Home theater enthusiasts are up in arms since Samsung’s announcement earlier this year: the Korean manufacturer has decided to cease production of Blu-ray players and UHD 4K Blu-ray players. After Oppo in 2018, Samsung is the second manufacturer to no longer invest in this domain. Even though Samsung’s communication on the matter has been rather sparse, we can easily hazard a guess at what could have pushed the executive managers in Seoul to abandon what seems to be turning into a niche market.
The inevitable global expansion of streaming behemoths Netflix and Amazon (Prime Video), the increasing presence of their rivals (Rakuten TV, Hulu…) and the upcoming arrival of giants such as Disney and Apple on the market probably has something to do with it. Furthermore, the popularization of Blu-ray and Blu-ray UHD 4K discs has always been inhibited by their high price compared to DVDs.
Video dematerialization has caused sales of Blu-ray and UHD 4K Blu-ray discs to decline. There is a striking similarity between this trend and the one observed a few years ago in the music industry with the rise of Spotify, Deezer, iTunes and others.
That said, do we really need to worry about Blu-ray and UHD 4K Blu-ray discs completely disappearing in the more or less near future? Will Panasonic, Sony, LG and Pioneer join the movement started by the Korean company? It is highly unlikely!
Panasonic was quick to react with a Facebook post displaying its confidence in UHD 4K Blu-ray discs and highlighting its range of Blu-ray players: Panasonic DP-UB320, Panasonic DP-UB820, Panasonic DMP-UB700, and last but not least the Panasonic DMP-UB700 audiophile grade UHD 4K Blu-ray player.
By doing this, the Japanese company reminds us of an important fact. The best way to provide movie and TV series fans with 4K Ultra High Definition picture and high quality multichannel sound is with a physical disc. The reason is simple: UHD 4K Blu-ray discs are the only medium capable of providing a constant, very high dataflow to transmit UHD 4K images and HD multichannel digital sound. It is the ideal solution if you want to enjoy a picture that is fully in line with the director’s vision, without any alterations, and if you wish to experience immersive home cinema in the best conditions possible.
Even with a very high-speed fiber-optic home Internet connection, on-demand video platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Rakuten TV, etc. cannot provide the same image and sound quality as Blu-ray discs. Serious improvements have been made of course, and the latest video codecs ensure stunning video quality. Nevertheless, compression is still part of the equation and the picture cannot rival that of a Blu-ray disc.
Multichannel audio data is also compressed for streaming, inevitably reducing sound quality. At the moment, it is difficult to imagine Dolby Atmos tracks and future IMAX content being transmitted without any loss. As for people with subscriptions to streaming services but no fiber-optic Internet connexion, they will have to settle for a lower quality picture with a compression rate that is inversely proportional to the bandwidth available via their Internet connection.
We could even compare this with the vinyl market, which has been making a comeback over the past few years despite the undeniable success of online music platforms. The practicality of a Deezer or Spotify subscription is evident. Removing a 33 RPM record from its sleeve to play it on a turntable has a unique charm and provides incomparable sound quality… Collectors of Blu-ray discs in SteelBook cases can only agree with this. These two methods of listening aren’t incompatible, but complementary. You can enjoy the flexibility of streaming services and be content with mp3 streaming in 320 kbps for headphone listening in public transport, and at the same time own a turntable in your living room to enjoy a more immersive musical experience.
In the same vein, video streaming and UHD 4K Blu-ray discs aren’t necessarily enemies. They are both adapted to different yet complementary uses. Netflix and Amazon Prime are perfect for binge-watching the latest series on any Smart TV or smartphone, and a UHD 4K Blu-ray player paired with a UHD 4K projector or XXL UHD 4K TV is ideal for reliving the emotions you felt while watching a movie which captivated you on the big screen. Limited edition collector Blu-rays allow you to enjoy a beautiful object, watch bonus features and experience the same pleasure of handling a unique object as you would with vinyl records.
Panasonic, Pioneer, Sony and even LG Blu-ray players are going to take advantage of the void left behind by Samsung and Oppo to share the market and provide all home theater enthusiasts with the tools to enjoy their passion for, hopefully, many years to come. Each of these manufacturers include several players in their catalogue, some of which are high-end models. In particular, Sony, Panasonic and Pioneer are benefiting from the space left by Oppo in the audiophile UHD 4K Blu-ray player market: Sony with the UBP-X1000ES player, Panasonic with the DP-UB9000 player and Pioneer with the amazing UDP-LX500 and UDP-LX800 players.
Make no mistake, UHD 4K Blu-ray isn’t dead and is the best way to enjoy a large picture in High and Ultra High Definition.