An Ultra HD Blu-ray Q&A!

It’s time to throw your Blu-ray collection in the trash! That junk is old hat. There’s a new video format coming out really soon that’ll be everything Blu-ray is and more. More pixels! More colors! More expensive! Before you buy, you may have some questions about Ultra HD Blu-ray. Let’s see if we can find you some answers.

I would like to say that I’ve had the honor of interviewing representatives from the esteemed Blu-ray Disc Association to provide the latest and most accurate information available on the subject. Unfortunately, I can’t say that, because I haven’t. That would require me to call someone, and ask insightful questions, and transcribe what they say. Ugh, what a lot of work. I need a nap just thinking about it.

Instead, I’ve read this interview recently conducted by The Digital Bits, and found it to be hilariously evasive and non-committal very informative.

Now, I could just send you over there to read the whole thing, but that doesn’t seem like much fun. I’d rather condense the basic gist of what was said there into pithy soundbytes, smash it together with other information gleaned in similar articles, and distill what I think is frankly a more honest summary of the situation.

To be clear, absolutely nothing I’ve written below is an actual quote said by anyone. But I think if you read the real interviews and then come back here to look at this again, you’ll find that what I’ve done is read between the lines a little and cut to the chase.

Are you ready? Let’s begin!

The Qs and the As

Big things are happening! Ultra HD Blu-ray is right around the corner!

When will UHD Blu-ray players be available?

We don’t know. You’ll have to ask the manufacturers.

When will the first UHD Blu-ray discs be released?

We don’t know. You’ll have to ask the studios.

Are any movie titles confirmed to be in the works for the launch?

No idea.

But you expect this product to be available within the next five months?

Maybe!

What features will UHD Blu-ray players have?

Really not sure. Could be anything, honestly. We’re making a couple features standard and lots of others optional.

Is High Dynamic Range one of those features?

Yes! Ultra HD Blu-ray will have one mandatory HDR specification and two optional HDR specifications.

Warner Bros. has mentioned something about remastering a bunch of its movies into Dolby Vision HDR. Is that one of the UHD standards?

Yes, it’s one of the optional specifications.

So a UHD Blu-ray player might support that, but isn’t required to?

That’s right.

Will first generation UHD Blu-ray players support Dolby Vision?

You’re gonna have to ask the manufacturers that.

Does it look like the industry is leaning toward one of the HDR standards over the others?

No clue.

Will UHD Blu-ray support 3D, which is currently a standard feature on most regular Blu-ray players?

No, absolutely not. Anyone who likes 3D can go crawl in a hole and die for all we care.

Will UHD Blu-ray players be backwards compatible with regular Blu-ray or DVD?

Umm… probably? We can’t guarantee that. That’s up to the manufacturers.

What does UHD Blu-ray offer that regular Blu-ray doesn’t?

More pixels and a wider color gamut!

Do those extra pixels make a visible difference that’s discernible to the human eye?

What do we look like here, optometrists? How do we know what you can see?

But just, in general, does it make a difference that people notice?

Of course it does. If you have a 4k source, and play it back on a 4k screen that’s at least 150″, and you sit about six inches from that screen, you should be able to see the whiskers on a cat in the background of a scene better. But only so long as it stands still. When things are in motion, that extra clarity goes away.

What about the extra colors?

Those? No, definitely not. They’re outside the range of your vision.

Are most of today’s digitally-photographed movies shot at 4k?

No, they’re mostly 2k.

What about those movies still shot on 35mm film? They have a Digital Intermediate, right? What resolution is that?

It could be 4k!

It could be? Is that really what most movies use?

No, it’s mostly still 2k.

What about older movies shot on film? Could those be scanned and remastered at 4k?

Sure! So long as they weren’t made using a 2k Digital Intermediate, which almost all movies made over the last 15 years were.

But movies older than that, before Digital Intermediates, those should be good to go?

Absolutely. Unless they had any digital visual effects, because those would be 2k or less as well.

All right, so we’re looking at movies more than 15-years-old that have no digital visual effects. Those are good candidates for 4k remastering?

You bet! Especially if they were shot on 65mm film!

How many movies were shot on 65mm film?

Like, maybe a handful?

For all that, do you anticipate seeing a lot of catalog titles released on UHD Blu-ray?

Is that supposed to be a joke? Nobody buys catalog titles on Blu-ray now. You really expect studios to spend the money to master and release discs that will only sell a couple dozen copies? Don’t make us laugh.

It sounds like UHD Blu-ray will have to mostly focus on newer movies shot in 4k. Something like Avatar, then?

Unfortunately, that movie was shot in 2k.

Really? That surprises me. How about Gravity?

Also 2k.

The Avengers?

2k.

I meant Avengers: Age of Ultron, the one that just came out this summer.

That one was shot with 4k cameras! Unfortunately, it was reduced to 2k for the Digital Intermediate.

Jurassic World, this summer’s biggest box office hit?

Shot on 35mm with a 2k DI.

I heard that the Hobbit trilogy was shot in 5k.

They were! All three movies!

With a 2k DI?

Yes…

The Hobbit movies were also shot in High Frame Rate format, which regular Blu-ray doesn’t support. Can UHD Blu-ray do that?

Maybe.

Maybe? That doesn’t sound very confident.

Well… It’s theoretically possible.

But not required that UHD Blu-ray players support it.

No.

Let’s change track here. I understand that I’ll need to connect a UHD Blu-ray player to a UHD television, but can I still use my existing HDMI cables, A/V receiver, video processor or other equipment in the signal chain?

Not a chance. You need to throw out all that junk and replace everything top to bottom.

Will a UHD Blu-ray player be compatible with the “4k” television I just bought a month ago?

Probably not. Those TVs were released before we finalized any standards.

Will new TVs going forward be compatible with UHD Blu-ray?

Fingers crossed!

Back in 2006, the Blu-ray format had a rough launch. Early Blu-ray players were overpriced compared to the competition. Critical features weren’t finalized and wouldn’t be ready for a product generation or two. Early software release were very poor quality.

Where are you going with this?

Did you learn any lessons from that experience that will help this one go smoother?

Can I take that as a “No comment”?

Ask another question.

With everything you’ve just told us in mind, why does a consumer need Ultra HD Blu-ray?

OK, is that one a “No comment”?

No comment.

Will You Buy an UltraHD Blu-ray Player?

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43 comments

  1. Chris B

    “…anyone who like 3D can go crawl in a hole and die for all we care” hahaha. So I’m getting the distinct impression that you’re less than excited about this new-fangled UHD format Josh…is it really looking this bleak?

  2. NJScorpio

    Many of the Blu-ray Criterion title restorations mention new scans done at 2k and mostly 4k…so they have the files ready to be dropped onto these new UltraHD titles. So look forward to rebuying Seven Samurai! (Again!)

  3. Bill

    Priceless Josh. You’ve certainly taken the mystery out of Ultra HD discs which to me sounds more like an new super toothpaste than a video format.

    Seriously. When I read that interview at The Bits I felt much as you obviously do. This new format is a sales gimmick much like 3D. It will develop a niche market of early adopters and “must-have-the latest” types but it is going to be one hard sell even to most home theatre enthusiasts never mind Joe Six Pack and the general public.

    Thank you for my laugh of the week!

  4. Mike H

    Here we go. Oh boy…I have been doing this since VHS and Laserdisc. ANOTHER format! Can’t wait to buy Ghostbusters for the 10th time! Well, heck. Get me a good UHD player around $500 and a good 4k projector around $2000 after the bugs have been worked out and the technology has stuck with consumers and stayed in the market and sure I’ll bite. I am just about to do a major upgrade to DTS:X and Dolby Atmos in my theater….that’s plenty new tech for a while. Let’s see how the cards fall with UHD.

  5. I read that same article and remember how frustrating the 3D questions were. No matter how he worded it, the answer was, “we have no plans for 3D.”
    I think the technology is fascinating and love the idea of it, but a lot of the retailers I visit are cutting down the bluray sections. My local Best Buy just did it a few months ago and now my local Super Target just did the same. I find it hard to believe its to make room for the new shiny UHD blurays. Even Moviestop/Hastings is stocking less and less titles. I just don’t see the average consumer being very interested in this. I still know a good amount of people that just jumped on the bluray bandwagon!

    • Bill

      And I know many who have not yet done even that. They may have bought a new flat screen HDTV not because of HD but because they wanted a widescreen picture or simply because they had no choice. They have no interest in BD, hi-def streaming or even hooking up a hi-def source such as HD cable, HD satellite or HD OTA. In short they’re perfectly happy with SD and DVD and may still have (secretly) a VHS recorder still in working order. Now that they have their HDTV they expect it to last a good decade before being replaced. It amazes me that the manufacturers really think there’s a huge market out there who can’t wait for Ultra HD/4K. IT DOES NOT EXIST.

      • I make this comment quite regularly when I see how a store like Walmart keeps EXPANDING their Dvd section while REDUCING the Blu Ray section. You got these cheeseheads buying new 4K tvs and enjoying their $19.99 Memorex brand dvd player hooked up to it.

        • Frank

          And then you have the cheeseheads who keep buying every new format that comes out. My favorite type of cheesehead is the one who buys blu rays for the cardboard slipcase or steelbook. Those sure are impressive sitting on the shelve. I often wonder how you “hi-def” clowns survived through 50+ years of standard definition and mono/stereo sound.

          • Chris B

            I won’t buy a release just because it has a slipcover or a steelbook, but if a new movie comes out and it’s a choice between buying the standard blu-ray or paying a few dollars more for a limited edition steelbook with much more attractive artwork (like The Winter Soldier for example I’m willing to spend a little bit more. I won’t however, go back and buy older movies I already own as steelbooks just because the studio is trying to ream more money out of consumers.

          • William Henley

            I’m with Chris – I love steelbooks, but I won’t double-dip if I already own the movie – unless its a new transfer or something (which I think I have seen twice)

      • Mike H

        Very well put. I was at a friend of my Mom’s a short while ago and I couldn’t help but notice under the 19 inch tube TV was a DVD/VCR combo. She was completely content with her setup. Oh yes, and she didn’t have a cell phone either and was just fine. Some people just do not and will not care about tech progress as long as what they have works for them.

        • EM

          Newer tech isn’t necessarily better, as Josh’s satire points out. Color movies aren’t inherently better than black-and-white (I happen to like some of both). 3D movies aren’t inherently better than 2D (I happen to like some of both). Sound movies aren’t inherently better than silent (I happen to like some of both).

          The example of cell phones is another instance of “progress” that isn’t always. Yesterday I reached a friend too late to make lunch plans. When she asked me if I’d tried calling her cell, I replied that I’d never found doing so to be particularly effective. It seems there’s always a problem with her cell phone—it’s not charged, it has a poor signal or none, she doesn’t have it, or the ringer’s off. I’ve never bothered to have one myself, and I think my life works better without the inconveniences a cell phone brings.

          But even a cell phone would have some advantages amid its gross inadequacies. UHDBD is a solution that’s not even bothering to search for a problem.

    • William Henley

      Interesting – most of my local stores are EXPANDING their Blu-Ray selections. In fact, I am amazed now to see Blu-Rays for sale at grocery stores and gas stations. Stores like Wal-Mart are cutting back on their DVDs to add more Blu-Rays. Best Buy’s Blu-Ray selection grew a few years ago, and has been steadily the same size every since. Fry’s Electronics has greatly increased their Blu-Ray selection.

      I guess it depends on your local market.

  6. Ludites and haters. Same commentary when Blu Ray was coming out. Same commentary when DVDs where coming out.

    The real difference this time is ubiquitous streaming option that is mixing it up. The TV manufacturers are forcing the 4k adoption and is much easier to adopt than 3D. With 4k TVs you don’t need special glasses or media to use them.

    I am still amazed at the passive 3d on 4k TVs, yet it is hardly ever discussed. 3d will always be niche if you need special equipment in addition to your TV.

    • Adam Tyner

      I disagree. And geez, Josh bought into HD DVD on day one, he’s been deeply invested in Blu-ray from pretty early on, and the guy has a constant image height projection rig. He’s about as far from a Luddite (two “D”s, by the way) as it gets.

      I actually am interested in Ultra HD Blu-ray, but it’s beyond my comprehension how anyone can look at a format with such muddled specifications, zero announced support on a hardware or software level, and a launch date supposedly just a couple months away and think “yeah, they nailed it”. It’s a mess.

  7. Joao Lima

    Although the vast majority of my friends do appreciate movies and TV shows, to a point that these are the most frequent subject in lunches and other chats, the truth is:
    a) none of them (neither me) rents physical media anymore.
    b) I am the only one who buys physical media (either DVD or blu-ray), and even so, sporadically.
    If on top of that you add that those UHD discs must be more expensive than regular blu-rays (maybe $50 MSRP?)… 🙁
    I hope that at least the launch of UHD discs may make regular BDs cheaper.

    • Correct. I think the last ‘new’ format was Blu-ray Audio. Those discs were priced $20-$30, and they didn’t fly off the shelves. In fact, one local store just threw all of them in the bargain bin, so I picked up ‘Let It Bleed’, ‘In Utero’ and ‘Exile On Main Street’ for just $10/piece. Nice!

  8. Don’t believe half the stuff you’re going to hear about this new format. Bottom line is all you’ll be getting is a better picture and (possibly) better audio. As for all the other bells and whistles, the studios just aren’t going to invest in those, as we’ve seen on Blu-ray releases…things like picture-in-picture commentaries and BD Live events (you know, like actual LIVE events, not bonus trailers, which is what BD Live has mostly been used for) were explored the first year or two of the format, but have all but been abandoned. Other than the HD picture and sound, Blu-ray releases are pretty much identical to DVD releases in terms of content, which is a shame, because the format could have been so much more (and it’s one of the reasons it never ‘really’ caught on and is dying a slow death).

    • It disappoints me every time I think about what Blu Ray offers today from a technology point of view but the studios don’t take advantage of at all. When DVD and BD where new they would experiment with cool features like switching angles in scenes or audio tracks while watching the movie (Seven) or pulling up a Google Map in screen depicting where scenes where taking place (Aces), but eventually they settled on the status quo and we get the same thing over and over.

      Too often they kill endless possibilities into gimmicky features that don’t stick around. I wonder what cool ideas from the real creative folks at these companies think of that hit the cutting room floor.

      Imagine how cool a CLOVERFIELD would be if you could switch to any characters perspective or camera through out the film. What if I could just watch through the CCTV cameras throughout the city??? What? That would be so cool. What if I could change the perspective of where I am sitting in the audience during a concert film. What if I could experience it from any one of the band member perspectives. There are some rare discs that do have these features and often they even dump these cool features upon release or never advertise them.

      • Josh Zyber
        Author

        What you’re describing would require the filmmakers to shoot the entire movie from multiple viewpoints, which would cause an exponential increase in production time and budget. Then the disc authors would have to encode all of that footage on the disc. So if you want to watch a movie from any of six different viewpoints, they basically have to encode six whole movies onto the same disc.

        • Chris B

          Maybe they could do something on a smaller scale? Like during the big action sequences in the film there’s a branching option that allows you to view it from a few different characters’ viewpoints?

    • Bill

      And don’t forget that the better picture requires a screen bigger than most people currently have in order to be fully appreciated. That fact is being ignored by the manufacturers who are offering Ultra HD on even their 30-40 inch sets where it can’t possibly have any objective positive value. Heck it is even being touted for a few smartphones. P.T. Barnum would be pleased with the snake oil being sold today in the Home Theatre market.

  9. I like all the cool bonus features that new tecnnology offers, but I would be more than happy with a stellar visual and aural presentation of the movie.

  10. AA

    What if this is all a covert ploy by the studios to get more people back in to the the theatres? They know Blu-ray is dying so why not release something that will die even slower.. Home theaters will max out and theaters will offer the best visual and audio experience again.. ? Forget poor 3D, and anything else that takes away from the movie, this may be about the best technology to offer the best storytelling experience. I still like my SUPERBIT DVDs!

    • Mike H

      After seeing a disappointing presentation of Ant Man at my local theater that touted a 4k projection that was out of focus the whole movie as well as the surround poorly balanced and front loaded I have little faith that movie theaters will be the “go to” place for the best movie experience. I dunno, maybe I have become a home theater snob but things look and sound better at home.

      • AA

        Good points all around. Yes, an Oppo Darbee blu ray player + 65″ plasma and surround sound at home makes my wife and I second guess paying movie theater prices now. Once we go projector and 4k, then it’s pretty much a done deal.

      • Chris B

        I agree with you, the sound at my local Ciniplex is dogshit. All highs and mids that sound ear-piercing and tinny, while the bass is virtually non-existant. Plus the projector always looks soft and out of focus…I mostly just stay home now.

  11. Bill

    Just thought of a question that wasn’t asked in that interview. Will Ultra HD BDs have a stop and resume feature like our VHS tapes and DVDs both had but BDs did not? It is true that most new BDs have introduced a kind of resume but the methods to achieve this are not standardised. Each studio goes about it in a slightly different way some of which work better than others. I and I’m sure many others hope that Ultra BDs will correct this design omission once and for all.

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      I would tend to doubt it. If UHD Blu-ray uses any form of BD-Java, it will probably have the same issues with the resume-play feature. While that hasn’t been confirmed yet, I just don’t have any faith that the powers-that-be have given the slightest thought to this being an issue they care about.

  12. Maybe it a blessing in disguise. Being able to sit closer to the tv will require a much smaller space. I can turn one of my tiny 10 by 10 bedrooms upstairs into my man cave with an 84 inch UHD tv in it. I’ll be watching my movies standing up! 🙂

  13. C.C.

    This will fail big time. The jump from 480 to 1080 is very discernable to the average viewer.
    The jump from HD to UHD is not the same dramatic change. They (the average viewer) will not see the difference. As an audio engineer, people always asked me- “will THX cables make everything sound better?” And my answer was always the same. “Yes. If you can hear the same aural spectrum as a dog.”
    This is not a HUGE deal. OLED will be. This is a placeholder between 1080p and OLED. anyone who buys it is a sucker. Try being the salesman who tries to sell you that TV and has to admit there is basically ZERO content for it!!

  14. I’d love to say I’m looking forward to 4k and UHD Blu-Ray but I cannot. I mean, yeah it looks nice but you have too many things not set yet. The HDMI specification for example. A lot of people have probably purchased 4k sets that still have HDMI 1.4 and not 2.0. Then you have the expense of Receivers with Atmos and DTS:X decoding. Once prices settle and UHD Blu-Ray has some standards then maybe. That is unless OLED comes way down. Things right now aren’t ready for 4k. If this new Blu-Ray format is the oinly real way to view 4k content it’s totally a waste for me to invest in a 4k TV. Especially when many 4k sets have pretty high input lag so when gaming, there’s a slight delay that bugs me for certain types of fast paced games.

  15. zero_zep

    I have no desire to upgrade. Before blu ray I never really collected movies, but once I heard that sound and saw that picture I knew having a home theater would be a new hobby. New tv, video player, sound system, pc, consoles and a ton of blu rays, some I even rebought to replace old dvds. I see the difference with 4k but I have no desire to go out and replace for what seems like such a minimal upgrade, to me anyways. I will of course upgrade when its “time” to replace what I have now and I’ll get the new stuff. I just remember buying the xbox hd dvd add on and being amazed at king kong or at the sound of transformers through my then big ass stereo lol. For me, watching movies at home is already better then the theater, 4k has stirred none of the above feelings of amazement for me.

  16. Movie lover

    “Throw them in the trash ” I can’t stand these guys ..why don’t you throw yourself in the trash …we all spent all this stupid money on blurays and now they are garbage because you need to see the pubes better on a picture ….gimme a break buddy ..I still ask my local 5 HMVs and DVDs are still the strongest in sales ..which means people haven’t even started to buy bluerays yet ….if they even reach 4k ultra Hd it is way to soon…”throw them in the trash” get f&$cked idiot

    • Csm101

      That’s aggressive. Before you tell these idiots to go fuck themselves, I would suggest reading the article beyond the first sentence. So much animosity on here lately. 😕

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