The Formats Of The Future

By · Thursday, October 6th, 2016

Last week we answered a burning question: Are discs a thing of the past (Spoiler alert: They aren’t!). Physical media is going to continue to be a huge part of our cultural landscape for years to come. The big question to ask isn’t if discs will still be around, but WHICH discs will rule the world of tomorrow?

Anyone who’s owned an extensive home movie library knows that the struggle is real: Formats change! Today’s top of the line disc collection is tomorrow’s bargain bin liners. At one point VHS was the be-all end-all of movie formats, until the DVD came along. And though DVD held onto the throne for a long time, it eventually got overthrown by the superior storage capacities and picture quality of Blu-rays. But Blu-rays have been around now since 2006: A decade is practically a lifetime, when it comes the life expectancy of media formats. So as the Blu-ray approaches the twilight of its life, what will come along to replace it?

Ultra HD Blu-ray

Also known as “4K Blu-ray”, this is the format that industry experts have declared the format of the future. The Ultra BDs are designed to work in conjunction with 4K TVs, taking advantage of their picture quality and features in ways that current Blu-rays and DVDs simply can’t do. The difference in quality between Ultra HD and standard BD is supposed to be just as huge as the difference between BD and DVDs!

What makes this new format stand out? For starters, a superior picture quality, thanks to a resolution of 3840 x 2160, along with higher frame rates (up to 60 frames per second!). This is why industry experts think that Ultra HD will be a strong format: Because while 4K streaming is available, you’ll still have to deal with the lag times and occasional reduction in picture quality that is a common problem for ALL types of streaming. Ultra HD offers a full 4K viewing experience with zero lag or inconsistent visual quality.

They don’t just look great: Ultra HD discs are also being designed to sound fantastic, thanks to their object-based immersive sound! Many of the discs will be printed with Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, giving these discs movie theater quality sound. The discs also have greater storage capacities, ranging from 50GB with 82 Mbit/s all the way up to 100GB with 128 Mbit/s. These discs can pack more media on them than anything else on the market! Instead of having to buy huge box sets with dozens of discs, Ultra HD can pack entire seasons of TV shows in just a couple of discs.

But one of the most exciting features about this new format is its compatibility with mobile devices. Ultra HD discs come with an optional digital bridge feature: This allows you to copy Ultra HD Blu-ray content to an external hard disk drive and to portable devices! Instead of dealing with the hassle of digital copies and download codes, you can directly copy your Ultra HD media and take it on the go with you! This is especially great news if you’re a movie buff who loves special features: Not only can you copy the films, you can also transfer features like deleted scenes and commentary tracks onto your mobile devices and enjoy them anywhere.

What Will Happen To Blu-Rays?

Don’t worry about your Blu-ray collection becoming obsolete: Ultra HD Blu-ray players are designed to be backwards-compatible. That means they’ll be able to play regular Blu-rays in addition to the next-gen Ultra HDs. Which is great news for Blu-ray fans: You won’t have to upgrade your entire library the way VHS users did when DVDs took over the market.

On the downside, though: You won’t be able to take advantage of any 3D capabilities your Blu-rays may have. Manufacturers like Samsung and LG are starting to phase out production of 3D TVS, and most of the HD Blu-ray players that are being produced are not 3D compatible.

And while all signs seem to indicate that the home entertainment industry will be pushing Ultra HD hard as the dominant format in years to come, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to stop releasing new Blu-rays overnight. Consider that in 2016, years after the Blu-ray went mainstream, that you can STILL buy brand new DVDs of films released this year. Consumers have grown accustomed to having an alternative when it comes to buying formats: Nobody wants to feel forced into buying a new format and ditching one that’s served them well for over a decade.


Other Formats To Watch Out For

There is actually already another new disc format out there: Archival discs! First announced by Sony in 2014, this is a disc format that’s intended for professional use. These are super high storage discs: The first releases of Archival discs can hold up to 300GB of data, while the second and third generations of Archival discs are expected to hold 500GB and 1 terabyte of data respectively.

The most interesting aspect of Archival discs isn’t their huge storage capacities, but their longevity: Archival discs are designed to withstand serious changes in temperature and humidity, along with exposure to dust and water. They’re made to ensure that the discs will be readable for at least 50 years.

The odds of Archival discs becoming a home disc format are slim: It’s really intended for use by film companies, archival centres, and cloud data centres that are handling big data. But if you’re in an industry handling vast amounts of data, you’ll want to keep an eye on this developing format as it becomes more and more common.


What This Means For YOU

The launching of Ultra HD BDs is a great sign for the health and viability of physical media. While the music industry doesn’t show any signs of replacing CDs in the immediate future as digital music is overtaking the market, the film and gaming industries aren’t giving up physical discs in favor of streaming and downloads. If you’re a business that produces CDs, DVDs, or Blu-rays, you’re in luck: Even though digital media has never been more powerful, there’s still a STRONG demand for physical media. And with the superior audio-visual quality promised by Ultra HD discs that digital copies can’t hope to match, the disc duplication/replication industry will still be printing discs for years and years to come!

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