Is Ultra HD Blu-ray Doomed? This is, of course, a bit of a rhetorical question. No physical format lasts forever, technological progress guarantees obsolescence. But, with the recent news that Samsung has decided not to develop any more Ultra HD Blu-ray players and AV enthusiast favorite Oppo already having abandoned ship, the writing appears to be on the wall for 4K disc-based content.
Is this the future of Ultra HD Blu-ray? Photo from shutterstock.com
After several years on the market, Ultra HD Blu-ray still represents but a fraction of the total number of Blu-rays sold. Pragmatically speaking, even when a movie sells well on UHD Blu-ray, as is the case with effects-laden tentpole blockbusters, the percentage is around one quarter of the total. But on average, it's even lower than that. With streaming growing ever more ubiquitous, and consumers choosing regular Blu-ray over the 4K version of the movie—if they even watch movies anywhere but on Netflix anymore—there doesn't seem to be much hope for a format that costs the most and requires viewers to own a relatively new TV.
Ultimately, DVD stuck around for a long time because of the ubiquity of players and the wide selection of content. Blu-ray achieved significant success by bringing what most people feel are cinematic quality visuals into the home. But now, Ultra HD Blu-ray struggles even as it brings quality that exceeds what you might see at a local multiplex into the home.
Of course, the biggest fly in the ointment for Ultra HD Blu-ray is streaming. Namely, that streaming has improved in quality quite rapidly over the past few years and now, if you have fast Internet, it can deliver fidelity that meets or beats Blu-ray quality and can approach Ultra HD Blu-ray quality. Indeed, some comments on this forum indicate that it is only the fact that streaming utilizes compressed sound that keeps them from wholly embracing UHD streams over discs—especially for rentals.
Okay, that's the doom and gloom. Now let's consider why discs may stick around after all...
The Xbox One S and One X are Ultra HD Blu-ray players. They also enjoy significantly better market penetration than standalone players that don't play games. The simple fact that this console provides a large installed base of compatible players may be enough. Especially in consideration of how broadband Internet availability wanes as you get further away from urban centers. The continued viability of Redbox machines is one example of asymmetrical Internet availability and its effects on A/V consumer behavior.
Speaking of rentals, among proponents of physical media, one of the main arguments is that of ownership. The recent announcement that Ultraviolet (the digital locker service) is shutting down underlines a fundamental point: you don't really own anything in the cloud. Is the promise of owning a physical piece of media that contains your favorite movie in extremely high quality enough to keep Ultra HD Blu-ray afloat?