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Ultra HD Blu-ray discs: could they be the kickstart the format needs?

Although Blu-Ray has not really been as successful as many expected, Ultra HD Blu-Ray may well reverse the trend. Technology never ceases to amaze.

Obtaining the best out of  Ultra-HD (also known as UHD or 4K) on an internet connection using ADSL can prove difficult, especially if you want to use 3D.  Whereas a Blu-Ray disc requires 36 Mbps to display on full HD at 60 frames per second (3D), UHD Blu-Ray needs 40 Mbps to display a resolution with four times as much detail at 60 frames per second. With 4K, pixels are in a 3840 x 2160 arrangement as opposed to 1920 x 1080 on a full HD TV. Therefore,  4K can function using a high quality ADSL 2+, although this will still not provide the best video quality since it will only be using 24 frames per second with an output of 12 to 16 Mbps. While this should be sufficient for most, Netflix recommends higher speeds. But beware – these days it is quite common to use a second TV Box at home, a practice that would reduce the effectiveness of 4K if you don’t have fibre optic or satellite.

How come the display is of such high quality while using a reduced output?

No mystery here. The computing power of microchips has increased 10 times for encoding and 4 times for decoding in comparison to Full HD. High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), a video compression standard also known as H265, is the successor to H264 Advanced Video Compression. HEVC will be implemented in satellites and digital terrestrial television to allow the streaming of 4K in place of Full HD and of Full HD in place of HD 720p.

As a result, UHD Blu-Ray is best viewed on at least a 55 or 65 inch screens, which these days is cheaper than 55 inch HD TVs were two years ago. Obviously, the best results are on even larger screens if your budget permits. A note of caution,  UHD Blu-Ray will only take off if the larger studios decide to support the format. Sony Pictures has already announced several titles during 2016, and, in any event, it would have been difficult to bring titles to the market any quicker since the standards for UHD Blu-Ray were only finalised during the summer of 2015.

Apart from the display resolution, what are the main benefits of this format?

The colour space (or range of colours), covers 75% of the colour spectrum visible to the human eye whereas the standard HDTV only covers 35%. This is why users will sometimes comment on an almost real-life experience when viewing 4K content. Something else worth noting – colours are coded using 10 bits rather than 8 bits. H264 does not support 10 bits, however, H265 does – in fact, it can go as far as 16 bits using the HEVC Main 4:4:4 16 Intra profile. It, therefore, offers a 4K output up to 60 frames per second, which should meet the expectations of 4K video gamers and satisfy the requirements of 3D video on 4K.

Finally, let’s consider the price. Early adopters  can buy a UHD Blu-Ray player for around £400. One more question to consider. Will we see new versions of PS4 and Xbox One or will Sony and Microsoft simply decide to upgrade the firmware on their existing consoles?

 

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About Olivier Pavie

Olivier Pavie est technologue, journaliste et écrivain français, expert en High Tech et systèmes d'information. Il a publié de nombreux ouvrages chez Osman Eyrolles Multimedia, Pearson Education, Campus Press, Peachpit Press et a été traduit en allemand, italien et anglais. Il partage sur le blog Kroll Ontrack les nouveautés technologiques ayant rapport à la récupération de données et aux disques durs ainsi que sa vision de spécialiste sur l'actualité informatique.

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