Weekly News Roundup (11 January 2015)

Another pretty quiet week as we slowly ramp up to normality in the coming weeks. Actually, quiet is probably the wrong word to use when the CES is on, but while there is sufficient quantity in news stories, much like the CES, the focus was mostly on a single subject: 4K.

Panasonic Ultra HD Blu-ray Player Prototype

This Ultra HD Blu-ray player looks like just any other Blu-ray player, but can play 4K Blu-ray discs

Which brings us to the week’s only notable story, of Panasonic’s demonstration of a 4K Blu-ray player prototype. It’s still a very early prototype, with the commercial version months away (probably closer to the end of 2015, than right now), so even this story is very much a non-story. What is slightly more interesting is the official name of the new 4K Blu-ray discs: Ultra HD Blu-ray. To be completely honest, I had kind of expected it to be called “Blu-ray 4K”, to follow the naming convention established by “Blu-ray 3D”, but using “Ultra HD” allows some room for expansion in case CE manufacturers can’t get the traction they want from 4K and move on to 8K or whatever.

So this was very much a CES dominated by 4K (just like last year’s), and proponents of physical discs will hope that UHDBD can take off and give discs a second-life. Because, based on the revenue stats from 2014, Blu-ray will need it. Revenue fell 8.7% compared to 2013, the first time revenue has fallen since the format’s inception. Of course, a lot of this is due to the lower average price of Blu-ray titles (so more discs sold, but at a lower average price, still equals a loss of revenue), and also largely dependent on the caliber of releases. It was notable that, despite being less than a year away from its commercial release, only Panasonic managed to bring a prototype Ultra HD Blu-ray player to CES this year … most of the 4K focus has been on digital and streaming options instead.

But I think discs still have a place, and especially for 4K, since the 15 Mbps required to stream a single 4K Netflix stream (which can only be considered to be “good” quality, not “theatrical” quality) may be too much for most non-fiber connected homes. Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, on the other hand, will be able to give 4K streams 3 or 4 times as much bandwidth so they can truly shine on even the biggest screens, which is what 4K is all about really. It’s like that old joke about sending TBs of data, and that sometimes carrier pigeons are the best choice in terms of throughput. So for 4K movies that may take up to 100GB of space, discs are still the best choice for now.

Speaking of Netflix, the company’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos wants to bring ‘The Interview’ to Netflix, after the film became Sony’s biggest digital release ever, grossing over $31 million after being purchased or rented 4.3 million times. It’s unknown whether Sony will bite, and how releasing straight to Netflix will impact on the studio’s relationship with pay TV operators, but it’s clear that ‘The Interview’ is new territory for all involved and could signal a new way to distribute movies in the future.


That’s it for another really short WNR. Normal service to resume next week?


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