Pretty soon Amazon, Netflix, and hard drives packed with video files won't be your only options for watching 4K "Ultra HD" content. The Blu-ray Disc Association (BRDA) recently announced the specification for Ultra HD Blu-ray discs was complete.
Licensing for the new spec is expected to take place this summer, with new Ultra HD discs and players to roll out after that. The BRDA did not say when we might see hardware and discs on store shelves, but a launch in time for the holidays is a good bet. Panasonic showed off a 4K Blu-ray player prototype at CES, and Hollywood has yet to meet a new disc format it didn't like.
The impact on you at home: The convenience of streaming services can't be beat, but Ultra HD Blu-ray discs may offer a better 4K experience depending on your Internet connection. To get the best picture out of UHD discs you'll need a 4K TV with support for HDMI 2.0. This shouldn't be a problem for newer UHD TVs, and many early adopters should have received an HDMI 2.0 upgrade already.
Also be on the lookout for an HDMI firmware update to the HDMI 2.0a spec announced in April. Without it, your TV won't be able to support HDR from UHD Blu-ray.
UHD Blu-ray brings a number of improvements compared to current 1080p Blu-ray discs. First and foremost, UHD Blu-ray supports resolutions up to 3840-by-2160, the 4K/UHD standard for home theaters, which is four times the resolution of 1080p.
UHD Blu-ray also promises an expanded color range, high dynamic range support, and the ability to deliver high frame rate content.
The BRDA also made reference to support for something it calls an "optional digital bridge feature" that will allow you to view Ultra HD Blu-ray content across your devices at home and on-the-go. It's not clear if this is an UltraViolet-style offering or something similar to the digital copies that are included with some DVDs and Blu-ray discs now.
To contain all those new picture enhancements and features, the new UHD Blu-ray discs will be able to hold up to 66GB of data in dual layer format, and up to 100GB in triple.
The UHD Blu-ray spec also requires 4K Blu-ray players to be backwards compatible with regular Blu-ray discs.