BDA Interview: 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Update

"The launch of 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray has been beyond our expectations"

by Steve Withers Nov 7, 2016 at 9:30 AM

  • In this interview with Victor Matsuda, Vice President of the Blu-ray Disc Association, we talk about this year's launch of 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray.
    So perhaps we could start with a general update on Ultra HD Blu-ray?

    Well we didn’t have a press conference or anything this time because we don’t have anything new to announce to the world. This time it’s more of a catch-up but that being said, our objective here at IFA is to tell everyone that Ultra HD Blu-ray has launched very successfully, especially in the States. The launch has been beyond our expectations, so we’re really happy about that. The intent of this interview is a quick reminder of why the format is proving to be successful. That being said we have primarily started in the States, which is normal with anything that is Hollywood-centric, but in the case of Europe it will trend in a similar way but maybe a quarter or two afterwards.

    However looking beyond the first half of the year we see significant growth in 4K Ultra HD TV sales and the trends are very positive. 4K UHD TV shipments are expected to increase by more than 80% this year and another 40% in 2017. There are now 7 Ultra HD Blu-ray players on the market and one more on the way, along with over 70 titles available in the US. In fact although it seemed like an optimistic target at the beginning of the year, it looks like there really will be 100 titles available by December.
    In terms of numbers how does Ultra HD compare to the launch Full HD Blu-ray?

    Well in the US Ultra HD Blu-ray movies are selling at a rate that is ten times greater than Full HD Blu-ray at launch. We all had great expectations at the start of the year but if anything, quarter after quarter, the numbers have exceeded expectations. That’s mainly thanks to the success of 4K Ultra HD TVs and when you’ve got that kind of driver, there’s a very strong need for content to go along with those new displays. Ultra HD Blu-ray is happy to be a part of filling that content void.

    You mentioned seven players but I can only think of five.

    Well there’s the Panasonic UB900 and UB700, the Samsung K8500, the Philips player and three different models of the Xbox One S. There’s also the new player from Sony that is on display at the show and we’re expecting another announcement at CEDIA.

    (Note: Oppo announced their UDP-203 at CEDIA a few weeks later).

    I think the Xbox One S will be a great way of getting the format into people’s homes.

    Yes absolutely, it’s going to get Ultra HD Blu-ray into a lot more homes a lot quicker that we might otherwise have and it will place healthy competitive pressure on a lot of other brands. So that was a great announcement for us.

    Will we see greater disc support in Europe?

    Yes that’s certainly the intention of the studios but obviously it goes on a studio-by-studio and title-by-title basis. You probably know better than I do that a lot of times it’s just that there are practical issues in getting the discs out to non-USA markets. However the UK and Australia are always going to be the next two markets after the US because there are no language barriers. It’s funny but it’s usually the chicken and egg situation where normally the format is there and the hardware lags behind but this it’s the hardware guys are looking for more content. So we’ve got that great driver and in the major countries 4K Ultra HD TV sales are trending extremely positively and by 2020 we’re looking at half of the households in key markets having 4K displays.

    I think next year you’ll find it difficult to buy anything other than a 4K TV unless you’re looking at small screen sizes.

    I agree and it’s creating a very strong need for 4K content and as I said we’re happy to be filling that 4K content void. The two areas where the Blu-ray Disc Association is most actively involved is obviously the hardware and software but then you have these 4K digital services which we can co-exist with and the whole 4K thing just becomes the norm in people’s households. We realise that it’s more than just about packaged media but that being said, I think where we are with regards to the technical demands of 4K UHD, we’re in a great position to fill this need.

    I’m one of the people who’s need you are filling because my internet connection isn’t fast enough.

    Exactly and that’s what I was about to move on to. Although the information I have is very US-centric and I appreciate that the broadband coverage in the UK is better, there are still people like yourself who can’t currently enjoy the benefits of 4K streaming. In the US the average bandwidth is 15 megabits per second and to stream 4K Ultra HD with HDR, Netflix recommends a consistent download speed of at least 25 megabits per second. In the fastest US markets less than 30% of users enjoy speeds greater than 25 megabits per second and according to Netflix themselves, their fastest customers are only receiving streams at 3.6 megabits per second, which gives you an idea of the national average. So even the fastest cities in the US are nowhere near having the infrastructure they need to deliver a proper reliable experience with 4K HDR online services.

    From a software perspective, in terms of the Ultra HD Blu-ray launch the basic disc packages have come down to an Ultra HD Blu-ray for the ultimate experience in the home theatre environment and then for secondary rooms and for mobile there is also the Full HD Blu-ray included. So it used to be Blu-ray and DVD and now it’s becoming Ultra HD Blu-ray and Blu-ray and then for the more mobile requirements the studios are still offering some kind of digital version. It’s interesting that even in the automotive market Blu-ray is becoming the norm instead of DVD.
    It’s a good approach for another reason because even if you don’t currently have a 4K display, you can buy the Ultra HD Blu-ray and just watch the included Blu-ray until you upgrade.

    That’s true and in addition to that the attachment rate for Ultra HD Blu-ray is 8 to 1. So if you simply take the number of discs sold to date and divide that by the number of players sold to date that’s the ratio and going back to your point, the backwards compatibility is probably a factor in the higher than expected attachment rates.

    From the hardware perspective, we’ve always called ourselves the Swiss Army knife of devices and it continues to be case and even more so with 4K. So whether it’s packaged media or having access to the digital services, the Ultra HD Blu-ray player can provide everything you need. In terms of how we’ve been trying to promote all this, we’ve also tied in to the 10th anniversary of Blu-ray this year.

    I know I can’t believe Blu-ray is ten years old!

    Yeah it was 2006 that we saw the original hardware and titles come out and we’ve used that as one of the catchy themes to promote Ultra HD Blu-ray. We launched in the States in March and what we saw was a nice solid launch with plenty of investment, especially from the studios. Also the hardware wasn’t late to the party this time, which is the first time I’ve seen that. This was all combined with advertising and promotional events, so by mid-June the in-store presence had continued to grow. Ultra HD Blu-ray isn’t off in some corner, it is definitely a major product with extensive floorspace in retail stores.

    A lot of this was done by individual manufacturers or studios but what the BDA plans to do is to create collateral educational content for Ultra HD Blu-ray and we have
    an interactive website that takes key Ultra HD Blu-ray technologies and ties them in to consumer benefits. So things like increased resolution, High Dynamic Range, Wider Colour Gamuts and immersive audio. We’ve also have ‘sizzle’ reels using various trailers from the studios to help promote Ultra HD Blu-ray. Finally Ron Martin and Ron Sanders served as spokespeople for the BDA on a piece shown on various PBS channels in the States that served as a really nice promotion for the format. Since we own that piece we plan to use parts of it in our social media campaigns and also on our website.

    So we’ve had a really successful launch and the studios are really happy with what they’ve seen so far. We’re going to get more announcements on hardware soon and that’s only going to accelerate the penetration of the format and thus encourage the studios to launch more titles, which will get a really positive spiral going in the States, which will then be extended into other countries and markets next year.

    One final question, is there any news on whether Dolby Vision will be added to Ultra HD Blu-ray?

    Well it’s already part of the specs but like with Technicolor it’s entirely up to the studios whether or not they use it.

    Victor, thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

    My pleasure Steve.

    MORE: A Guide to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

    MORE: What is High Dynamic Range (HDR)?

    MORE: What is Dolby Vision?

    MORE: What is Wide Colour Gamut (WCG)?

    MORE: What is immersive audio?

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