Blu-ray Sales Up 105% – The Digital Entertainment Group (DEG) released its first quarter U.S. Sales figures for the home entertainment industry yesterday. Spending for pre-recorded entertainment – including Blu-ray, DVD and digital distribution – was $5.3 billion, off by only 5% compared to the same period last year. The DEG compiles its data from input from member companies, retailers and industry association tracking sources. It found that while consumer spending was down for the first quarter, the number of consumer transactions remained constant at 898 million, underscoring the high demand for home entertainment. Blu-ray sales were $230 million but digital distribution was $487 million for the same period. Sell–through of standard DVD was down 14% and digital distribution was up 19%. In an environment where the U.S. Dept. of Commerce reported a downturn in all retail and food service businesses of 9.4% for March 2009 over March 2008, home entertainment remains quite stable, down less than 4% of the course of the entire year. A spokesman said “it is clear that home entertainment’s stability is fueled by Blu-ray’s popularity.”
4K Digital Cinema Might Be Next – Current HDTV technology maxes out at 1920×1080 pixels and has finally made inroads with the average consumer. But an even higher resolution system is on the horizon and may be next. As movie theaters move toward digital projection, it has become evident that even 1080p mode does not have enough pixel density to project feature films on the large screens of movie theaters. The SMPTE and a new group, Digital Cinema Initiatives, began work on improved specs for a digital cinema system. The spec defines both 2K and 4K resolution, similar to HDTV’s 720 and 1080 formats, but unlike HDTV which refers to maximum vertical resolution, 2K and 4K refer specifically to the maximum horizontal pixel counts of 2048 and 4096 respectively. So with 4K we would have instead of 1920×1080, 4096×2160, and 36-bit color.
The actual pixel counts would vary depending on the aspect ratio the film was shot in. A 4K projector can show 8.8 megapixels – this may not seem enough compared to digital SLR still cameras that shoot 12 megapixels or more, but since movies run at 24 frames a second there isn’t much time for pixel-peeping! As it is, so much data must be transmitted that the DCI spec allows for compression. Some commercial theaters now have 2K projectors, but why worry about 4K? Because engineers agree its best to start with more resolution than needed and then resample downward if necessary. A 4K source will look better sampled down to 1080p than direct 1080p video. 4K is being used as a digital intermediate for post-production work. As HDTV becomes the norm, a company known as RED now has a Red Ray playback device to make 4K res digital projection cheaper and more efficient – using wavelet compression encoding capable of getting 4K res down to as little as 10Mb/s. It makes the possibility real of soon having home 4K players or network streaming of 4K res video. Future home theaters will be built around 4K flat panels or projectors.
GE 500GB Holographic DVD – General Electric Global Research says it has found a way to put up to 500GB of data on a standard DVD under laboratory conditions. Three-dimensional patterns representing data are written onto a special disc made of highly reflective material. A laser then picks up the entire piece of data from the disc. Information is not put just on the disc surface but micro-holographic patterns are etched below the surface of the disc as well. Other firms have claimed similar high-capacity DVDs but none are yet on the store shelves. The GE discs will cost at least $50. If this happens it will probably be used in the professional data storage area rather than by consumers – though external hard drives are still a better storage option.