Panasonic's 4K Blu-Ray Player Could Make Discs Matter Again

Illustration for article titled Panasonic's 4K Blu-Ray Player Could Make Discs Matter Again

The CES show floor just opened, and the chaos is real. Sift through it and you'll find Panasonic has a gem hiding out in its massive booth. We've already been told 12930821321312 times that that 4K is here, and while the screens are, the stuff to watch is still sparse. But Panasonic's new Blu-Ray prototype wants to make sure you can use every pixel possible.


Panasonic gave us a glimpse of the company's new 4K Blu-Ray player, and while the black monolithic box pictured above is a super duper early model, it could be the future of physical format home entertainment. The Blu-ray Disc Association, now somewhat threatened by streaming services' bandwidth-chewing promise of 4K, announced that Blu-rays would be going 4k.

Panasonic is the first company to show off a prototype that will make these hi-res discs possible. The new H.265 codec will be able to compress video twice as efficient as the previous generation. But because this update depends a lot on the processor, it's not as simple as an OTA update to your existing unit. You'll need new hardware. And while it's hard to trust a video demo completely, let me tell you that the improvement over a 1080p video is both noticeable and fantastic.

Sure, Netflix's 4K content looks great (you can even see Kevin Spacey's forehead sweat!) but Netflix will always be limited by your bandwidth. You'll probably max out at somewhere around 15mbps on your local network. The Panasonic's 4K player—and the inevitable ones that will follow it into the market—will be able to do much more, around 50mbps. So on smaller sets, you might be OK with streaming, but you'll start noticing compression problems if you try 4K Netflix on a really big screen.

In other words, with 4K Blu-Ray—that Kevin Spacey forehead sweat is going to look so good, and you won't blow through your data cap either. Panasonic expects the the player to be ready around late 2015, possibly early 2016, which is in step with what we've been hearing, and the exact amount of cash you'll need to fork over remains a mystery. But spoilers: It's going to be a lot.

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Discs have always mattered to me. Of course, as soon as I buy one it gets ripped onto our media server. If I'm going to spend a couple hours watching a movie, I want the best picture and reference-quality sound. Low bitrate streaming from Amazon and Netflix just don't cut it on giant screens compared to a good bluray.