Ultra HD Premium Certification at CES 2016

The UHD Alliance, an industry consortium of content creators, distributors, and hardware manufacturers, laid the foundation for much of what I’ll be covering at CES 2016 during its press conference Monday night. After two years of uncertainty about everything except pixel resolution, the Alliance announced its Ultra HD Premium specification, which defines resolution, bit depth, color gamut, and high dynamic range (HDR) required for UHD content and displays to carry the Ultra HD Premium logo (seen above).

Of course, resolution is well-defined already—3840×2160—but now, other aspects of UHD are more clearly defined. To be deemed Ultra HD Premium, content and distribution must have a minimum bit depth of 10 bits, while displays must accept a 10-bit signal. (Interestingly, the info we got at the press conference does not say that the display device must have a 10-bit panel, and subsequent discussions were unclear on this point. For example, it’s possible for a display with an 8-bit panel to accept a 10-bit signal and dither it to 8 bits.)

The specified color gamut is BT.2020, though this is more of a “container,” since few if any consumer displays can actually render BT.2020 primaries. To wear the Ultra HD Premium logo, a display must be able to render at least 90% of the DCI/P3 gamut and map the incoming signal primaries to its particular capabilities.

As for HDR itself, the specified EOTF (electro-optical transfer function) is SMPTE ST 2084, otherwise known as PQ (Perceptual Quantizer). Mastering displays are recommended to exceed 1000 nits of peak brightness with a black level less than 0.03 nits. However, there are two specs for consumer displays: more than 1000 nits of peak brightness and less than 0.05 nits black level OR more than 540 nits of peak brightness and less than 0.0005 nits black level. Why two specs for peak brightness and black level? This was not discussed in the press conference, but it seems obvious that the two sets of specs are intended to apply to LED-LCD and OLED TVs, respectively.

To be certified as Ultra HD Premium, a piece of content or display must pass a series of tests conducted by independent testing centers; among the first of these is BluFocus in Los Angeles, which has offered testing and certification services for DVDs, Blu-rays, and digital distribution for many years. Testing and licensing fees are included in a company’s membership in the UHD Alliance.

UHD-Premium-Panel
At the UHD Alliance press conference, a panel of representatives from four major studios discussed the importance of the new Ultra HD Premium program: (L-R) Ron Sanders, President of Worldwide Home Entertainment Distribution, Warner Bros. Entertainment; Mike Dunn, Worldwide President, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment; Man Jit Singh, President, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment; Michael Bonner, EVP of Digital Distribution, Universal Studios Home Entertainment. In this shot, you can see the names of some of the members of the UHD Alliance, representing content creators, distributors, technology companies, and display manufacturers.

The Ultra HD Premium spec is designed to set a high bar for content and displays, making them as future-proof as possible and providing a premium experience, and the logo is intended to make this clear to consumers. However, the UHD Alliance recognizes that we are in a period of transition, and there will continue to be a lot of content and many displays that do not meet these criteria; for example, there are now many UHD displays that do not recognize HDR signals at all, while others respond to HDR signals but do not meet the Premium specs. The UHD Alliance is discussing how to deal with this situation, which will evolve over the next year or two.

More than 12 consumer displays have already been certified as Ultra HD Premium, including all 2016 Samsung SUHD TVs, the Panasonic TX-65DX900 LED-LCD TV, and the LG Signature series of OLED TVs, all of which are being introduced at CES. These products, and others to follow, will display the Ultra HD Premium logo, which assures consumers that they conform to the specs established by the UHD Alliance and will provide an exceptional viewing experience.

This is a big step forward in the transition from HD to UHD, much more important than increased pixel resolution alone. In my view, adding the Ultra HD Premium specs to the equation finally makes this transition akin to the move from standard definition to HD more than a decade ago. If what I’m seeing at CES is any indication, the future of UHD is bright indeed.