January 29, 2021

Greg Tarr

Ultra HD Blu-ray Player Sales Decline Despite Pandemic Sheltering

CTA's One Year Sales & Forecasts, 2016-2021

Whither the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray format?

With the impact of COVID-19 driving online subscription video on demand service sign-ups, rentals and purchases to new levels of growth, while Americans have snapped up new 4K Ultra HDTVs at growth rates never anticipated in 2019, we thought it was time to check in on the state of Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc format.

We got a hold of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) One-Year Consumer Technology Estimates and Forecasts, 2016-2021 report that provides the industry’s latest estimated sales for 2020 and forecasts for 2021.

Unfortunately for the dedicated Ultra HD Blu-ray player category, much of the interest in the high resolution disc format is likely to be addressed through the purchase of one of the two new next-generation video game console systems, which each have models with built-in Ultra HD Blu-ray drives.

According to CTA factory shipment estimates, U.S. Ultra HD Blu-ray player units that hit 521,000 in 2019, are estimated to have fallen 5% to 485,000 units in full year 2020. They are forecast to decline another 2% to 485,000 units in 2021.

Since its launch, the Ultra HD Blu-ray disc format has enjoyed its heaviest demand in the North American market, but since the defections of some key manufacturers including Samsung and Oppo, the physical disc format has been in a state of steady decline since 2017.

The good news for physical disc enthusiasts, is that the arrival of next wave of video game consoles has brought high-end models in both the PS5 and Xbox Series X platforms with built-in Ultra HD Blu-ray compatible disc drives. That means, the gaming systems can use available apps to play traditional Ultra HD Blu-ray movie discs as a bonus application.

According to the estimates from VGChatz for the first four weeks of sales at the end of December, almost 2.20 million PS5 consoles had shipped in North America (both standard edition with disc drive and digital only edition), while Xbox Series X and S consoles (the series S lacks an Ultra HD Blu-ray drive) shipped nearly 1.73 million units in North America. Forecasts from Ampere Analysis predict 67.3 million PS5 units and 44.3 million Xbox Series X/S consoles will be sold globally by 2024.

Sony launched the PlayStation 5 standard edition at $499 and the digital only edition at $399 in North America on Nov. 12th.

Microsoft launched its Xbox Series X console (with UHD Blu-ray drive) on November 10th, priced at $499, and Xbox Series S unit (without disc drive) available for $299.

Although video game consoles are used primarily for gaming, most owners use the platforms to watch at least some movies from physical discs, and seeing as both new consoles support 4K/HDR disc playback, almost certainly most of those players will be connected to 4K Ultra HD TVs.

Comparatively, standard Full HD Blu-ray Disc players accounted for 2,989 million U.S. unit shipments in 2019 and are estimated to have finished 2020 with 2,391 million unit shipments, according to the CTA’s latest shipments and forecasts. For 2021, CTA predicts the FHD Blu-ray player category in the U.S. to drop to 1,961 million units.

Prior to the end of year 2020, it appeared unlikely CE manufacturers would be announcing any new models of dedicated 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray players for early 2021, as companies including Sony, Panasonic, LG, Pioneer and others opt to continue carrying forward players from the prior years. No new dedicated Ultra HD Blu-ray units were presented at virtual CES 2021.

Meanwhile, at CES 2021 Sony further threatened the physical Ultra HD Blu-ray medium by announcing its BRAVIA XR Core streaming service, which uses a new PureStream technology that leverages Sony Electronic’s new Cognitive Processor XR to present “Ultra HD Blu-ray quality” 80 Mbps bitstreams and near “lossless” quality.

Sony Pictures will offer popular library titles from its vast content library using the system. It also will leverage IMAX Enhanced remastered titles with advanced DTS surround sound.

As for Ultra HD Blu-ray software, the Digital Entertainment Group’s (DEG) second half 2020 sales and forecasts called for increased purchases of physical movie discs of all formats during the pandemic, but even larger numbers for digitally delivered home entertainment titles.

In coordination with the PS5 launch, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment re-released on Dec. 1 select movies in 4K UHD Blu-ray — dubbed “4K Movie Essentials” — targeting PS5 gamers. Titles include: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse; Spider-Man: Far From Home; Venom; Baby Driver; Bad Boys for Life; Bloodshot; Zombieland: Double Tap; The Fifth Element; Underworld; Pineapple Express and Hellboy.

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By Greg Tarr

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