UHD Alliance Announces Standards for 'Premium' 4K TVs

Studio reps love 4K UHD content as much as we do.

Credit: Reviewed.com / Julia MacDougall
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Recently, standards for television displays have been moving goalposts. Innovation in TV tech and the standards that regulate it are rarely in sync, and that can be problematic for the consumer. Overeager manufacturers launch flashy features that don't work with the standards that eventually coalesce. End result? A TV that's an island unto itself, without any broader industry support.

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In an effort to bring order to chaos, major industry players—from content producers, to content distributors, to consumer electronics manufacturers—formed the UHD Alliance. It's goal is simple: To set standards for ultra-high definition (UHD) content and electronics.

The Panel

At the CES 2016 UHD Alliance press conference, four board representatives were in attendance:

• Michael Bonner, executive VP of digital distribution, Universal Studios Home Entertainment
• Man Jit Singh, president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
• Mike Dunn, worldwide president of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
• Ron Sanders, the president of worldwide home entertainment distribution for Warner Bros.

UHDA Panel
Credit: Reviewed.com / Julia MacDougall
Studio reps sit in front of a display showcasing UHDA members. Moderator Jim Bottoms is at far left. View Larger

The UHD Standards

Hanno Basse, who does double duty as the President of the UHDA and the Chief Technical Officer for Twentieth Century Fox, opened the press conference by revealing the UHD standards that the UHDA has settled on for the three types of companies that deal with UHD content: electronics manufacturers, content distributors, and content creators.

Devices (LG, Samsung, Panasonic, etc.)

LG Signature OLED
Credit: Reviewed.com / Lee Neikirk
Many existing TVs, like this LG Signature OLED are already going to qualify for the new UHD Alliance standards. View Larger

The device must meet or exceed the following expectations:
• Image resolution: 3840 x 2160
• Color Bit Depth: 10-bit signal
• Color Palette (Wide Color Gamut)
• Signal Input: BT.2020 color representation
• Display Reproduction: More than 90% of P3 colors
• High Dynamic Range: SMPTE ST2084 EOTF
• A combination of peak brightness and black level either:
More than 1000 nits peak brightness and less than 0.05 nits black level OR
More than 540 nits peak brightness and less than 0.0005 nits black level

Distribution (Amazon, Netflix, DIRECTV, etc.)

Any distribution channel delivering the UHD Alliance content must support:
• Image Resolution: 3840 x 2160
• Color Bit Depth: Minimum 10-bit signal
• Color: BT.2020 color representation
• High Dynamic Range: SMPE ST2084 EOTF

Content Master (Warner Bros., Twentieth Century Fox, Universal, etc.)

The UHD Alliance Content Master must meet the following requirements:
• Image Resolution: 3840 x 2160
• Color Bit Depth: Minimum 10-bit signal
• Color: BT.2020 color representation
• High Dynamic Range: SMPTE ST2084 EOTF

The UHD Alliance recommends the following mastering display specifications:
• Display Reproduction: Minimum 100% of P3 colors
• Peak Brightness: More than 1000 nits
• Black Level: Less than 0.03 nits

Ultra HD Premium Logo
Credit: UHD Alliance
The Ultra HD Premium logo View Larger

Basse also introduced a licensing program for UHD. It's pretty simple: Display manufacturers can send their display to a testing facility, and if it meets or exceeds the “Device” criteria, it receives UHD certification. The manufacturer can then stamp the UHD logo on the product to emphasize its pedigree.

Here's the nitty gritty: If a TV proves that it can display 4K content, more than 90% of the colors in the P3 color diagram, and either very deep blacks and moderate peak brightness, or moderately dark blacks and very high peak brightness, then it gets the UHD stamp of approval.

The either-or in that equation exists to cater to both OLED and LCD displays. OLED screens can more easily achieve very dark black levels, since they can completely turn individual pixels off. Full-array LCD/LED displays, on the other hand, can more easily pump out incredible brightness.

Why UHD?

Once the discussion got going, moderator Jim Bottoms, executive director of MESA Europe, set the stage by describing the impact of the new UHD standard: “I think it’s fair to say that today we stand at the threshold of yet another revolution in unfolding or releasing the ‘ultimate’ in entertainment experience.”

It soon became clear that there are two driving forces behind the new UHD standard. The first is the desire to give the consumer a fantastic viewing experience. Based on consumer testing, the improvement in picture quality from existing Blu-ray content to 4K UHD content with High Dynamic Range (HDR) is “a full step in consumer experience,” according to Fox's Mike Dunn.

The second is a drive to more closely preserve the artistic intent of content producers. Sony's Man Jit Singh described the 4K UHD with HDR experience as being, "the first time we have a medium where we can, at home, provide the range that a 35 mm film provides, and show [viewers] the way the creator actually thought of it." He continued, "I think there’s a real marrying of content and devices that has come together.”

UHD Alliance Display
Credit: Reviewed.com / Julia MacDougall
The UHD Alliance label should be indicative of a certain level of uniform quality in television displays. View Larger

"A Full Step"


UHD is described as “a full step” in content and display evolution because it incorporates advancements made in multiple categories—peak brightness, black levels, and color range—on top of the resolution boost that 4K provides.

When asked which advancement was the most important, the panel was unanimous in its pick: all of them.

“It’s an impactful change when [viewers] see it. When you see Mad Max with the fire with the bright television, the nits really coming at you, it’s almost a 3D experience without the glasses," said Ron Sanders. "It’s much better than what we’ve had before.”

Obstacles to UHD Adoption

The biggest obstacle to the wholesale adoption of the UHD standard? Consumer and retailer education.

“I think we have to be very careful not to confuse the consumer,” Singh said. “We have to, as an industry, both on the hardware and on the development side, really be very, very consistent in our messaging."

“I think we have to be very careful not to confuse the consumer." Tweet It

Not only do the retailers have to know how to optimize the viewing experience in-store, but they also have to educate their employees about the new standards and the significance of the UHD logo. Companies and manufacturers learned this lesson the hard way. “We didn’t do as good a job when we moved to Blu-ray,” Singh confessed.

There’s more hope for this step change, however. Dunn quoted the results of his studio’s market research, saying, “Nearly 70% of consumers understand what 4K is, and it’s an aspirational technology. So it has gravity, and it has some pull to it.”

Samsung SUHD TV
Credit: Reviewed.com / Lee Neikirk
Since the standards are so new, though, TVs like this Samsung SUHD TV won't necessarily have the UHD brand attached to it. View Larger

Let the UHD Rollout Begin


The panel members expect that the adoption of UHD will happen more or less simultaneously across streaming, digital broadcasts, and physical media. In fact, some UHD titles have already been released and studios are planning to release more in conjunction with the launch of 4K UHD Blu-ray players, which should arrive as early as this spring.

Production should really ramp up late in Q4, when the winter holidays come a knockin’.

The best part? The studios are also planning on re-releasing some classic titles in the UHD format. Singh called out Bridge on the River Kwai, summarizing that “classics will be available on 4K UHD.”

The Future of the UHDA

Basse indicated that in the future the UHDA hopes to “broaden the scope” by pushing UHD standard adoption to broadcast and mobile. The UHDA already has some broadcast partners, including Netflix, DIRECTV, and Amazon.

The UHDA hopes to “broaden the scope” by pushing into broadcast and mobile. Tweet It

He also pointed out that image quality can only be improved so much. Because of how the human eye perceives light and images, there's a natural limit to display and image recording technology. At some point, another doubling of resolution or another billion colors won't be distinguishable to viewers.

Until then, the UHDA will push for the adoption of standards that will bring the viewing experience as close to the original artistic vision—and to real life—as possible.

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