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Ultra HD Blu-ray Specifications Finalized, Licensing Begins This Summer

By Chris Boylan

Back at CES in January, we broke the news that the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) had agreed upon preliminary specifications for the upcoming Ultra-HD Blu-rayTM format. This morning the BDA has announced that the format's specs are now finalized, and they expect hardware and software licensing to begin this Summer. They also unveiled the format's official logo.

The BDA is a trade association comprised of consumer electronics manufacturers, Information Technology companies and content creators (e.g., movie and TV studios). Victor Matsuda of Sony Corporation is the current chair of the BDA Promotions Committee. "For years, Blu-ray Disc has set the standard for high definition picture and audio quality in the home. Ultra HD Blu-ray will do the same for UHD home entertainment," said Matsuda. "The technical capabilities of Blu-ray Disc, in particular its significant storage capacity and high data transfer rates, will enable the delivery of an unparalleled, consistent and repeatable UHD experience."

As many of us in the press have been saying, it's not enough for Ultra HD TV to have more pixels than HD TV; they have to be better pixels. Picture quality factors such as black levels, contrast, color gamut and dynamic range are equally important, if not more important than the actual number of pixels. So, in addition to a maximum resolution of 3840x2160 pixels, Ultra HD Blu-ray will also support expanded color range in the form of P3 (Digital Cinema) and BT2020 color gamuts, HDR (High Dynamic Range) and even high frame rate content. Immersive sound formats such as Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and AURO-3D will all be supported as they deliver their height-enhanced soundtracks using existing audio codecs (Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio and PCM, respectively), which are all part of the Ultra HD Blu-ray spec.

UltraHD Blu-ray Logo

Additionally, the optional "digital bridge" feature will be part of the Ultra HD specification. A digital bridge allows you to copy Ultra HD Blu-ray content onto a server or portable storage device so you don't necessarily have to have the disc in the player in order to play it, and yet you also won't have to lose any of the quality or features of the disc by ripping it to another storage format. This feature could allow collectors to store their entire movie collections on a hard drive network and play these titles back on their disc player as if the disc itself were in the tray (only faster, as it won't have to wait for the disc to spin up and load). It could also allow collectors to copy their movies onto secure SD cards or to a portable device's on-board secure storage for playback on portable devices.

The Ultra HD Blu-ray specification also mandates that all new Ultra HD Blu-ray players be capable of playing back current Blu-ray Discs, giving collectors continued access to their current collection of Blu-ray Discs.

Although the specs had not yet been finalized at CES 2015, Panasonic showed off a working Ultra HD Blu-ray player at their CES booth in Las Vegas in January.

According to the company's official announcement, "Licensing of Ultra HD Blu-ray is scheduled to begin this Summer. The BDA is working closely with industry leaders in the authoring, testing, certification and replication industries to develop the tools and process needed to ensure interoperability between players and software and to facilitate the development of a robust ecosystem to support the hardware and title launch of Ultra HD Blu-ray."

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