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New Ultra HD Blu-rays Offer 4K Without Streaming

If you have a 4K TV, you've probably noticed that there's not a whole lot you can watch at full ultra HD resolution. The options, so far, have been limited to a few shows on select streaming services and costly proprietary boxes with long, unwieldy downloads. If you yearn for the simplicity of popping in a disc and watching a movie, the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) has you covered: UHD Blu-rays are on the way.

The BDA unveiled the Ultra HD Blu-ray designation yesterday (May 12), and detailed what kind of specs the new discs will sport. The biggest difference between Ultra HD and traditional Blu-ray is that the former supports resolutions up to 3840 x 2160 (colloquially known as 4K), while the latter caps out at 1920 x 1080 (1080p).

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Another important distinction is that Ultra HD Blu-ray discs can hold between 66 and 100 GB of data, whereas old-school Blu-rays can hold only 25 to 50 GB. This may not sound very exciting, but 4K video takes up a lot more space than its 1080p counterpart. Without improved storage options, you'd have to watch 4K movies on multiple discs.

Ultra HD Blu-rays will also take advantage of a few features unavailable to traditional Blu-ray discs. The new discs will allow for the display of many more colors, which will let Ultra HD Blu-rays deliver high dynamic range (HDR) and high frame rate content, up to 60 fps. (Whether this would be a good thing is a matter of opinion, since video content in 60 fps tends to resemble video games.)

Although Ultra HD Blu-ray players and discs will start shipping this summer, the BDA did not give any indication of what such products might cost, or which companies will be offering the technology. Still, expect big companies like Sony, Samsung and Fox to get in on the action sooner rather than later.

Although videophiles have been predicting the eventual death of physical media like video discs for years, it hasn't come to pass just yet. As long as broadband technology is too slow to stream 4K in many locations, a disc is still a simpler choice.

Marshall Honorof is a senior writer for Tom's Guide. Contact him at mhonorof@tomsguide.com. Follow him @marshallhonorof. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.