Monday, 8 September 2014

Thoughts on the UHD (4k) Blu-ray Announcement

The long overdue announcement for UHD blu-ray (often incorrectly refereed to as 4k) has been made and it is meant to launch late next year. Whilst the standards still have yet to be released beyond resolution (making this announcement of sorts more of an announcement for an announcement) it does seem as if higher frame rates will be supported along with a larger color gamut and HDR.

I am very glad to see the likely inclusion of a higher color gamut and higher frame rate support (like the recent and upcoming Hobbit films have been shoot at) though currently the content of which is very limited. The same of which can be said about UHD in general, with most films still being made using a 2k digital intermediate and only a select few using a 4k digital intermediate (and even fewer getting an actual 4k release in cinemas). Thus whilst I am excited for a UHD disc format I can't help but fell television manufacturers may be looking to release sooner then the content and market is ready for (as I felt about 3d at home).

Likewise the benefits of the resolution increase is severely limited by the content currently available and we are far from seeing a surge of films using a 4k digital intermediate. Though this may of course change. If and in all likelihood as it does change, I expect it will be a rather slow gradual change. Likewise given how far many sit away from there tv screen, and the size of the average tv screen (last I heard it was still less then 50" from around 10 foot) is is likely few will get any benefit from a higher resolution alone. Thus for many it really comes down only to everything else this new UHD disc format will bring (the higher frame rate, color gamut increase etc) which puts this discussion in an odd situation as all we know is the resolution that will be used and a general estimated release date.

I do have some reservations about HDR (especially as films are made for cinemas first and foremost which as I understand is unable to support HDR and thus I can't see films embracing HDR), but my larger reservation is the general interest for an even higher fidelity video format. I absolutely can see videophiles clamoring for this format. But in a world where blu-ray still only makes up for around thirty per cent of physical movie sales I question whether there will be interest in an even higher fidelity format. This is even moreso the case when convenience seems to be a far larger concern for an increasing number of people. Even when this convenience comes with what I view as a substantial drop in both video and audio fidelity when compared with what is available on a blu-ray disc (though of course streaming isn't of interest or even possible for everyone).

I currently find myself conflicted as to whether the market is one soon to be ready for a new higher fidelity video format. There does seem to be many factors working against it and I can see UHD being little more then a niche product much like LaserDisc was depending on what standards are decided upon and how well it is utilized by content providers. However as nothing beyond resolution and now an estimated release date has thus far been confirmed all we can do is speculate and hope that the changes to the color gamut, support of higher frame rate allows for a substantial upgrade. Color me interested, but not entirely excited.

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