UHD Blu-ray Is Coming – Just Not This Year

If you were expecting the 4K/UHD revolution to receive a Battle of Saratoga-like shot in the arm with the inaugural availability of UHD Blu-ray this fall – forget it.

At the IFA show in Berlin last week, it became clear that at least the two Korean giants, Samsung and LG, would likely hold off on releasing their initial UHD Blu-ray entries until early 2016. Executives at Panasonic, the first company to unveil its prototype UHD Blu-ray player at CES earlier this year, was non-committal about a definitive 2015 release date.

Why the hold up? On the surface, some technical issues remained. For instance, the HDR-accommodating HDMI 2.0a specification was announced back in April, and the first HDMI 2.0a UHD TVs were just unveiled at IFA. And it wasn’t until around a fortnight ago that the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) in the U.S. settled on actual definitive baseline HDR specifications (more on these HDR specs next time).

Presumably, it takes some time for the UHD ecosystem to absorb and compensate for these basic spec updates before manufacturing and delivering compatible product.

But in most cases, accommodating these HDMI and HDR specs in hardware can be accomplished via firmware upgrades to current UHDs – at least that’s what a Samsung exec told us his company planned.

The Great UHD BD Hold-up

So what’s the UHD-BD hold up?

Retailers.

Apparently, potential UHD BD suppliers have gotten flack from its brick-and-mortar dealers about introducing UHD Blu-ray this fall. Store owners and operators don’t want their Q4 silly selling season sullied by having to explain some new exotic technology to its bargain-hunting hoards of customers.

Already harried retailers preparing for mob attacks on Black Friday and Blue Tuesday and Polka Dot Thursday, et al, would have to arrange for retail UHD BD training for seasonal personnel. Even worse, they’d have to devote precious floor space to exhibit the new UHD BD decks connected to a dedicated UHD TV adjacent to a standard Blu-ray and 2K HDTV for comparative demonstrations, floor space more effectively allocated to stacked boxes of deeply discounted discontinued devices and banged-up floor models.

This doesn’t mean UHD BD manufacturers aren’t still bullish on the new decks. At IFA, Panasonic was joined by Samsung in showing off UHD BD prototypes, the Samsung version gently curved to match the company’s curved UHD TVs. UHD BD checks off one more box in completing the 4K ecosystem, leaving only broadcast (more on this in subsequent weeks as well) as the final piece. One exec told us UHD BD was water that raised all 4K boats and could even re-ignite the whole heretofore fading physical media business.

So, expect to see lots of UHD BD prototypes and demos from multiple optimistic suppliers at CES 2016, just not many (if any) in stores this holiday season.