Pioneer announced a brace of new UHD Blu-ray burners today, the first we’ve seen debut for the PC market. Currently, if you want UHD playback, you need to pick up either a dedicated player or an Xbox One S — Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro lacks UHD Blu-ray support, even though the Japanese company was instrumental to the development of Blu-ray itself.

The new BDR-S11J-BK and the BDR-S11J-X are both 5.25-inch drives that support nearly every optical read/write standard ever devised, including: CD-R, CD-RW, DVD±R, DVD±R DL, DVD±RW, DVD-RAM, BD-R SL/DL/TL/QL, BD-RE SL/DL/TL, BD-R LTH). They also read CDs, DVDs, BDs, and UHD Blu-ray films. Both drives feature a 4MB buffer for underrun protection and support 16x burning speeds on standard Blu-ray media.

Pioneer claims that the BDR-S11J-X contains some additional hardware for ensuring high-quality audio playback, but both drives support Pioneer’s PureRead 4+ and real Time PureRead software. Exact specifications on either standard are hard to come by since the native language is Japanese, but Pioneer claims both technologies are specifically useful when reading damaged audio discs.

4K UHD Blu-ray playback… if you meet the requirements

If you’ve followed our coverage of Netflix streaming requirements for 4K video and the significant hardware upgrades most systems would require, you know that content creators have gone out of their way to make 4K streaming as difficult as possible. Only seventh-generation Intel Kaby Lake hardware is 4K streaming capable, and it looks like a similar set of requirements are in place for UHD Blu-ray support.

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In order to play UHD Blu-rays, your system must support AACS 2.0 and Intel’s Software Guard Extensions (SGX). You’ll need software to play the disc itself (CyberLink has an updated software solution set to ship in the near future), and a GPU with HDMI 2.0a and HDCP 2.2 support. AACS 2.0 also has to be implemented within the GPU driver, and no current stand-alone GPU drivers have this functionality. Finally, you need a 4K TV with both HDMI 2.0a and HDCP 2.2 support as well.

This is a tall order. No Intel chips before Skylake support SGX, and just owning a Skylake board isn’t enough — many desktop boards never implemented the feature and don’t support it in UEFI. The HDCP 2.2 support requirement is also dodgy, since not every Intel board supports that standard, either.

In theory, the UHD Blu-ray playback situation should be better than the 4K streaming situation, since at least 6th and 7th-generation Core chips are both supported. In practice, it seems to be every bit as much of a muddle and a problem. Support is limited to specific SKUs and motherboards with particular features, and the dependence on integrated graphics for decode support means that you can’t use UHD Blu-ray with any Intel HEDT system (HEDT refers to Intel’s E-class chips — Sandy Bridge-E, Ivy Bridge-E, Haswell-E, etc).

For years, there’s been a push-pull between content pirates and the content production industry, with law-abiding fans generally caught in the middle. For years, the content consumption side of the business has warned that if technology became too draconian, people simply wouldn’t use it. That seems to be the point at which we’ve arrived. Given the snail-like speed of PC refresh cycles these days, 4K streaming support will take 3-5 years to establish itself in the market, while UHD Blu-ray playback may never happen at all, thanks to ridiculously strict requirements that block out entire swathes of the hardware market.

The BDR-SJ11-BK is expected to be priced at $193, while the BDR-S11J-X will be a $307 part. Both drives will be available in Japan in late February, and will likely make their way to the US thereafter.

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extremetech

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