Shhh! Panasonic is About to Debut UHD Blu-ray – But Don’t Tell Anyone

Did you know that Panasonic was on the verge of releasing the world’s first UHD Blu-ray deck? No? Neither did I, or anyone else who doesn’t speak Japanese or work for Panasonic. But apparently, this Friday (November 13), Panasonic will start selling its DIGA DMR-UBZ1 UHD Blu-ray slash hard disk drive recorder for a price yet to be announced.

Surprised? Me too. I only accidentally discovered this significant introduction when I ran across the company’s press release while researching a story on Panasonic’s pending OLED UHD release.

What surprised me most about Panasonic’s rather muted announcement is the company’s initial prideful approach to its UHD Blu-ray leadership position.

To start, Panasonic drew audible gasps from the assembled crowd of journalists when it proudly unwrapped its UHD Blu-ray prototype player at its press event at CES 2015. Panasonic was the first company to show, or even hint, that such as product was on its foreseeable roadmap. It was clear the company was pounding its chest about its being first into the UHD Blu-ray arena.

A couple of months ago at IFA, the company once again displayed its prototype UHD Blu-ray player in its booth. But Panasonic made no mention of UHD Blu-ray during its IFA press event, which was dedicated largely to its surprise OLED UHD announcement and new Technics high-end audio gear.

And now that the world’s first UHD Blu-ray deck is ready to go on sale? Other than the press release… crickets. I queried the company’s American and European PR counterparts about their own UHD Blu-ray product plans, and I got “maybe at CES.”

Conversely, not only did Samsung discuss its pending UHD Blu-ray deck (UBD-K8500) at its ornate IFA press event, but also noted it would be available in Europe (and presumably the U.S.) early next year, and announced that the suddenly weirdly-named 20th Century Fox would be releasing 4K Blu-ray movies (the first will be Kingsman). And Samsung had several UHD Blu-ray decks on prominent open display in its City Cube exhibition area—slightly curved decks to match its curved UHDs—not the solitary prototype Panasonic was preserving under Plexiglas.

C’mon, Bring the UHD Blu-Ray Noise

What in the Konosuke Matsushita is going on here? Given the importance of Panasonic’s first-to-market introduction, and especially since the company may have the UHD Blu-ray market to itself for Q4 2015, wouldn’t you have expected its planned release for sale to be announced a bit more loudly—or even just announced?

UHD Blu-ray is seen as a key component in the consumer take-up of UHD in the same way the original Blu-ray was for 1080p HDTV, especially since all of the UHD makers are also Blu-ray deck makers and sellers. Many of the UHD/Blu-ray vendors don’t have a stake in the growing amount of 4K streaming content, but many (like Panasonic and especially Sony) have relationships with Hollywood studios, so have plenty of incentive to see UHD Blu-ray succeed.

So why is Panasonic downplaying the announcement of the world’s first UHD Blu-ray deck?

Maybe it’s lowering expectations? Because, historically speaking, step-up versions of formats don’t do well, (see S-VHS, DAT, digital compact cassette, et al), and UHD Blu-ray is a step-up of a step-up (the original Blu-ray from DVD). When UHD Blu-ray hits the market, there will be movies available in three optical disc formats, four if you include 3D. That’d be a first, too.

Another reason may be the nature of Panasonic’s initial UHD Blu-ray model. The DMR-UBZ1, with its built-in 3TB HDD recorder, is clearly aimed specifically at the recorder-crazy Japanese market. The initial European and U.S. UHD Blu-ray decks are far more likely to be more traditional player-only models, albeit with the SeeQVault content movement system, which the Japanese deck does include.

And according to the DMR-UBZ1 press release, Panasonic is setting low expectations—only 500 units will be manufactured per month.

But even considering these factors, a first is a first, and there can only be one first. So why hasn’t Panasonic loudly trumpeted the pending availability of the DMR-UBZ1, the first consumer UHD Blu-ray deck?

Ya got me. But I find Panasonic’s muteness about it damned curious and worth watching.