24.05.16

HD and Beyond: 4K is So Boring

HD and Beyond 4K is Boring

I for one am absolutely bored out of my mind having 4K—the issues and the concepts—constantly thrust in front of me at every turn.

I’ve actively given up going over the basics of 4K, HDCP 2.2 and HDMI 2.0 to our dealers. We’ve even switched off part of the lectures in our training. 

Why? People are bored. They know it. Or they’ve heard it over and over and over again so many times that it’s not news it’s just repetition. 

What tends to happen is that when technology takes a step forward or something new is announced, companies try to compete with each other to achieve the perception that they are the subject experts. Become that, and people will come to you for help and then hopefully buy your product; one-up-man-ship at its best.

As such, all that our industry space has been doing for the past two years is prattle on about 4K.

It hasn’t had the perceived image quality jump either. The massive step up from analog 576i to digital 1080p has not been repeated for the end-user. The viewing distances to gain the advantage aren’t understood in the wider user community. It just means it’s not going to set the world on fire for a lot of people.

So I’ll shut up about it. 

In a minute. 

The question therefore is, what will set the world on fire? What is exciting? What can we talk about if 4K/UHD is off the table? For me, this past month I’ve had the chance to finally get hands-on with UHD Blu-ray and HDR. UHD Blu-ray has finally arrived here in the UK. Content has arrived, rejoice! Add to that the fact that it’s HDR content, rejoice even further! 

Kicking off with the former, it means that end users like myself (the digital immigrant) can finally buy those physical items to play back in UHD. My first impressions of the two players that are now available in the UK are that the Panasonic UB900 player is the better of the two. Sorry Samsung (with the K8500). 

Keeping it brief, what’s important about UHD Blu-ray is that it’s HDCP 2.2 protected and the content of the discs appears to be 3840x2160/24p HDR/BT.2020 YCbCr4:2:0/10bit.

This means that this passes down a decent High Speed HDMI cable. No need to dig out those UHD premium HDMI cables just yet. I managed to use a 10.2GBps HDMI repeater device to send 4K/24P HDR/BT.2020 YCbCr4:2:2/12bit as well as a 7.5m of passive High Speed HDMI and 10m active HDMI cable. This means it passes over HDBaseT on a single cable as well. Rejoice more custom installers! 

Much more important than the UHD resolution of the Blu-ray itself in my humble opinion, is the HDR. Forget the UHD part people. HDR is a much more tangible and obviously visually real improvement to the picture on a TV set. It’s the first thing I’ve seen that end-users can tangibly see and the reaction I’ve seen back that up. I’d happily watch 1080p HDR against UHD alone. This is where the excitement is.

My initial dive into the technology wasn’t all effortless joy though. Things are clearly in flux. They need to settle down still. I ended up playing with the Panasonic DMP-UB900 on a Panasonic DX900, along with a JVC and Sony HDR capable projector pairing.

The JVC was too dark. A firmware update sorted that. But very specific settings need to be placed into the projector to get the full effect. How HDR works in projectors is a topic for another day. The Sony was too dark and remained so. Sony didn’t have a firmware update and couldn’t actually tell us what the projector was capable of. On the phone, they actually said that they weren’t worried about HDR all that much, it wasn’t going to be a thing. 

So we settled on the DX900 TV set for our initial tests. It’s a lovely thing on the most part. The local dimming or honeycomb lighting is a bit of a let down on face value. The halo around film credits is bizarre and it doesn’t know what to do with black and white moving text. You can see the dimming getting all confused. The massive selection of setup options does make it a hell of a display though. 

The HDR image was excellent. The Panasonic player could output an upscaled 4K/24P HDR/BT.2020 YCbCr4:4:4/12bit and the TV looked lovely. When compared to the non-HDR resolutions (4K/60P SDR/BT.709 YCbCr4:4:4/8bit and 4K/24P SDR/BT.709 YCbCr4:4:4/8bit) the difference was obvious.

With two flavours of HDR emerging, Dolby Vision and HDR10, there are only a few TV manufacturers and models claiming to support both. VHS vs. Betamax again? I don’t think it will be quite the same, but it’s yet more confusion for the consumer on top of confusion over the arrival of 4K/UHD. We’ve gone for an LG that claims to support both. No one can tell me if I buy a Dolby Vision set, can I do HDR10? Despite that, this is something I think presents a major sales opportunity and has to be explored if you can.

Shall we pledge it then that all of us to stop talking about UHD and 4K? It’s here, we get it. Start talking about HDR; demo it to people. They’ll want it.

Daniel Adams is the Director of Technical at HDanywhere.