Ultra HD or not Ultra HD, this is the problem…

Let’s face it: even little blind bugs found in the most remote cave in a forgotten land know that, maybe, it’s time to upgrade our video system to Ultra HD (I will not use 4K, as, to me, it’s the DCP 17:9 version).

So, what do I think about this? Frankly, after the demise of my beloved full LED 55′ HDTV (sigh!) I thought to buy a new UHD TV, but prices were quite high at that moment, and I grabbed an used, nice “small” 42′ plasma HDTV… and I was surprised how good it is! Really, anybody could think plasma technology is obsolete, and maybe it is, but hey, quality wise, it’s still to be beaten in many fields, even by newest OLED TVs…

Possible solutions:

  1. Buy now an UHDTV, spending more money that I want to
  2. Stick with my old 42′ plasma HDTV for a while
  3. Upgrade to a bigger plasma HDTV now (read: 60′ or 65′), used, at a great price, waiting for affordable (and improved) OLED or full LED UHDTV

Until few days ago, I thought that UHDTV resolution would be not that important, given the fact that our eyes could not see the difference when is not enough near to the display… but I wanted to prove myself I was right, and I made some tests.

You know what? I was wrong… and happy to discover it! What I understood is that even 4K mastered BD has not the same quality of a real UHD downscaled source – it should be not the case, but it is, sometimes… not all UHD sources are really UHD – do you remember the first HD clips, and the fact many were mere upscales?

Math doesn’t lie (usually); it’s simply not possible to get a better quality, with an image four times larger, using the same encoder, with an UHD file that has a size only a bit bigger than its HD equivalent; I mean, if the BD of an AVC 1080p encoded movie is, let’s say 30GB, IT… IS… NOT… POSSIBLE… to get a better quality AVC 2160p version with a 40GB file…
At the contrary, a well encoded UHD AVC 2160p that has “only” twice the filesize of an HD AVC 1080p (with a 4K master) could squeeze some more details, visible also with a simple HDTV set.

How can I discover if an UHD source could be really better than its HD counterpart?

  • size doesn’t lie! Just make a comparison of the filesize of the HD and UHD files; the UHD, encoded in AVC, should be at least twice the size of the HD, and, if encoded in HEVC, should be at least the same size – of course, the bigger the better (usually…); also, always check the Kush Gage calculator to discover if its bitrate is good enough.
  • master is everything! If the UHD source use a 2K master, it will be simply not possible to have a definition given by a 4K one… if you have a good quality BD version, stick with it.
  • read reviews. More than one; read what magazines think of a given title, what forum posts say about it, and, if all say it’s great, it *should* be great! But use always your own mind, so, before shell out some cash, just…
  • compare, compare, compare! Even if the previous advices are valid, sometimes the best things to do is to watch screenshots from both versions, and compare them – possibly in full screen, using the display where you watch movies… because when you see them zoomed in your 15′ laptop screen, and the UHD seems vastly superior, maybe you will discover later that, when watched in your big brand new 55′ UHD, sit four meters (about 13ft) away, the difference is not that great…

Well, a picture is worth a thousand words, so here you are some comparison to think about:

Star Wars UHD (fake!) Vs. BD upscaled:
http://screenshotcomparison.com/comparison/191357
http://screenshotcomparison.com/comparison/191359

Godzilla UHD (real!) Vs. 4K mastered BD upscaled:
http://screenshotcomparison.com/comparison/191389

Godzilla 4K mastered BD Vs. UHD downscaled:
http://screenshotcomparison.com/comparison/191391

Conclusions: given the fact that an UHD source has at least a 4K master, and is properly encoded, it *should* be always better even watched on a simple HD TV; so, this is what I think is the best options, from best to worst:

  • UHD source, UHD display – not only for resolution, but also for HDR
  • UHD source, HD display – difference with HD sources could be quite evident
  • HD source, HD display – no need to uspcale (with a 1:1 pixel mapping)
  • HD source, UHD display – upscaling “could* degrade the quality

I think I could start to collect UHD movies right now, stick for a while with this old TV of mine, upgrade in the next few weeks to a BIIIG used plasma HDTV, and wait for a great UHD TV, with a new, or vastly improved, technology, at a decent price… I wonder how good could be a laserdisc watched with one of these sets!

Leave a Reply

Your email will not be published. Name and Email fields are required.