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4K content - Samsung talks up 4-layer 100GB Blu-ray Disc

CES 2014 looks like the Year of 4K TVs - bigger (and smaller) displays at a falling price. What does not make much headlines is where the 4K content will come from to feed this (blind?) ultra high-definition infatuation. The likes of Netflix, Comcast, DirecTV and Amazon may announce plans for 4K content streaming, but delivery is ultimately in the hands of network services providers. Tempering expectations is, thus, in order. More fundamentally, where should the priority lies?

Some observers note that, given that most households still get a paltry bitrate from their ISPs, that most broadcasters are yet to offer HDTV, and most of those who do, only supply a sub-optimal 720-line HD picture, one wonders why such an engouement for 4K when the priority ought to be to deliver a full 1080i - if not 1080p - HDTV signal to all. Also, some users who believe they watch HDTV actually consume upconverted standard-definition TV fare (or line-doubled DVD content).

At MIPCOM, DVD and Beyond heard fears expressed by engineers from the 4EVER consortium, who are carefully designing 4K's frame rate, pixel count and colour gamut, that manufacturers have started introducing in the market 4K TVs that actually will not optimise the new standard. Irrespective of the new H.265 codec whose widespread adoption is a few years away.

The same way Blu-ray discs brought true 1080p HDTV to home entertainment consumers, these BD discs could as well deliver 4K content to households. The Blu-ray Disc Association, who had set up a working group to examine ways of beefing up disc storage, was to deliver an update in "late September." Finally, at CES, Victor Matsuda, chairman of BDA Global Promotions Committee, told The Hollywood Reporter that 4K Blu-ray discs should be a reality by the end of the year.

Some analysts thad taken the view that the longer the BDA holds back on making a decision, the more likely it is that some CE company will break ranks and launch their own 4K solutions.

This is what may be happening if one goes by the interview Philip Newton, Samsung Australia's vice president for consumer electronics, gave to the national daily newspaper The Australian. He said the South Korean manufacturer had the technology in place to produce high-capacity four-layer Blu-ray disc for distributing 4K movies and hope to make it available "by the end of the year," together with Blu-ray media players capable of reading them.

Newton said the industry wants to avoid another Betamax-VHS style format way. In the case of 4K content, issues such as the preferred codecs used for compressing movies needed to be sorted out with H.265 and Google's VP9 rival contenders. The executive said it is "still in a state of flux," but four-layer Blu-ray discs would emerge "once everyone is on the same page." Each layer of a Blu-ray disc typically holds 25GB of content, so a four-layer disc should hold a 100GB movie.

However, German disc replication toolmaker Singulus Technologies has developed a new pressing line (BLULINE III) for the manufacture of triple-layer Blu-ray Discs with a storage capacity of 100GB. With a new data compression method for the ultra-high definition technology, the storage volume per information layer could be increased from 25GB to 33GB.

In June last year, Sony and Panasonic announced they will jointly develop a next-generation disc with recording capacity of at least 300GB by the end of 2015. While this announcement made no specific reference to Blu-ray discs' single-layer 25GB and dual-layer 50GB capacity, these developments will have a bearing on the necessity to augment the Blu-ray disc storage to accommodate 4K video content. Sony has previously said that 4K ultra-high definition movies were likely to take up more than 100GB of space.

There are triple-layer 100GB and 128GB Blu-ray Discs around - the BDXL format. However, it is currently designed for burning discs for home use. At this stage, it is unclear if BDXL computer drives could be updated with software to read factory pre-recorded triple-layer BD100 movie discs.

To date, the only genuine 4K content available to play on a 4K TV is delivered on Sony's 4K Media Player FMP-X1 (pictured below), exclusively for its Bravia TV line. The $585 2TB hard disc drive comes with 10 pre-loaded 4K movies such as The Amazing Spider-Man, Bad Teacher, featuring Cameron Diaz, The Karate Kid, The Other Guys, Battle: Los Angeles, That's My Boy, Salt, Total Recall 2012, Taxi Driver, The Bridge on the River Kwai.

Samsung says it will offer this year five 4K-format Hollywood movies and three 4K documentaries to customers who buy new ultra-high definition TVs to be available in Australia from April-May this year. By year's end, Samsung will have supplied customers with 20 4K movies and 30 documentaries provided on 3.5-inch hard drives.

Story filed 09.01.14

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