In the beginning there were only two realistic options for home movie consumption: Betamax, developed by Sony in 1975, and VHS, developed by JVC in 1971. Well, that’s not exactly the whole story; there were also LaserDiscs. Developed by Phillips and MCA and released in 1972, the higher price point of the LaserDisc players, along with their relative lack of versatility, ensured the format would not catch on as well as the video cassette.
Betamax and VHS sparked the first high-profile format war. As we all know, VHS won that battle only to be ultimately supplanted by LaserDisc technology. Later, DVDs and then Blu-rays became the standard, chiefly because they were designed to handle 1080P/60Hz video, holding up to 25 GB per layer. Dual-layer Blue-ray discs of 50 GB became the industry standard for full-length movies and video games.
As with all things technological, it was only a matter of time before someone would try to improve on the Blu-ray. Rather than make consumers stream or download bandwidth-hog 4K movies, the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) is going to begin licensing the new Ultra HD Blu-ray format for distribution of 4K (3840 x 2160) movies on disc starting August 24, 2015. They will be double-layer/50 GB and triple-layer/100 GB (possibly even quadruple-layer/128 GB) discs, and will use the new HEVC / H.265 compression codec.
Recognizing the frustration that consumers have experienced in wanting to access their media purchases across multiple devices, the BDA is offering disc player manufacturers the ability to build-in a digital rights management (DRM) technology they are calling the “digital bridge” that will allow content to work on a range of in-home and mobile devices. Digital bridge will be mandatory for UHD Blu-ray disc manufacturers, but regular HD Blu-ray manufacturers will have the option to include this feature or not.
The actual validation process for a disc will be handled via remote server; in this way it may work similar to how HDCP works now. While digital bridging seems to allow the user to stream their disc to another device such as tablet, there may be additional charges for that privilege and any transcoding of the digital signal into another type will not be allowed.
High Frame Rates and Hertz
Judging from the information being released about the new discs, they will be able to handle up to 60Hz and 60fps movies, no doubt to keep up with the high frame rate (HFR) films in development, such as The Hobbit and Avatar 2, 3 and 4, even though at this time there are no TVs that can handle more than 4K/30Hz. In addition, HDMI 2.0, which supports 4K/60Hz, isn’t being used by the masses yet.
We suspect the BDA may allow manufacturers of Blu-ray players to support 4K/30Hz initially and later do a firmware update when content and TVs that can accept 4K/60Hz hit the market. We will have to wait and see when 4K Blu-ray movies and disc players are available in stores, perhaps in time for the big holiday push. Regardless of the exact timing, his new format release will be sure to make electronics stores happy this winter, as it will complement and aid their efforts to sell UHD-TVs.