Supporters of the Ultra HD Blu-ray format say they’re not feeling blue at all. The format made substantial progress since its March 2016 retail launch, driven by thriving sales of Ultra HD 4K TV sales, a growing selection of players and discs, wider distribution, and the greater reliability of a physical 4K format over 4K streaming, the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) contends.
In a status report on the format, the association forecasts further gains next year when it expects more hardware companies to enter the market, thanks to more widely available signal-processing chipsets that CE suppliers can use in lieu of creating their own chipsets.
New promotional efforts from the BDA will also help further drive up awareness and sales, as will a PBS special on the format, the group said during a briefing in New York City.
The BDA’s efforts include the association’s first 4K Blu-ray education brochure for retail distribution. The 6- to 8-page brochure will be available later this year and focus on 4K, HDR, wide color gamut, and immersive audio.
The BDA is also creating a 4K HDR “sizzle reel” for 4K Blu-ray demos in stores and at trade shows. It’s expected to be available before CES and will feature 4K HDR movie clips from the six studios supporting the format. The BDA currently offers a 4K sizzle reel without HDR and only for web-based use.
In addition, the association will revamp its web site, www.bluraydisc.com, by CES to highlight Ultra HD Blu-ray and to add 30-second clips from a PBS “Next Home” episode examining the fledgling format. The episode has already aired on PBS stations in 20 markets, and hundreds of PBS affiliates could run it, BDA said.
The clips will also appear front and center in a revamped social-media campaign that will include more 4K Blu-ray promotion.
Sales Hit $25M; 90 Titles Available
Hardware sales are exceeding expectations, the BDA said, with Futuresource forecasting 700,000 unit sales in the U.S. in 2016, excluding Xbox game consoles launched recently with 4K disc playback. U.S. sales will account for 44 percent of global demand in 2016, Futuresource said. The research company told CE Pro that it raised its 2016 forecast based on first-half sales.
Players starting at $249 are available through Amazon, B&H, Best Buy, Crutchfield, Kmart, Newegg, Sears, Target, Video and Audio Center, and others. Six players are available in the U.S., including three Microsoft Xbox One S SKUs and one player each from Samsung, Philips, and Panasonic, with Sony’s first model due in the spring.
With new players coming in, supply has caught up with demand, says Dan Schinasi, Samsung product planning director and chairman of the Blu-ray Disc Association’s U.S. promotions committee.
Discs are available in the U.S. from six of the seven major studios: Fox, Lionsgate, Paramount, Sony, Universal, and Warner. Almost 90 titles were available in the U.S. as of Oct. 2 on the way to more than 100 by year’s end, as promised by studios during January’s CES.
All told, U.S. consumers have spent about $25 million to buy discs so far this year through mid-October, the BDA notes.
Disc Performance Includes HDR, Object-Based Audio
All discs available so far feature HDR, and about two thirds feature immersive object-based audio soundtracks that deliver overhead height channels, the association said.
All of the titles to date deliver P3 color gamut with HDR levels of 1,000 nits and up, in some cases up to 5,000 nits, though that performance might be available in just one frame in one small highlight, Schinasi noted.
A “significant number” of discs from Fox, Paramount, Warner and Universal bear the Ultra HD Premium logo, developed by the UHD Alliance to denote the performance standards with which the discs were mastered, Schinasi notes. Discs without the UHD-A logo, however, might still meet the criteria, the alliance said.
Samsung and Panasonic offer players certified by the UHD Alliance.
Gains Despite Streaming
A major contributor to growth is the format’s reliability, Schinasi contended. Compared to 4K streaming services with HDR, the Ultra HD Blu-ray physical format “is a reliable delivery format. It just works,” he says.
Internet backbone company Akamai estimates that average bandwidth to broadband-equipped U.S. homes is 15Mbps, which is “barely sufficient for quality HD streaming,” Schinasi continues. Netflix recommends consistent minimum streaming speeds of at least 25Mbps to stream 4K with HDR, he noted.
Player pricing has also helped propel sales, with players already priced at retail as low as $249, whereas the HD Blu-ray format launched with players starting at $1,000.
The swift growth of 4K TVs is also incentivizing consumers to see out native 4K content, the BDA said. The U.S. household penetration rate of UHD 4K TVs expected to hit 50 percent in 2020, a Strategy Analytics forecast shows.