CES 2020 had TVs, robots, cars, and vacuum cleaners, but UHD Blu-ray players were missing. It is even more remarkable that almost nobody seemed to notice their absence.
CES: From launchpad to no-show
For years and years, disc players for CDs, DVDs, and Blu-rays were some of the hottest items at shows like CES and IFA, but the rise of streaming services has dramatically changed the media landscape.
UHD Blu-ray is the most recent disc standard. The first UHD Blu-ray players were unveiled at IFA 2015 in Berlin. A few months later, CES 2016 in Las Vegas served as the launchpad for UHD Blu-ray and the first players from Panasonic, Samsung, and Philips (Funai). One year later at CES 2017, LG and Sony joined the movement while Samsung and Panasonic expanded their line-ups. CES 2018 brought us the first combo player with support for Dolby Vision and HDR10+, and at CES 2019 Panasonic and Sony announced new models.
In hindsight, the buzz surrounding UHD Blu-ray probably peaked sometime around 2017. It was not a particularly high peak. In April 2018, Oppo - beloved for its disc players - surprisingly announced that it would exit the disc player business. Samsung made its decision to exit the disc market known to the public in February 2019.
Also read: Hollywood doesn't really want you to buy Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs
Last week, CES 2020 concluded without a single announcement about a new UHD Blu-ray player. FlatpanelsHD did not even see a Blu-ray player at CES 2020. Perhaps we did not pay enough attention but we were not the only ones.
The dwindling interest in new disc players is also reflected in sales of video discs. From 2014 to 2018 the market for DVD and Blu-ray discs was cut almost in half; from $25.2 billion globally to $13.1 billion globally in 2018.
Who's in, Who's out
Samsung and Oppo are out. Panasonic and Sony are still in. High-end brands such as Pioneer are also in business. But what about LG? The South Korean company has not refreshed its UHD Blu-ray line-up since 2018.
We asked LG about its commitment to UHD Blu-ray at CES 2020. The answer we got is that there is nothing new to announce.
New UHD Blu-ray players from Panasonic or other brands may very well be coming later in 2020, but it is clear that disc players are no longer products for the mainstream. It is a niche for movie buffs who prefer to own a physical copy and who value the high picture and audio quality.
The closest we came to a new UHD Blu-ray player at CES 2020 was Sony's brief mention of PlayStation 5 on stage. The next generation game console will be unveiled later this year but Sony has already confirmed that it will include a disc drive capable of spinning UHD Blu-ray discs. There is already an UHD Blu-ray drive in Microsoft's Xbox One S and One X consoles, and there will also be one in the next generation Xbox Series X. Having one in PlayStation 5 is good news, especially after Sony's poor decision not to support UHD Blu-ray in the PlayStation 4 Pro.
Also read: An 8K disc format is unlikely. Here's why
So here we are. Some people say that no news is good news. CES 2020 was not good news for UHD Blu-ray but it is perhaps more noteworthy that almost nobody seemed to notice the absence of UHD Blu-ray this year. It just happened. It is the new normal.