CES2016: Ultra HD Premium Specs

The UHD Alliance rolled out their long-awaited specs for “Ultra HD Premium” today in a CES press release. The new specs, which define a “true” Ultra HD experience, come with a new certification and logo as well. Hopefully this will help consumers choose a TV that works for their needs.

The specs themselves
Any TV that has this new spec must have the following:

  • Image Resolution: 3840×2160
  • 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

For the most part this is a lot of technical stuff but it boils down to:

  • This must be a 4K TV.
  • The TV must be capable of displaying all colors supported by the latest specs, from the blackest black to the whitest white, at the same time.

I know, I know, they could have said that, but you know that engineers love to define things to the “nth” degree. And in a case like this I do agree with that approach.

Deep dive
It looks like the UHD Alliance concentrated mostly on color and quality which is really good. I don’t think people really care about resolution as much as they think they do, and it’s clear from some of what passes for “HD” that they don’t really care about bitrate. What really attracts people to a good TV is a clear, bright picture that gives the perception that you’re looking out a large window. That comes more from dynamic range than anything else.

The UHD Alliance tried to force HDR (high dynamic range) down our throats for most of 2015, and they were probably right to do so, but people weren’t convinced. Maybe by creating a new standard they’ll have more luck.

Ultra HD Premium isn’t just about TVs either. The standard also applies to the way the content is distributed and so a company like DIRECTV or Netflix could legitimately say that their content met Ultra HD Premium specs instead of making up another term. This will make it easier for the consumer to look at different services and try to compare quality.

I’m a little surprised that this spec doesn’t include mandatory HDMI 2.0a because every set-top box maker is going to require that for their devices. It would really be awful to pay a lot of money for a top-notch display and not have the ability to use it with the new Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, or the latest 4K client boxes from DIRECTV and DISH.

I’m also a little disappointed that there’s no objective standard for picture quality in the distribution side. There’s a difference between the best HD you’ll get from streaming sites and any decent Blu-ray disc. It’s not just bitrate — those streaming services can use better compression to improve picture quality without affecting bitrate — but there’s just a lot more artifacting and blurriness with streaming. The 4K streams I’ve seen really don’t look terribly different from HD Blu-rays. Maybe the UHD Alliance figures people don’t really care about that (as I said before) or they just don’t know how to measure it.

Our team will be on the show floor looking for TVs that show off the new Ultra HD Premium specs, but in these shows it’s typical for TVs to be cranked so bright that you really can’t tell anything about picture quality. The real test comes when you get it home… and that won’t be for several months.

If you’re interested in the original press release, it can be found here.