Dolby Laboratories is quick to the table with the burgeoning drive toward 4K Ultra HD, the next-generation viewing format with four times the resolution of HD and the much-ballyhooed high dynamic range (HDR), which produces brilliant highlights, vibrant colors and greater contrast on compatible displays.
The company announced deals at CES with Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures and MGM to enhance their Ultra HD releases.
The company and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (SPHE) on Jan. 6 announced a collaboration to release SPHE titles in Dolby Atmos over the coming years, including SPHE’s first films to be released in the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc format. Dolby Atmos, according to a press release, “delivers captivating audio that places and moves specific sounds anywhere in the room, including overhead, to bring entertainment alive all around the audience.”
The studio’s first films to be released in the new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc format with Dolby Atmos include “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” “Salt,” “Hancock,” “Chappie,” “Pineapple Express” and “The Smurfs 2” in early 2016, with more titles rolling out throughout the year.
“By adding Dolby Atmos to our home entertainment content, SPHE has the ability to offer audiences a rich, enveloping sound experience on both physical and digital formats, including the new 4K Ultra HD discs,” said SPHE president Man Jit Singh.
SPHE is one of three studios that have specifically announced plans to release films on the new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc format. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment was the first studio to announce a slate of upcoming Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc releases, doing so at IFA 2015 in Berlin in early September, on the heels of a press conference in which Samsung announced plans to produce the world’s first Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc player, now slated for a March bow. Warner Bros. followed with an announced in December.
At a Jan. 4 press conference touting the UHD Alliance’s new Ultra HD logo and specs, Singh was one of four studios speakers on a panel talking up the new format. He said the move up to Ultra HD is very similar to the contrast between standard definition and high definition. “This is truly an immersive consumer experience, where the consumer can actually see the quality difference,” he said. “It’s the first time we have a medium at home where we can provide the range that the 35 millimeter film provides and show a film the way that the creator actually thought of it, so it’s a unique consumer experience.”
SPHE, like other studios, isn’t relying solely on Blu-ray Disc to deliver the new Ultra HD experience to consumers. The studio Jan. 5 announced a deal with Dish Network that calls for select Sony titles to be available in 4K Ultra HD resolution via the satellite TV operator’s updated Hopper 3 and 4K Joey DVRs, and compatible 4K televisions.
Sony Pictures movies available to rent on demand at launch include “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “Captain Phillips,” “American Hustle,” “Monuments Men” and “The Smurfs 2.” Sony will release additional titles from its catalog of 4K content as the year progresses.
“We are excited to partner with Dish in delivering an immersive, innovative 4K Ultra HD experience in the home, giving consumers a new way of enjoying 4K movies on demand,” Singh said in a statement.
Additional 4K movies will come from The Orchard and Mance Media. Separately, the Netflix app (with a subscription) will be available on Hopper 3 and 4K Joey offering subscribers a catalog of 4K TV shows and movies, without the need to switch inputs or devices.
Research firm IHS Technology says annual worldwide shipments of Ultra HD TVs are expected to grow by nearly 719% over the next several years, from nearly 12 million in 2014 to nearly 96 million in 2019, with over 300 million in use by the end of 2019.
Sony has an extensive library of Ultra HD content, including newer films and television shows, as well as classic catalog films restored from original film elements. Among them: “ Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Men In Black,” “Ghostbusters,” “The Fifth Element,” “Bad Boys,” “The Da Vinci Code,” “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” as well as such vintage classics as “Lawrence Of Arabia,” “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” “The Guns of Navarone,” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”
“With 4K UHD content becoming more prevalent, we are excited to provide consumers an elevated home-viewing experience and showcase our content with Dolby Vision HDR,” Jose Gutierrez, executive VP at MGM, said in a statement.
“We could not be more pleased to be working with Dolby to deliver to consumers the ability to watch Universal movies in the most spectacular format possible,” said Michael Bonner, executive VP, digital distribution, at Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. “Together, we are committed to ensuring that home entertainment consumers can enjoy the richest, most remarkable movie-watching experience yet with Dolby Vision.”
An end-to-end solution, Dolby Vision said it works from content creation to distribution and is also a universal playback solution.
“These partnerships will ensure a robust Dolby Vision content pipeline and unique visual experience for viewers,” said Curt Behlmer, senior VP of content solutions and industry relations at Dolby Laboratories.
No specific titles or dates have been announced for the MGM and Universal Pictures movies, although a Dolby spokeswoman said the titles will be released via OTT streaming. Warner Bros Home Entertainment has already released nearly 40 4K Ultra HD titles mastered in Dolby Vision that are now available through Walmart’s Vudu.