Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Techy Tuesday - Ultra HD, 4K TV and HDR

Some time ago, Mrs. Graybeard and I were in that electronics store that implies they have the best buys on everything.  I don't even remember why we were there.  My only distinct memory is drifting over to where they have the monster TVs and encountering my first 4K TV.  It was playing a demo loop consisting of a vivid night time scene in some city, switching to a dusk scene of boats and a large riverboat on what appeared to be a European waterway, and then some scenes from Arches National Park.

My jaw hit the floor with such force that I think it's still partially dislocated.  Despite the enormous screen size, I think it was 60", it seemed there was detail in the picture finer than I could see; that if you put it under a microscope, you'd see more and more detail.  If I had a pocket magnifier, I would have tried it.

Unfortunately, the terms involved are somewhat muddled and there really isn't a way to know exactly what you're getting without seeing the TV.  For example, if I had bought that TV, I would have bought a 4K Ultra High Definition TV and would have thought I had the best there is. After this year's Consumer Electronics Show, though, I might be finding out that TV isn’t actually “Ultra HD Premium.”  EE Times' reporter Junko Yoshida does a summary of the terms and what's really going on in the market.
The UHD Alliance, an industry group with 35 member companies, came to Las Vegas last week, and rolled out a set of new specifications called “Ultra High Definition Premium,” and a ‘Good Housekeeping’ logo for products and services that comply with the spec.  The group’s recommended performance metrics include resolution, high dynamic range (HDR), peak luminance, black levels and wide color gamut.

The new spec actually clarifies the definition of Ultra High Definition. This is something “premium UHD” panel makers wanted but the Consumer Technology Association (formerly known as Consumer Electronics Association) never did,” according to Richard Doherty, Research Director of the Envisioneering Group. “So, the UHD Alliance stepped up and gave them what they wanted… Others can now aspire to meeting the criteria.”
As always, "the devil is in the details".  The HDR specifications, for example, specify how black the blackest levels need to be and how bright the whitest levels need to be.  The Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers (SMPTE) has been researching what constitutes "HDR" and developing specifications.  Their "HDR10" has been adopted as a basic standard for HDR 4k TV.  But peak brightness and peak blackness are just limits; how to meet those limits is a different question; if I told you the blackest blacks need to be the blackest thing imaginable and the peak brightness had to match the sun, I might have created a spec. that nobody could meet.
To date, four companies — Dolby, Technicolor, Philips and the BBC — have developed an HDR format. Each firm, armed with its own intellectual property rights, has been pitching its technology — a development destined to trigger another format battle over which format will be added to Ultra High Definition TV.
Shades of the VHS/Beta VCR standards?  Yup.  I'm fond of the saying that goes, "when there's more than one standard, there is no standard". 
This simulation from Dolby Labs shows their simulation of how much better their HDR is than the competition (real or imagined).  
One piece of surprise news came out of CES last week. Technicolor (Paris) and Royal Philips announced an agreement to merge their HDR solutions.
This matters because every scene isn't pure white or pure black.  The color space is incredibly important.  If you were around as CGA computer monitors were replaced by VGA and then SVGA and so on, you'll be familiar with the ideas color resolution and color spaces a monitor can display.  It applies here, as well.  (This is a deep subject; people study this for a living, so don't be surprised if it seems to be really esoteric.)  The most inclusive standard for color spaces I can find is CIE 1931.  Ultra HDR, 4K TVs are supposed to meet an input of Rec. BT.2020 ("Rec" is short for recommendation, but think of it as yet another specification).
Pictured here are three spec.s: CIE1931 as the large colored zone and two triangular areas.  The smaller one is the current HDTV color space, called Rec.709.  The larger triangle is BT2020.  The dot in the middle, D65, is white. 

So what does all this mean?  What's the bottom line?  Right now, the market appears to be both scattered and looking for directions.  There are some gorgeous 4k TVs out there, but while walking through the Big Box store a couple of weeks ago, I took a look at the display aisle and there were some that didn't look that good.  Not just HDR, which makes the screen look less vivid, but other picture problems as well.  I'm not buying for that reason, along with the lack of 4k source material.  In this neck of the woods, HD cable TV is just starting to do 1080p TV.  The 2160p of 4k just isn't there.  If you feel you have to have one, I'd still be really hesitant until specs get agreed upon.  You might read this article, too.  If you still feel you have to have one, I wouldn't buy one unless I could see it first. 


  1. I honestly cannot tell the difference between HD and regular. I don't have a 60' TV just a 38' and it sits 15 feet away. However the sound sucks. I have ringing in my ears and a slight loss of hearing from firing weapons in the military way back in 1964. I wish they would improve the quality of the sound in the TV. Someone is going to say turn it up or get a hearing aid but that isn't the problem. I can hear sounds really well. I can here a little bird 200' away I can hear the smallest sound (except that left ear). The problem is that the ringing kind of negates certain sounds/frequencies/tones. And the TV shoes now have a habit of putting narrative over music and often bizarre music like a single warbling note that get's louder. It is either a conspiracy or a way to hire more musicians but it cancels out the sounds of the voices. I think a big part of the problem is the speakers. I think that they effectively blare out a smaller audible bandwidth than a decent speaker will. So some of the nuance of voice is lost while some of the loudness of the electronicly generated music amplified. Interestingly I can hear the ads loud and clear because they don't play music over it and I think the amplitude is increased as well.

    Anyway fix the sound the HD really isn't all that great or exciting but I would sure like to hear what the actors are saying.

  2. "Garbage In, Garbage Out" reigns supreme in the video display world, as I'm sure you well know.

    When I was doing Home Theater installations and calibrating monitors I had this stuff down cold.

    Then Blu-Ray came out, and I had some more things to learn.

    One of which is that not all providers provide true HD, either!

    The "HD" we got from Charter was WORSE than the SD from Verizon FiOS, which compares very well with what I was used to seeing when I worked at DirecTV,

    DirecTV uses what videophiles (not nearly as nutty as the audiofools) call "HD Lite" simply because a full bit-rate 1920x1080 signal takes up a little less than half the bandwidth of a complete transponder on the satellite.

    The only real full-rate HD you'll get is over-the-air, although with MPEG4 and newer standards, most people can't tell the difference.

    The bandwidth demands of "4k" will be enough that you probably won't see it over-the-air or from cable providers for quite some time.

    And most people would be stunned to see a quality NTSC signal on a properly adjusted analog monitor. The first time I saw it, I asked if it was "HD", it was that good compared to the crap that most people have watched.

  3. Yes to your post and yes to your commentors that mentioned the sound and the need to adjust the settings on the device you are using.

    The sound particularly 'cause I do have some serious hearing problems and yet other than selective deafness, my wife hears fine. We usually watch our blue rays disc with a tweaking of the surround sound's five speakers, but sometimes the audio mix is so bad we have to turn on closed captions. (Tropic Thunder was unwatchable without the captions) The question of whether it was worth watching is a different question. (smile)

    And with our big tvs, some fine tuning of the settings has improved the picture.

    I have been lucky in that a mild case of procrastination has usually seen us getting a mature technology.

    Very good post.

  4. It's just like audio back in the 70's and 80's...eventually even the junk got good enough that 90% of consumers couldn't tell the difference. I'm 55 now. My ears are mostly shot from work, playing music and listening to music. Good enough is good enough.

    Same with TV's. We have a 1080p TV with mostly good to great picture quality from DISH, and Blue Ray movies typically look great. Are there better TV's out there. I'm sure there are. But what we have...is good enough!!!!