We've had a long wait to see true 4K Blu-ray discs and players in stores, but the time has arrived and you can now go out and buy a system which actually pumps video at 3840x2160. This is thanks to the new Ultra HD Blu-ray discs that offer up to 100GB of storage - double the previous version.
The library of 4K titles available worldwide is approaching 100, while us Aussies are stuck with a more modest selection of around 60 or so movies available at the moment.
After the false-start 'Mastered in 4K' discs which were really 1080p, and new HDMI v2.0 hardware being mingled in with older 4K equipment, it can be difficult to navigate the waters and get the most from your home theatre experience. In this blog, we'll try to address not only what Ultra HD Blu-ray can do, but also what you can achieve on yesterday's 4K hardware that early adopters snapped up.
Ultra HD Blu-ray primarily offers native 4K video at up to 60 frames per second, and supports a wider colour gamut which can leverage features like High Dynamic Range (HDR) and 10-bit colour. Audio remains largely unchanged, with support for Dolby True-HD and DTS-HD lossless formats, but gets a boost with cutting-edge technologies like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X which offer positional audio.
Let's break those features down:
Bear in mind that all three links in the hardware chain must support the intended features. For example, the Ultra HD Blu-ray title, Ultra HD Blu-ray player and 4K display must all support HDR in order to enjoy it.
Brand-new technology comes at a price premium, and with 4K displays already in many homes since before 4K content was available, there's a good chance most consumers won't want to invest the current asking price to update their entire home theatre just to get HDR or WCG. The goods news is that there are some easy compromises and workarounds to enjoy the best bits of Ultra HD Blu-ray without spending a fortune.
Ultra HD Blu-Ray Players and Discs
Yes. To enjoy any of the benefits of Ultra HD Blu-ray, you'll need a new Blu-ray player. You'll also need to purchase or re-purchase your favourite movies as they become available. Existing 1080p discs can be upscaled, but they will never be as crisp as 4K, nor will they have wide colour gamut or other new features.
The new Xbox One S also features Ultra HD Blu-ray playback.
Ultra HD Televisions and Projectors
Maybe. This is where the compromise comes in. Everybody is shouting about HDMI v2.0, but many of the immediately obvious Ultra HD advancements are entirely possible on HDMI v1.4 4K televisions. HDMI v1.4 hardware is limited to 4K at 30Hz, which is adequate for most feature films and TV series, as they run at 24 or 25fps. Only high-frame-rate titles like The Hobbit may require the bandwidth of a HDMI 2.0 system. Only purchase a new HDMI v2.0 TV if you can't live without wide colour gamut and HDR.
Ultra HD Receivers / Amplifiers
Maybe. Spending money on a new HDMI 2.0 Home Theatre receiver probably won't be necessary, but bypassing it may require the use of ARC or CEC functions via HDMI. At worst, going directly from your new Ultra HD Blu-ray player to your existing 4K TV will mean using an extra remote control on occasion (assuming you used to use your receiver as the hub of your system). With audio unchanged for 5.1 and 7.1 systems, Ultra HD Blu-ray will sound the same as before.
Ultra HD Splitters and Switches
Yes.Chances are your HDMI splitter or switcher predates 4K technology, which means it won't be able to handle the output from your new Ultra HD Blu-ray player. We stock a selection of HDMI v1.4 Splitters and HDMI v1.4 Switches, as well as a small range of HDMI 2.0-ready Splitters and a HDMI v2.0 Switch. Because most TVs only allow for 4K input on a single HDMI socket, a quality switch will become critical for home theatres with multiple 4K players
Ultra HD Cables
No. Existing good-quality HDMI Cables rated as High Speed, or High Speed with Ethernet are compatible with 4K@60Hz up to 5 metres and 4K@30Hz up to 15 metres. For most home theatres running Ultra HD Blu-ray movies, 4K@30 will be plenty, even when HDR and WCG are in use. When we finally get 60fps 4K content, you'll need to limit your cables to 5m or less, or look at non-copper based cables, such as HDMI over Optical. There is no new cable for Ultra HD Blu-ray or HDMI 2.0 - just look for the High Speed attribution.
When it comes to home theatres, we love to go overboard and have the latest and greatest, but many of the new HDMI v2.0 and Ultra HD Blu-ray features are still untapped in many of the available titles, so a 60Hz system will go to waste when everything you play on it is 4K/24p in 8-bit colour.
Ultra HD Blu-ray also does its best to save on bandwidth, with the extra headroom of HDMI 2.0 going largely unused for most 4K content, which is encoded using the 4:2:0 colour subsampling method on the efficient H.265 codec. We're still a while away from seeing a title which uses all the bells and whistles of Ultra HD Blu-ray, so there's time to enjoy your current 4K system and upgrade your other hardware when pricing matures.
Of course, this advise is focused on a home theatre system designed to play Ultra HD Blu-ray movies and TV shows. If you want to run a computer system capable of 4K@60Hz for gaming, you're going to need a new HDMI 2.0 TV, because that'll use far more bandwidth than Ultra HD Blu-ray.
The pace of home theatre technology is maddening, regularly stinging early adopters and leaving a trail of new tech jargon in its wake. If you have any questions or commens about Ultra HD Blu-ray, feel free to contact us.