Bag of High‑Dynamic Hurt

The Hollywood Reporter ran a story last night that Fox will be the first studio to put out media for home viewing in UHD “HDR”. I’ve updated the Wow Factor Cheatsheet accordingly.

It helps that the UHD Alliance president is also the CTO at Fox.

Speaking last month at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show, UHD Alliance president Hanno Basse — who is chief technology officer at Fox — asserted: “We want to have a first version [of a quality spec] later this year to coincide with the Blu-Ray Disc Association (which is introducing Ultra HD Blu-Ray with HDR support).”

Remember that “HDR” isn’t a standard, but the UHD Alliance’s HDR will be a standard. The Blu Ray Association will support “HDR” from a variety of sources, including Dolby Vision. Dolby is also a member of the UHD Alliance. So that is going well.

I haven’t found any information on the technical differences, but sources familiar with the matter (that’s right, jerks! I have a source!) told me that the UHD Alliance is adopting Samsung’s SUHD as their draft, and the “HDR” that Fox is using.

Disney is releasing Tomorrowland which was mastered in Dolby Vision for the Dolby Cinema experience (just put ‘Dolby’ in front of every word.) They haven’t announced what they’ll back for home video release. Disney is also a member of the UHD Alliance.

Does that mean we’ll live through another format war over home video formats? Instead of HD DVD and Blu Ray, are we getting Ultra Blu Ray with UHDA HDR and Ultra Blu Ray with Dolby Vision? Since the technical differences might come down to different metadata, would we potentially see discs that support both? It’s really unclear. I imagine that there will be non-technical (money, ego) reasons beyond technical ones.

If you buy an SUHD TV now, will that mean you’re future proof? Maybe? It certainly doesn’t support Dolby Vision, but maybe it won’t ever need to. Or at least, not if you only like Fox movies.

What about disc players? Considering that part of the UHD Blu Ray move is about larger capacity, it’s not clear if firmware updates would allow older players to read the extra capacity on the disc (might not physically be possible), even then, the hardware would have to be capable of handling 4x the pixels. None of the gaming consoles offer UHD playback from streaming sources but we might see updates. Again, no one is saying.

The new Ultra Blu Ray discs are backwards compatible, so you will have your traditional Blu Ray experience if you load the new discs in old players. Awesome, right? Totes worth paying a markup on that disc, just like those combo DVD-BR discs. Totes.

That means you can’t really count on any existing market momentum. In addition to buying a new TV, a new Ultra Blu Ray player, and new Ultra Blu Ray discs. All of them agreeing on the supported format, Dolby Vision or UHD Alliance HDR, to pipe from the disc to the panel.

At this point in the article, it’s probably worth recalling Steve Jobs’ thoughts on Blu Ray:

Blu-ray is just a bag of hurt. It’s great to watch the movies, but the licensing of the tech is so complex, we’re waiting till things settle down and Blu-ray takes off in the marketplace.

It never took off in the marketplace. The licensing, alliances, and a looming format war over brightness and contrast make that particularly clear.

To quote from Steve again, in an email he sent to a MacRumors reader, Siva:

No, free, instant gratification and convenience (likely in that order) is what made the downloadable formats take off. And the downloadable movie business is rapidly moving to free (Hulu) or rentals (iTunes) so storing purchased movies or TV shows is not an issue.

I think you may be wrong - we may see a fast broad move to streamed free and rental content at sufficient quality (at least 720p) to win almost everyone over.

Obviously, we are a little ways past 720p, but Steve’s opinion that streaming will win out over discs still seems to hold true.

Then the question really becomes a combination of what “HDR” flavors the streaming media companies will support, and which of those your TV will also support. You’ll have the same problem if Netflix backs something your TV manufacturer doesn’t. Apple doesn’t even seem likely to include UHD content at this rate.

And the “4K” UHD is mostly going to be scaled up from 2K. Because VFX.


2015-05-20 16:30:00

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