Streaming Interstellar in UHD with UltraFlix - AVS Forum | Home Theater Discussions And Reviews
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post #1 of 133 Old 08-13-2015, 06:27 PM - Thread Starter
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Streaming Interstellar in UHD with UltraFlix



Last April, Mark Henninger compared various HD varieties of Interstellar. How does the UHD streaming version from UltraFlix stack up?

Interstellar provides a perfect platform for performing picture quality comparisons. Director Christopher Nolan shot the movie with Imax 70mm film, which is a super-high-resolution format—promotional material touted it as possessing "almost ten times the resolution of standard projection formats."

In my Interstellar: Blu-ray vs. iTunes vs. Vudu vs. Amazon piece, I concluded by asking, "Will UHD/4K online delivery from a cloud-based service match or beat Blu-ray video and audio quality?" When I recently reviewed the Vizio M65 UHDTV, I had the opportunity to watch Interstellar using UltraFlix, a service that offers streaming UHD/4K movies.

UltraFlix does not stream from a PC, so I could not take screenshots, as I did in the 1080p comparison. Instead, I used a 64" Samsung F8500 plasma TV and a 65" Panasonic CX850 FALD-LCD TV to watch the various 1080p versions concurrently with the UltraFlix version. Whereas the F8500 provided a native 1080p rendition of the 1080p formats, the CX850 showed me what the upscaled 1080p streams looks like when playing on a high-end UHDTV.

I had planned to compare the sound quality of the UHD stream as well as the picture quality, but I was only able to get stereo sound from UltraFlix on the Vizio M65. 5.1 surround works with Audio Return Channel (ARC) via HDMI when streaming from other services, so that was a disappointment. I read that UltraFlix does offer 5.1 surround, so I hope the issue will be resolved in the future—without good sound, UHD/4K isn't going to succeed.

While I lamented the lack of 5.1 surround sound, the picture quality provided by the UltraFlix stream was another story—it was great. After signing up for the service, I rented Interstellar for 10 bucks. When I launched the app on the Vizio M65, it measured the available bandwidth, which clocked in at 55-60 Mbps with Wi-Fi. I switched the Vizio to Ethernet and throughput jumped to over 100 Mbps.

The moment I saw the first few frames of Interstellar in streaming 2160p, I realized it made the 1080p streams from Amazon, iTunes, and Vudu look inferior, even outdated. Interstellar on Blu-ray fared quite a bit better versus the UHD stream, but there was no question the UltraFlix stream showed more detail.

According to a recent press release, "UltraFlix also offers users with 100 Mbps connections streaming quality identical to the new Ultra HD Blu-ray specifications—another innovation first by NanoTech." I don't know if that's the speed I experienced when I streamed—I can't measure bandwidth directly while watching content—but it's nice to know streaming at that quality level is possible. For what it's worth, I could not see a difference in image quality between using Wi-Fi or Ethernet to stream Interstellar.

Streaming formats tend to struggle the most on dark shadows. Often, it is the shadowy scenes that trip up compression algorithms. With movies that take place in outer space, I sometimes see macro-blocking and posterization show up in nebulas, galaxies and other complex, wispy textures. Whenever such artifacts manifest, it takes viewers out of the movie instantly—suspension of disbelief is broken. However, with Interstellar on UltraFlix, I stayed in the movie the whole time, despite the 2-channel audio. The stream looked pristine, even in the deepest shadows, while action scenes rendered with great detail—the 1080p streams would always become blurry when the action picked up. When I scrutinized the UHD image close up, I was rewarded with nothing less than accurately rendered film grain—that's amazing!

The benefit of having four times as many pixels was not always obvious; it varied depending on the content of the scene. Many scenes that take place on Earth—especially static shots with dialog—looked practically identical on Blu-ray and via UltraFlix. Nevertheless, the UltraFlix version tended to look just a bit better if you scrutinized it—details like hair and fabric had more detail and texture in UHK/4K.

Some of most impressive improvements afforded by UHD/4K involved the amount of detail seen in outer-space scenes. I especially appreciated the improved rendering of the surface textures on the Ranger (the spaceship in the movie), planet surfaces, and all the trippy details in the scenes near a black hole.

The benefits of UHD resolution are invisible if you sit too far from the screen. I found I had to sit eight feet or closer to the M65 in order to notice the extra detail. At my typical viewing distance of seven feet, the difference in detail rendition between streaming HD formats (Vudu HDX, Amazon HD, iTunes HD) and Blu-ray were of the same magnitude as the difference between Blu-ray and the UltraFlix stream—a small but readily apparent improvement.

Sitting just one foot closer than I typically do increased the visible difference in resolution between UltraFlix and the 1080p formats, indicating that a larger screen would offer an additional benefit in terms of how much resolution reaches the retina when streaming UHD/4K content.

While UltraFlix streaming does beat Blu-ray image quality, the difference was subtle from seven feet away. However, the difference between 1080p and UHD streaming was quite a bit more noticeable. I had to step back to about ten feet from the screen before I stopped seeing more detail in the UHD version versus the HD streams. Between the absence of visible compression artifacts and the obvious step up in detail rendition, there's no question that UHD streaming on UltraFlix looks better.

As long as UHD streams and downloads come with audio that matches the visuals in fidelity, they are a viable option for viewing in home theaters and on large TVs. The real question is whether the next generation of physical media—Ultra HD Blu-ray—will offer yet another significant step up in image quality. I look forward to writing my first comparison of UHD/4K physical media versus online delivery. HD streaming has improved immensely since Netflix popularized it five years ago, but it is far from perfect. Now, high-quality UHD streaming is here, and it looks quite amazing to my eyes. What are your thoughts? Have you seen Interstellar via UltraFlix?


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post #2 of 133 Old 08-13-2015, 06:52 PM
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I haven't watched it yet due to not having a 4K TV. Was Interstellar one of their Platinum encodes?
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post #3 of 133 Old 08-13-2015, 06:58 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by dmarqueset View Post
I haven't watched it yet due to not having a 4K TV. Was Interstellar one of their Platinum encodes?
Oddly, it's the one movie title on the site that does not get any sort of quality ranking for the encoding i.e. Platinum, which is what you'd expect for a modern film shot in IMAX 70MM.

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post #4 of 133 Old 08-13-2015, 07:08 PM
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Have not watched the ultraflix version of interstellar yet, only the blu ray. I have watched the MGO HDR movies, and i think the quality there is pretty good as well. The mgo movies are downloaded instead of streamed though.

Also, with my current tv (hu9000 plus sek3500), I have noticed that anything UHD has better/cleaner motion. In order for you to notice this, you'd probably have to watch both versions on the LED tv.

will be receiving the JS9500 next week. i will definitely check out interstellar 4k, especially for only 10 bux. Did you have any buffering issues? Wish it was for download though.

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post #5 of 133 Old 08-13-2015, 07:16 PM
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Flippant comment, but have to ...... did UHD improve or make more comprehensible the WTF moments behind the bookshelves?
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post #6 of 133 Old 08-13-2015, 07:50 PM
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Hopefully this app will be coming to my Sony 940C soon.
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post #7 of 133 Old 08-13-2015, 07:52 PM
 
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I agree Mark; without DD 5.1 sound UltraFlix is in the no flight zone. ...In particular with a flick like 'Interstellar'.

Ten bucks for renting it, do you get to keep it?

* The Blu-ray (3-disc set: 2 BDs + 1 DVD) is $14.96 right now @ amazon.
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post #8 of 133 Old 08-13-2015, 09:05 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by imagic View Post
The real question is whether the next generation of physical media—Ultra HD Blu-ray—will offer yet another significant step up in image quality.
..and the obvious, and ultimately correct answer is of course Ultra HD Blu-ray will be a significant step up in image AND AUDIO quality. To think otherwise would be ridiculous. Also ridiculous is ignoring the importance of lossless audio, particularly with a film like Interstellar.
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The two posters just above are 100% right.
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post #10 of 133 Old 08-13-2015, 09:57 PM
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While I lamented the lack of 5.1 surround sound
This is right about where I went, "lolwut?" then my rock hard enthusiasm went...flaccid.
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post #11 of 133 Old 08-14-2015, 12:51 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NorthSky View Post
I agree Mark; without DD 5.1 sound UltraFlix is in the no flight zone. ...In particular with a flick like 'Interstellar'.

Ten bucks for renting it, do you get to keep it?

* The Blu-ray (3-disc set: 2 BDs + 1 DVD) is $14.96 right now @ amazon.
One step forward two steps back...

And how does UltraFlix compare to a Blu-Ray up-convert to UHD from an OPPO?

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post #12 of 133 Old 08-14-2015, 12:58 AM
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  • Ten Bucks Rental
  • No Atmos or DTS:X sound (Lamenting 5.1 sound is just the beginning of that weep-fest)
  • An app for some model of television or the other
Are they trying to kill this while it's still in the crib? If people hear about this, they are going to dismiss it out of hand as a truly desperate money grab, which it is.


In this day and age - ten bucks - for a rental. In stereo. What were they thinking...that this would be popular?
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post #13 of 133 Old 08-14-2015, 02:28 AM
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Because UHD sources are rare they are expensive. After 4k Bluray hit the market then those solutions will be cheaper. Normally they lose me at rental for 10 bux. For 10bux i should have the movie in 4k and 5.1 sound.

The next generation of physical media—Ultra HD Blu-ray—will offer yet another significant step up in image quality? Yes of course. 4K bluray version should have high bitrate, at least DCI-P3 color gamut, and hdr with 5.1 lossless audio.
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post #14 of 133 Old 08-14-2015, 04:16 AM
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They are expected to have a large portion of the top 250 movies of all time in the coming weeks. Here's a quote from a recent PR from them:

"In addition to these advanced video quality playback technologies and driven by popular demand, UltraFlix will now support Electronic Sell-Through (EST), aka, purchases. With EST, UltraFlix users can access new releases sooner and buy and store them in the UltraFlix Cloud for unlimited playback and enjoyment. Later this summer UltraFlix will start offering hundreds of major studio blockbuster titles for EST and rental. Stay tuned for updates on additional TV and STB platform roll-outs over the next several weeks."
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post #15 of 133 Old 08-14-2015, 05:33 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by imagic View Post
When I launched the app on the Vizio M65, it measured the available bandwidth, which clocked in at 55-60 Mbps with Wi-Fi. I switched the Vizio to Ethernet and throughput jumped to over 100 Mbps.
You may have mentioned this in the past, but what type of internet service are you using - Fiber, Comcast high-speed?

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post #16 of 133 Old 08-14-2015, 05:36 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Kilgore View Post
..and the obvious, and ultimately correct answer is of course Ultra HD Blu-ray will be a significant step up in image AND AUDIO quality. To think otherwise would be ridiculous. Also ridiculous is ignoring the importance of lossless audio, particularly with a film like Interstellar.
If you stream or download the exact same data you find on Ultra HD Blu-ray, then the quality will be the same. That too should be obvious. Also, who is ignoring the importance of high-quality audio?
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post #17 of 133 Old 08-14-2015, 05:40 AM
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I could see them adding multi-channel audio in the future. I think offering two channel now comes down to making the file a more viable option for people with slower internet speeds. They say that someone with as little as 4 mbps can stream their titles in 4k. I would like to see them have some mechanism in their software to adjust the audio tracks based on someone's internet speed or have an option to select multi-channel audio.
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post #18 of 133 Old 08-14-2015, 05:41 AM - Thread Starter
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You may have mentioned this in the past, but what type of internet service are you using - Fiber, Comcast high-speed?
I have Comcast (Xfinity) Internet. Verizon just finished installing FIOS last week, gotta check that out.

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post #19 of 133 Old 08-14-2015, 05:43 AM - Thread Starter
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I could see them adding multi-channel audio in the future. I think offering two channel now comes down to making the file a more viable option for people with slower internet speeds. They say that someone with as little as 4 mbps can stream their titles in 4k. I would like to see them have some mechanism in their software to adjust the audio tracks based on someone's internet speed or have an option to select multi-channel audio.
Ultraflix says it already offers 5.1 surround-sound, but it was not working in my system using ARC over HDMI.

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post #20 of 133 Old 08-14-2015, 05:44 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Jmhockey23 View Post
They are expected to have a large portion of the top 250 movies of all time in the coming weeks. Here's a quote from a recent PR from them:

"In addition to these advanced video quality playback technologies and driven by popular demand, UltraFlix will now support Electronic Sell-Through (EST), aka, purchases. With EST, UltraFlix users can access new releases sooner and buy and store them in the UltraFlix Cloud for unlimited playback and enjoyment. Later this summer UltraFlix will start offering hundreds of major studio blockbuster titles for EST and rental. Stay tuned for updates on additional TV and STB platform roll-outs over the next several weeks."
Good news. I would not be surprised to see the Ultraflix show up on future UltraHD Blu-ray players.

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post #21 of 133 Old 08-14-2015, 05:49 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by imagic;

Some of most impressive improvements afforded by UHD/4K involved the amount of detail seen in outer-space scenes. I especially appreciated the improved rendering of the surface textures on the Ranger (the spaceship in the movie), planet surfaces, and all the trippy details in the scenes near a black hole.
I find it interesting that the increased resolution was most apparent in outer space scenes. I assume that most of those scenes would have been predominantly CGI rather than actual footage captured by a camera. I was under the impression that most CGI is still being done at 2K. If that is the case with Interstellar then I can't understand how the CGI scenes would show the resolution differences as well as those elements captured by a 70mm camera. Wouldn't any increase in level of detail there be the result of upscaling done by the studio? Whereas, with the camera footage, the additional detail would be there from the beginning.

This leads me to believe that the increased detail has more to do with the higher bitrate, rather than the higher resolution. Would the difference have been as noticeable if we had a 1080p version that used a higher bitrate than what 1080p Blu-Ray does?
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post #22 of 133 Old 08-14-2015, 06:07 AM - Thread Starter
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I find it interesting that the increased resolution was most apparent in outer space scenes. I assume that most of those scenes would have been predominantly CGI rather than actual footage captured by a camera. I was under the impression that most CGI is still being done at 2K. If that is the case with Interstellar then I can't understand how the CGI scenes would show the resolution differences as well as those elements captured by a 70mm camera. Wouldn't any increase in level of detail there be the result of upscaling done by the studio? Whereas, with the camera footage, the additional detail would be there from the beginning.

This leads me to believe that the increased detail has more to do with the higher bitrate, rather than the higher resolution. Would the difference have been as noticeable if we had a 1080p version that used a higher bitrate than what 1080p Blu-Ray does?
Didn't Chris Nolan use real models for the spaceships and such? AFAIK Interstellar used 2K and 4K CGI. Given the goals of the film, I doubt 2K CGI would be used anywhere it would be obvious, otherwise people who saw the film in IMAX would have gotten an eyeful of inferior outer space CGI, and that's not how the film looks. I don't think anyone who saw the film would suggest Interstellar's outer space scenes have no more detail in them than what an HD Blu-ray provides (1080p).

The higher bitrate is almost sure to be the explanation as to why the film looked so good—bit-starved 4K does not look all that good, and I've seen plenty of it. But also consider that the CGI scenes are rendered so everything is in focus, and that focus is "perfect." Large format film-based movie cameras offer a shallow depth of field. As a result a lot of the time what's in a scene is not in perfect focus.

Also, lets face it, to get the full benefit of UHD/4K I would need to sit about four feet from the screen. Or, I'd need to install an 110" screen and use front projection.

It could very well be that the visual benefit re: CGI comes from the superior upscaling used on the production side of things.

There is no question you can have eve-better 1080p than what HD Blu-ray provides. This is why I hope it'll be possible to downscale UHD content in order to watch them on high-quality 1080p displays.

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post #23 of 133 Old 08-14-2015, 06:16 AM
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Interstellar is one of my all time faves.. but like others noted.. this thing will die in the crib if they continue down this stereo path only in the beginning.

Why release an unpolished product.. you're digging your grave before being born. How dare you!!

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post #24 of 133 Old 08-14-2015, 06:20 AM
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Once in a while some members here crack me up. In some of these comments it sounds like the provider messed up a long lasting service; how dare they? Seriously, this is in its infancy and will certainly have some restrictions in the first couple of weeks/months. The problem with the sound might rather be a TV software problem. We had these before. Some TV software doesn't let the 5.1 come out through HDMI, only stereo.
On another note, I am glad that the streaming look very decent. I would sign up too. Now it is just the question, whether I could watch this stuff on my UHD monitor as well.
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post #25 of 133 Old 08-14-2015, 06:26 AM - Thread Starter
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Once in a while some members here crack me up. In some of these comments it sounds like the provider messed up a long lasting service; how dare they? Seriously, this is in its infancy and will certainly have some restrictions in the first couple of weeks/months. The problem with the sound might rather be a TV software problem. We had these before. Some TV software doesn't let the 5.1 come out through HDMI, only stereo.
On another note, I am glad that the streaming look very decent. I would sign up too. Now it is just the question, whether I could watch this stuff on my UHD monitor as well.
The chances are that's the issue.

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post #26 of 133 Old 08-14-2015, 06:31 AM
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Great review, I just pickup this movie in Blu-Ray yesterday from BB.

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Originally Posted by boguspomp View Post
Once in a while some members here crack me up. In some of these comments it sounds like the provider messed up a long lasting service; how dare they? Seriously, this is in its infancy and will certainly have some restrictions in the first couple of weeks/months. The problem with the sound might rather be a TV software problem. We had these before. Some TV software doesn't let the 5.1 come out through HDMI, only stereo.
On another note, I am glad that the streaming look very decent. I would sign up too. Now it is just the question, whether I could watch this stuff on my UHD monitor as well.
How dare you TV software!!!!!

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post #28 of 133 Old 08-14-2015, 07:06 AM
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I am excited that there is more 4k streaming available, especially since I cannot get any discs right now. Being a Vizio 4k M series owner, I am concerned about the stereo sound, and for $10 a rental, I am not going to jump in anytime and find out if I can get the 5.1 audio to work for me. Guess I am still waiting..........
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4k or not.. Streaming is a girlyman thing.. Real men only use Discs..
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post #30 of 133 Old 08-14-2015, 07:17 AM - Thread Starter
Mark Henninger
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kevon27 View Post
4k or not.. Streaming is a girlyman thing.. Real men only use Discs..
Of course, and they only drink Budweiser, and they only drive pickup trucks or Harleys, and they eat Wheaties—not Rice Crispies.

Mark Henninger
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