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Ultra HD Blu-ray Movies and Samsung's Player Starting to Appear

Posted on Wednesday, February 17th, 2016 8:56 PM and updated on Thursday, March 3rd, 2016 1:46 PM

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UltraHD Blu-ray LogoThe latest innovation in the home theater hobby is Ultra HD, which has a higher resolution (3840x2160) and other features that can take movies in the home to a whole new level. The format is also known as 4K, but that is somewhat of a misnomer, as 4K is technically a reference to the 4096x2160 resolution used by 4K Digital Cinema Projection systems in movie theaters.

TV manufacturers have been selling so-called 4K displays for a few years, and you might even own one, but there has been precious little content to play on Ultra HD displays. Streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Instant Video are slowly introducing "4K" content, and other providers are talking about it, but the real potential of the format likely can be realized best with physical media.

That means a successor to the Blu-ray disc format that has been around since 2006 and that successor is called Ultra HD Blu-ray.

Back in September 2015, Samsung unveiled its first Ultra HD player at a trade show in Berlin, Germany. 

At the time, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment also announced that they will be supporting the new format with some initial movie titles that included Kingsman: The Secret ServiceFantastic FourX-Men: Days of Future PastLife of Pi, The Maze Runner, Exodus: Gods and Kings, and Wild.

In November, Sony Pictures announced its initial slate of Ultra HD titles to arrive in "early 2016" that included The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Salt (nominated for sound mixing), Hancock, Chappie, The Pineapple Express, and The Smurfs 2.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment followed up with an announcement in late December that it would start with Mad Max: Fury Road, San Andreas, The LEGO Movie, and Pan, add some catalog titles (Man of Steel and Pacific Rim), and then do day-and-date releases with Blu-ray releases of other movies. Their goal for 2016 was to have 35 movies available in the format.

When those announcements were made, exact timeframes were not given, and we didn't have any idea of the pricing of the player or the discs.

Fast-forward several months, and now we have both!

Ultra HD Blu-ray Player

Samsung UBS-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player

The $399.99 Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player began showing up in some online and brick-and-mortar retailers last week, but availability is still not widespread. You can buy one on Best Buy's web site, but people are not finding them in stores. Some Fry's locations have them, and Video and Audio Center in California has sold a few as well. Gift Shop merchant Amazon.com is taking pre-orders, but doesn't have a firm date of when they will be available.

Currently, Samsung is the only manufacturer with an Ultra HD Blu-ray player for sale. Panasonic has announced a model that will be available later this year, but Sony has not made any firm announcements. Many enthusiasts are holding out for the Panasonic model and saying a few prayers each night that Oppo is working feverishly on an Ultra HD model as well.

Rumor has it that the $400 price is only for a limited time and it will go up to $500 at some point, so if that's important to you, don't wait too long!

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The Martian Ultra HD Cover ArtworkUltra HD Movies

Once you have a player, you'll need something to play with it. This player has streaming apps from Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and more, but the best quality and overall experience is going to come by playing Ultra HD Blu-ray discs. Fortunately, there is a selection from which to choose, either available now or within the next two weeks, with more on the way.

Some Best Buy stores do have the Twentieth Century Fox titles available, but not all. Even though its web site said on Sunday (February 14) that some of them were available and in stores, but a visit to one local store resulted in the employees saying that they weren't planning on displaying them until later this week, and they wouldn't be able to find them in the storage area. Reports from around the country have some stores with displays all set, while others require the employees to go digging for them, and some echo our experience.

The studio's online store, foxconnect.com, is showing that ten titles will be available on March 1st, while another is set for a March 8 release. It has shipped a few of the titles to fortunate buyers, but many others are stuck in the store's "processing" holding pattern. If you don't mind waiting, you can save 30% on your first order by signing up for their newsletter and using the discount code they send. (That promotion may end at any time, however.)

Best Buy's web site is showing that all of Fox's titles are now available on March 1st and cannot be picked up in-store, which is different than it was yesterday. The $27.99 prices that were in effect have also been changed back to $29.99.

Early release fluctuations aside, Sony's titles are also showing up as being available on March 1, 2016, as are two titles from Lionsgate. In contrast to the Fox releases, Sony and Lionsgate are including Atmos or DTS:X soundtracks. Unfortunately there are no signs of Warner Bros. titles yet at Best Buy, but Amazon does list a few of them as being available on March 1 as well.

All this is a clear indication of just how early we are in the release process and that things really haven't settled down. Unless you're willing to deal with these fluctuations, your best bet is to wait until after March 1st, at least.

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