The standard fuss about 4K/UltraHD* consists of complaints about how it's hard to see a difference compared to HD, that bandwidth for streaming is severe, and that there's no content. But, of course, all these objections will disappear into the dusty past of technology.
Blu-ray Disc Association
The fact remains that many people like to buy and own DVD and Blu-ray video discs. Reasons include the ability to play a rare favorite on demand, the freedom from being charged over and over again for favorite movies, and the higher quality of the picture (no additional compression for Internet transmission).
When 4K TV is critiqued, often overlooked is the fact that a new generation of Blu-ray discs is coming. That new standard has now been defined. As a result, we can expect to see 4K/UHD Blu-ray players later this year. Of course, we don't know how much they'll cost, but we've certainly had it nice lately with HD Blu-ray players on sale for $79. I would expect that the 4K Blu-ray players will be priced like the original mainstream players back in 2008: about $400.
Boosting the Technology
Once people discover that they can buy a 4K TV, whose prices will be favorable at Christmas, and attach a 4K Blu-ray player, the acceptance of 4K will pick up dramatically. Some will argue that streaming is the future and pooh-pooh physical media, and that does sound alluring. But the fact remains that despite a gentle drop in popularity, "DVD and Blu-ray sales [are] at US$6.93 billion" annually. There are two things to note here.
First, you can look at the 10 percent decline annually and declare that Blu-ray is dead because it's not a growing industry. The killer is Internet streaming on demand. But then one cannot turn around and say that, despite generally increasing ISP speeds, the requirements for 4K are too onerous. At least with a straight face.
Secondly, the fact remains that the Blu-ray industry is worth pursuing even if it's not a growing industry. As always, home entertainment will consist of a blend of technologies as consumers weigh the advantages of a razor sharp Blu-ray picture for their favorite movies against the typical Saturday night popcorn special via streaming for five bucks.
Marshall Honorof at Tom's Guide sums it up. "Although videophiles have been predicting the eventual death of physical media like video discs for years, it hasn't come to pass just yet. As long as broadband technology is too slow to stream 4K in many locations, a disc is still a simpler choice."
The key words here are "simpler" and "many locations." Consumers know how to pop a favorite Disney movie into the Blu-ray player for the kids. Streaming 4K requires at least 15 Mbps, preferably much more, and that means upgrading other supporting equipment, such as the audio/video receiver, likely the cable box/DVR, and hopefully, the Apple TV. (See: "Apple Will be Forced to Add 4K to its New Apple TV.") (And so, as the industry moves forward, so must Apple.)
In contrast, for many customers, direct connect of a Blu-ray player to a 4K TV and sound box is a no-brainer. As for locations, I get lots of reader comments from people who live in rural areas, and they will never have more than a few Mbps with DSL. They can greatly benefit from 4K Blu-ray.
4K Blu-ray Advantages
Blu-ray isn't dead and 4K Blu-ray will be an important waypoint on the road to pervasive 4K. As for not being able to see the difference compared to HD, there are other factors that will come into play as well. Bill Hunt at Digital Bits writes:
The completed Ultra HD Blu-ray specification addresses a range of factors, beyond simply increasing resolution, that will significantly enhance the home entertainment experience for consumers. In addition to delivering content in up-to 3840x2160 resolution, the Ultra HD Blu-ray format enables delivery of a significantly expanded color range and allows for the delivery of high dynamic range (HDR) and high frame rate content. Next-generation immersive, object-based sound formats will also be delivered via the Ultra HD Blu-ray specification. Additionally, with the optional digital bridge feature, the specification enhances the value of content ownership by embracing the notion that a content purchase can enable the consumer to view their content across the range of in-home and mobile devices.
I've seen 4K TVs many times, and at the 8 ft (2.4 m) viewing distance we use, I can really see the difference on a 65-inch Sony. In time, the consumer market will come to appreciate the visual differences and other features, even if that means sitting a bit closer, and do that using a mixture of supporting technologies, whether its a 4K Apple TV, a 4K Blu-ray player or a 4K DVR from the cable/satellite provider.
That the industry is investing in 4K Blu-ray supports the idea that, as always, a blend of available technologies moves us forward faster because that strategy meets the needs of the most number of people.
* 4K resolution is 4096 x 2160. UltraHD is 3840 x 2160, but is commonly referred to as 4K.