifications and when can we expect to see the first such players and discs in the U.S. marketplace, and elsewhere?

Victor Matsuda: The specification writing and licensing is in process, with expected completion by spring/summer 2015 timeframe. As you know, manufacturers have their own product timelines, but based on how quickly companies have moved in the past, we would expect this will enable products to follow pretty quickly after licensing begins.

The BDA will not be showing anything [at International CES 2014], as the specification is being finalized at this time. However, it is our understanding that some member companies will be demonstrating next generation features such as High Dynamic Range, which are certainly an important part of the next generation Blu-ray Disc format.

TWICE: Do you expect the 4K spec will require new compatible A/V receivers, switchers, audio components, etc., for the best possible results?

Matsuda: Our focus thus far has been on completing the specification, ensuring that the next-generation format offers the best possible platform for 4K Ultra HD delivery. HDMI 2.0 and other standards are supported, which should make for easy connection between next generation players and 4K UHD TV’s. We have not yet looked across the range of receivers, but we would expect some will be capable of passing through the required signal while others may need to be firmware updated or replaced to optimize performance.

TWICE: Why will American consumers embrace another Blu-ray spec requiring new machines and software? Will new Blu-ray 4K discs offer any backward compatibility with older-generation players?

Matsuda: Quality and consistency. Just as Blu-ray set the standard for high-definition quality, we think the format will do the same for 4K UHD. Blu-ray Disc allows us to expand dynamic range, color gamut, frame rate and bit depth to deliver the best possible 4K UHD picture. Another important factor for consumers will be the consistency of the experience. There are still buffering issues and picture softening as a result of adaptive streaming due to inconsistent Internet download speeds.

Blu-ray is a self-contained ecosystem that is not reliant on the Internet for bandwidth for picture quality. Next-generation Blu-ray has a transfer rate of either 108 or 128Mbps depending on the disc. This is the transfer rate every time the disc is played, which means the experience is consistent throughout the entire film and from one viewing session to the next. This transfer rate is substantially higher than today’s internet speeds, which means Blu-ray is able to achieve much more in terms of consistently delivering the data necessary to significantly expand the dynamic range and color gamut of the picture.

With respect to backwards compatibility, it is expected that next-generation players will play back current Blu-ray Disc content, much like current Blu-ray Disc players play back DVD. Next-generation Blu-ray Discs will not play in current players. Additionally, new players, and even many of the TV’s can up-scale current Blu-ray Discs to render a consistent picture that looks great on 4K UHD TV’s

TWICE: Can you discuss plans for the first Blu-ray 4K movie titles that will be available? Which studios and which titles will be first, and how much discs are expected to cost?

Matsuda: That is a question for individual studios.

TWICE: Can you detail for us the additional features and characteristics you expect in the completed 4K specs?

Matsuda: From a resolution perspective, the specification calls for delivery of 3,840 by 2,160, which is commonly termed 4K or 4K Ultra HD. In terms of HDR, the human eye can discern a much broader range of brightness and shadow (contrast) than can be output by current digital signals or displayed by current televisions. Next-generation Blu-ray Disc will incorporate both a new kind of signal and a new way to deliver that signal to next generation televisions to significantly expand this range. The result is a picture that is much more akin to what the human eye would see in everyday environment and much closer to what the filmmaker saw when creating the film. Similarly, with respect to color gamut, the current HD ecosystem allows delivery of only about 35 percent of the color range that the human eye can discern. The expanded color gamut in next-generation Blu-ray discs enable the encoding and delivery of over 75 percent of the discernible color range.

TWICE: What will Blu-ray 4K mean to the growing Ultra HD TV movement? Why is this a better alternative than media streaming?

Matsuda: We believe Blu-ray Disc will take 4K to that “next level,” meaning that consumers will truly see what their 4K TVs are capable of doing, while viewing a next-generation Blu-ray disc. As the Blu-ray Disc Association has always said in the context of HD and especially now with 4K UHD, streaming and packaged media can and will coexist as they play different roles in the ecosystem. Streaming cannot match the quality, Internet-independent experience packaged media delivers. There are still buffering issues and picture softening as a result of adaptive streaming. With Blu-ray, the transfer speeds are many times greater, so the experience is consistent throughout the film and from one viewing session to the next. And what we’ll be able to achieve in terms of 4K with High Dynamic Range and wider color gamut are beyond what most of today’s residential bandwidth will permit.

TWICE: Some say the ship has sailed on disc-based media formats and the industry needs to move onto Cloud-based content-delivery systems. What’s you’re response to that?

Matsuda: We think there is room for Cloud-based content-delivery systems within the industry as well as Blu-ray Disc. As it stands right now, however, there are still bandwidth, connectivity, cost and quality limitations associated with Cloud-based content delivery, unlike Blu-ray Discs. The fact is many consumers buy packaged media both for the quality home entertainment experience, and to obtain the digital copy file that allows Cloud-based portability. The next generation Blu-ray Disc format will bring significant enhancements to both of those features.