Up­grad­ing to an Ul­tra HD TV

Here’s What You Should Know


It’s win­ter again and with the fall­ing tem­per­a­tures it’s time to catch up on all your fa­vorite shows and movies. Seems like as good an ex­cuse as any to up­grade that old flat screen to a shiny new 4K model doesn’t it? Most peo­ple think this should be pretty straight­for­ward – just head to your near­est dealer and buy what­ever’s on sale. Af­ter all, all you re­ally want to do is watch zom­bies, right? This ap­proach is fine if good enough will do. How­ever, if you re­ally want to max­i­mize per­for­mance and make those zom­bies look their best, there is much more to con­sider.

As you search for the per­fect set, you’ll en­counter a plethora of man­u­fac­tures, mod­els, fea­tures and, worst of all, acronyms - lots of acronyms. HDTV, UHDTV, HDMI, HDCP, HDR, fps, LCD, LED, OLED, QD and Gbps are the big­gies you’ll en­counter on this par­tic­u­lar ven­ture. To make sense of it all, you can ei­ther go back to school for an elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing de­gree or choose an eas­ier path and just keep read­ing.

HDTV should be an easy one. High Def­i­ni­tion TV has been with us for a long time now. This is what you’re try­ing to up­grade from so you def­i­nitely don’t want to buy an­other one. Ul­tra-High Def­i­ni­tion TV or UHDTV is what you’re re­ally af­ter. This is the so called “4K” TV you’ve been hear­ing about. Th­ese sets have four times more pix­els than HDTV and con­se­quently give you a much clearer and sharper im­age.

So far, so good, right? LCD, LED, OLED and QD are all about the fun­da­men­tal tech­nol­ogy the TV uses to pro­duce the im­age you see on the screen. LCD stands for Liq­uid Crys­tal Dis­play, QD for Quan­tum Dot, LED for Light Emit­ting Diode and OLED is an Or­ganic Light Emit­ting Diode. De­tails of how th­ese tech­nolo­gies work is well be­yond the scope of this ar­ti­cle, but the main thing to know is that out of all th­ese dif­fer­ent tech­nolo­gies OLED will give you the best re­sults, fol­lowed by the quan­tum dot dis­plays. Quan­tum dot tech­nol­ogy is, in fact, an en­hance­ment to stan­dard liq­uid crys­tal dis­plays that in­creases their per­for­mance to near OLED lev­els.

Now comes the fun stuff. High-Def­i­ni­tion Multi Me­dia In­ter­face or HDMI is the name of the con­nec­tors used to link to­gether sources, re­ceivers and dis­plays. In the TV world, HDMI ver­sion 2.0a is the one to get. It’s ca­pa­ble of high speed data trans­fers up to 18 Giga bits per sec­ond (Gbps) and is high dy­namic range (HDR) com­pat­i­ble. HDR (or HDR10 as it’s for­mally known) is a tech­nol­ogy that al­lows a dis­play to dra­mat­i­cally in­crease its con­trast ra­tio. This is the con­trast be­tween the bright­est and dark­est im­age the dis­play can pro­duce. HDR pro­vides a much more ac­cu­rate and re­al­is­tic view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

The HDMI 2.0a ver­sion also en­ables video sig­nals with a greater num­ber of frames per sec­ond (fps). In fact, up to 60 fps is now sup­ported. This is twice the frame rate of reg­u­lar TV and 2.5 times greater than the typ­i­cal 24 fps frame rate used in the film in­dus­try. The higher frame rate leads to smoother, less jagged mo­tion. Fi­nally, thanks to a 10 bit colour gamut, HDMI 2.0a sup­ports a very rich colour pal­ette even at 4K res­o­lu­tions. It can ac­tu­ally sup­port more than 1 bil­lion colours.

High-band­width Dig­i­tal Con­tent Pro­tec­tion or HDCP is the copy pro­tec­tion scheme used to pre­vent piracy. You re­ally need to choose com­po­nents that sup­port ver­sion 2.2 or higher. Ear­lier ver­sions will not al­low you to watch 4K con­tent. UHD Blu-ray play­ers for ex­am­ple, ab­so­lutely re­quire it and sim­ply will not work without it.

As you may have re­al­ized by now, there’s a lot to con­sider if you’re look­ing for a top notch TV for your liv­ing room or home the­ater. You need to think about which tech­nol­ogy it’s based on, which ver­sion of HDMI it sup­ports, its max­i­mum res­o­lu­tion, its high­est frame rate, its colour gamut, HDCP and whether or not it sup­ports HDR. It’s pos­si­ble to dive even deeper into the abyss and look into

mo­tion res­o­lu­tion or the colour com­pres­sion for­mats it sup­ports. Seems pretty daunt­ing doesn’t it?

For­tu­nately, a group of in­dus­try heavy hit­ters have formed the UHD Al­liance. The mem­bers in­clude hard­ware man­u­fac­tures like Sony, Sam­sung, Pana­sonic, LG and others but it also in­cludes con­tent creators like DreamWorks, Para­mount, Univer­sal, Dis­ney, 20th Cen­tury Fox and Net­flix. Even con­tent dis­trib­u­tors like Rogers and au­dio com­pa­nies like DTS, Dolby and THX have got­ten in­volved. There are cur­rently 35 cor­po­ra­tions in the al­liance. The group’s goal is to fa­cil­i­tate the con­sumer’s se­lec­tion process to pro­vide “a seam­less, in­te­grated and high-quality UHD ecosys­tem from endto-end” (source: UHD Al­liance home page: http://www.uh­dal­liance.org/). This will in­volve both cer­ti­fied con­tent and hard­ware. If they meet all the nec­es­sary re­quire­ments, they will be al­lowed to bear the “Ul­traHD Pre­mium” logo.

The cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is largely aimed at elim­i­nat­ing the con­sumer’s bur­den of hav­ing to un­der­stand all of the tech­ni­cal mumbo jumbo nec­es­sary to make the best pos­si­ble choices in en­ter­tain­ment elec­tron­ics. In its cur­rent it­er­a­tion, the Ul­traHD Pre­mium specs stand as fol­lows: • Min­i­mum res­o­lu­tion of 3840 X 2160 (aka UHD) • In­puts must ac­cept a BT.2020 colour rep­re­sen­ta­tion • 10 bit colour depth ( more than 1 bil­lion colours) • Must be able to dis­play more than 90% of the DCI-P3 colour gamut • Must com­ply with the SMPTE ST2084 EOTF High Dy­namic Range (HDR) spec • Dis­play must be ca­pa­ble of at least 0.05 to more than 1000 nits of light out­put (20,000:1 con­trast ra­tio) OR • It must be ca­pa­ble of a least .0005 to more than 540 nits of light out­put (1,080,000:1 con­trast ra­tio) From th­ese specs we can see that the Dig­i­tal Cin­ema Ini­tia­tives (DCI) 4K res­o­lu­tion of 4096 × 2160 used in Sony’s 4K pro­jec­tors would also qual­ify as it ex­ceeds UHD’s 3840 X 2160 res­o­lu­tion. The re­quired colour pal­ette is far broader than the 8 bit colour we’re used to with Blu-ray play­ers, which are only ca­pa­ble of 16,777,216 colours. This may sound like a lot, but is ac­tu­ally 64 times less than the Ul­traHD Pre­mium stan­dard. The re­cently re­leased UHD Blu-ray play­ers also sup­port the same 10 bit colour gamut.

The two dif­fer­ent con­trast ratios are tai­lored to dif­fer­ent dis­play tech­nolo­gies. The first one is pri­mar­ily aimed at LCDbased dis­plays, while the sec­ond is aimed at OLED dis­plays. The far wider con­trast ratios as­so­ci­ated with OLED clearly sug­gests that this tech­nol­ogy is ca­pa­ble of fab­u­lous blacks and awe­some dy­namic range. The LCD-based sets, with their greater out­put, would per­form a lit­tle bet­ter in rooms with poor light con­trol but if you’re look­ing for the best pos­si­ble per­for­mance in a dark­ened room, the OLED wins hands down.

So now you’re all set right? Not so fast. Al­though the UHD Al­liance’s ef­forts to make things sim­ple and easy are com­mend­able, there are some note­wor­thy is­sues. Sony, for ex­am­ple, who is one of the al­liance’s big mem­bers has cho­sen not to use the Ul­traHD Pre­mium logo for its own prod­ucts. In­stead, it uses its own in­ter­nal stan­dard called “4K HDR” even though their prod­ucts do com­ply with Ul­traHD Pre­mium spec­i­fi­ca­tions. Sam­sung and Pana­sonic, on the other hand, have em­braced the new logo.

The big­ger is­sue is VIZIO. They don’t agree at all with the new stan­dard, sight­ing that the specification lacks im­por­tant de­tails on ex­actly how to mea­sure var­i­ous dis­play char­ac­ter­is­tics like light out­put, peak bright­ness and con­trast ra­tio. They claim that there are no set lim­its for un­de­sir­able phe­nom­ena, such as halo­ing ar­ti­facts and bloom­ing, which ad­versely af­fect dy­namic range and pic­ture quality. This could lead to the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of dis­plays that re­ally don’t de­serve it or the omis­sion of sets that do. This is clearly not a de­sir­able sit­u­a­tion.

VIZIO even ac­cused the UHD Al­liance of creating spec­i­fi­ca­tions that favour cer­tain hard­ware plat­forms to the detri­ment of others. For ex­am­ple, VIZIO’s ref­er­ence se­ries sets are spec­tac­u­lar per­form­ers but don’t tech­ni­cally meet the Ul­traHD Pre­mium spec. Their con­trast ratios are 800,000:1 which is phe­nom­e­nal but they don’t fall neatly into ei­ther of Ul­traHD Pre­mium’s two con­trast ra­tio cat­e­gories. As a re­sult, VIZIO has cho­sen to pur­sue a com­pet­ing HDR spec called Dolby Vi­sion. They feel that Dolby Vi­sion is a su­pe­rior and more ro­bust specification. It’s a lit­tle ironic that Dolby is also a mem­ber of the UHD Al­liance.

Dolby Vi­sion is in­deed su­pe­rior to HDR10 in sev­eral ways. For ex­am­ple, Dolby Vi­sion sets its cur­rent bright­ness tar­get at 4,000 nits with a con­trast ra­tio of 2,000,000:1. In the fu­ture, the bright­ness tar­get will in­crease to 10,000 nits. Fur­ther­more, Dolby Vi­sion al­lows a colour depth of up to 12 bits which rep­re­sents more than 68.7 bil­lion colours. Fi­nally, Dolby’s tech­nol­ogy also al­lows con­trast ra­tio op­ti­miza­tion from scene to scene within a movie whereas HDR10’s tweaks are ap­plied across the en­tire film.

In ad­di­tion to VIZIO, LG, Sharp, TCL and Philips are also pur­su­ing the Dolby Vi­sion spec on at least some of their mod­els. Stu­dios like 20th Cen­tury Fox, Para­mount, Sony Pic­tures, Dis­ney and Warner Broth­ers have also an­nounced sup­port for Dolby’s for­mat. So un­like VIZIO, some man­u­fac­tur­ers and stu­dios have clearly cho­sen to em­brace both tech­nolo­gies.

Un­for­tu­nately, it looks like we may be head­ing to­ward a mi­nor HDR for­mat war. On the bright side, both can co­ex­ist peace­fully. In the fu­ture, we may be see­ing TVs, UHD Blu-rays and play­ers sport­ing both lo­gos. For the mo­ment, Ul­traHD Pre­mium has greater mar­ket pen­e­tra­tion but who knows what will hap­pen in the long term. Re­gard­less of which op­tion you choose, both will have very real ben­e­fits. And those zom­bies will look bet­ter than ever.

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