I do not have a 4K UHD TV just yet, but I do have a 4K monitor. But I am curious as about all this. The goal is to play such movies on a PC, specifically a home theater PC. I may not ever do that, but I do need to know how. The programs to play such movies has yet to be released. UHD Blu-Rays require much more space than traditional Blu-Rays discs. A HD movie can fit on a 50 GB Blu-Ray disc just fine. This means you need a certain Blu-Ray drive.

For those that don’t know, you need a way to convert an image you see to a format computers can process. This requires a coder/decoder, or codec for short. A codec is just a technique that converts the analog world our eyes and ears see and hear to a digital format. The MPEG-2 codec is used for HDTV broadcasts through your antenna or cable. The successor to that is called H.264 (AVC). A high-quality H.264 encoder can produce the same video quality as MPEG-2 but have a 40%-50% smaller file. Microsoft also made a codec called VC-1 that is also used on Blu-Ray movies, with the same advantages in the file size. (I always found VC-1 to produce a smoother picture around the edges; H.264 is more crisp.) But 4K UHD movies are 4 times the size of HD movies. So, for example, if a HD movie is 30 GB, than the equivalent UHD movie would be about 120 GB. We need a way to shrink that. This is where the H.265 (HEVC) codec comes into play. Videos encoded in that are 40%-50% smaller than videos in the H.264 codec. Now you are getting to more reasonable file sizes.

Another problem: you need the hardware designed to play a H.265 movie smoothly. The hardware has existed for a few years, but has been very expensive. Or hard to find. The AMD A-8000 and A-9000 series of CPU’s have been capable for a while, except it is very difficult to find a decent computer with AMD CPU’s in them. Intel’s CPU’s released in 2017 and beyond can. All video cards released in late 2016 can also. This is called hardware decoding.

Yet another problem: Digital Rights Management (DRM). This is one thing that needs to die a quick death. It is 0% effective at stopping copyright infringement (which is not theft because nothing was physically taken — that does not make it any less wrong). But it is 100% effective at making your life miserable. It seems a drive must be compatible with AACS v.2. (All I know is AACS is a type of DRM.)

I had a Blu-Ray drive that was compatible with the Blu-Ray discs over 50 GB. But it could not read this UHD movie. So I ordered the LG WH16NS40 drive. It had a manufacturer date of June 2016. It read the UHD disc just fine. The movie was 88 GB large. The equivalent HD version was 37 GB. (37 x 4 = 148. 60% of 148 is 88.8. So the H.265 codec in this case shrunk the movie by about 40%.) So now I just need to wait until there is a program that can actually play these movies. And wait until I upgrade my CPU and video card next year. And yes, it will still be Windows 7. More to come later. I don’t know when, 1Q 2017 at the very earliest.

Update 12/26/2016: So I downloaded a few HEVC 4K demo videos. One demo was 8-bit color at 29.97 FPS, another was also 8-bit color at 60 FPS, and the last was 10-bit color at 59.94 FPS. (Fun fact: TV’s use 29.97 FPS instead of an even 30 because when TV’s were transitioning from black-and-white to color this allowed both black-and-white and color TV’s to work with the same signal. The reason why that is so is quite complicated.) Using my AMD A-8000 CPU, I first tried to play the videos in VLC. But the videos stuttered badly. It turns out that you have to download an add-on for VLC to play HEVC videos. So I tried MPC-HC next. It worked, but you have to enable a setting to enable HEVC and 4K hardware decoding. Once I did that, only the 10-bit color video failed to play smoothly. I am hoping to buy a new video card in 2017 that supports 10-bit color because I want to see if I can notice the extra colors in a video. I’ve got my eye on the AMD Vega video card, because AMD supports their video cards for a long long time unlike NVidia.

Update 1/29/2017: I found out that the 2017 updates to the Blu-Ray software players support 4K UHD disc.  Expect releases in March and April.  Expect updates then.

Update 4/17/2017: So I was planning on waiting to upgrade my video card to the AMD Vega video card, but my 4 year old one gave out. Ugh. So I went ahead and bought a XFX RX 480 video card because it had a $30 rebate (which they proceeded to reject for not including a “clear” receipt despite me including a receipt with only that on it). I also upgraded my CPU to the AMD Ryzen as well. The main reason I chose the Ryzen is because it has performance on-par with Intel CPU’s that cost much much more. I punched those numbers in my smartphone and out comes a winkie face.

Before my video card died, I was able to test some 4K H.265 demos. This used the CPU because my old video card did not support H.265 hardware decoding. My 8-core Ryzen processor was able to play some of the less advanced videos without stuttering. And yes, it is still Windows 7. You just have to block all the telemetry and other spying updates to keep using the best Windows ever made.

Still waiting for more 4K video players for the computer. I really thought Samsung would have some competition for their standalone 4K player by now, but the competing players are not as good even if they cost more.

Update 6/26/2018: Yes, this update is over a year since the last one. I haven’t forgotten.

Two things happened this year. First, I bought the Oppo UDP-203 Blu-Ray player. There is a saying “jack-of-all-trades, master of none”. I like to say “those who do everything do nothing well”. The Oppo player isn’t like that. It does one thing and one thing only: player movies. I’ve downloaded samples off the internet, it plays them all. I downloaded programs off my TiVo, it plays them all. I’ve converted those programs to the H.264 and H.265 format, the Oppo doesn’t care and plays it anyway. It may only do one thing, but it clearly does it quite well.

Second, I finally found a way to play 4K Ultra HD Blu Ray movies on my computer. Doing research, there are very few Blu Ray drives for computers that will because of the uber paranoid movie studios work overtime to make life miserable for paying customers just to try and stop copyright infringement. As I have already said above, the movies studios annoyances have not stopped any copyright infringement. So the only thing they have accomplished is to make life harder for paying customers like me. But I found a LG Blu Ray drive that would work.

Oh, by the way, the reason why 4K is called 4K is because the video resolution of the video file is 3840 x 2160. This is at the 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio of the video. (3840 / 16 = 2160 / 9). Movies are quite often filmed in a wider widescreen and so the video resolution is above 4000 x 2160. 1 kilo is equal to 1000. Those numbers are very close to 4000, or 4 kilo, or 4K. HDTV is half the resolution of that, so it is 1920×1080. HDTV can also be referred to as 2K because 1920 is very close to 2000. Some computer monitors already are at 8K.

Comparing a 2K 1080p standard HD to a 4K 2160p ultra HD movie on a 4K monitor is noticeable. You clearly see a lot more detail. Because my monitor does not have HDR black coloring help, the picture looked brighter. The Oppo Blu Ray player fixed that problem even playing on a standard 2K HDTV. But you only notice the difference when you see the 4K version. If you never saw the 4K version, the standard HD version looks just fine.

This might be my last update on this topic.