It was more than a year ago that the UHD Alliance, an industry group comprising the likes of Dolby, LG, Netflix, Panasonic, Samsung and Warner Bros., joined hands in an effort to establish a set of standards to herald a new era of ‘premium TV’.
The aim was to establish an industry-wide consensus on 4K Ultra HD, covering everything from content to distribution networks to displays, and ensuring every aspect of the 4K chain was singing from the same hymn sheet.
That standard was finally announced at CES 2016 in January, detailing the necessary 4K specifications - from resolution to peak luminance, colour capacity to high dynamic range (HDR) - that were required to get the Ultra HD Premium seal of approval.
What are the Ultra HD Premium specifications?
First and foremost, content (4K Blu-ray discs, say) and devices (4K TVs/4K Blu-ray players) must meet or exceed a 4K resolution (3840 x 2160), and support 10-bit colour depth, BT.2020 colour space representation and HDR.
TVs must also be capable of producing more than 90 per cent of the DCI P3 color standard and meet a certain brightness level (measured in nits). 4K TVs must have either a 1000-nit peak brightness and less than 0.05 nits black level (to cater for the high brightness of LCD TVs), or a 540-nit peak brightness and less than 0.0005 nits black level (to include the generally dimmer, yet stonking black depth, of OLEDs).
What are the benefits of Ultra HD Premium?
What do all these numbers mean? Well, while a standard Blu-ray offers 8-bit colour depth, producing a total of 16.78 million colours, an Ultra HD Blu-ray disc with 10-bit colour depth will offer 1.07 billion colours. You don’t need a maths degree to work out, on paper at least, that we’re looking at a significant upgrade.
BT.2020, which applies to 4K (3840 x 2160) and 8K (7680 x 4320) resolutions, is also all about colour gamut, meaning a wider range of colours and greater saturation than the Rec.709 space that applies to Full HD TV standards.
All this boils down to a steadfast promise of sharper, more detailed, more realistic pictures.
More after the break
How can you tell if a product is Ultra HD Premium?
There's a logo of course! TVs, 4K Blu-ray players (including the Panasonic DMP-UB900) and Ultra HD Blu-ray discs that meet the standard will be stamped with the UHD Premium logo. This logo, according to UHD Alliance President Hanno Basse, will “give consumers a single, identifying mark to seek out so they can purchase with confidence."
And we don't even have to take a manufacturer's word for it: TVs that meet the standard are given the seal of approval by the UHD Alliance itself after its own testing.
What Ultra HD Premium TVs are on sale now?
LG's 2016 OLED range are all UHD Premium certified
And now the bit you’ve been waiting for… At CES, around a dozen of the first UHD Premium-certified TVs were announced – more than one of which, of course, claimed to be the ‘world’s first’.
Samsung’s entire 2016 flagship SUHD TV lineup, of which there are five lines ranging from 43in to 88in, has been awarded the certification, as have all of LG’s 2016 OLED TVs, including the LG Signature G6 and EG models.
Panasonic’s flagship DX-900 58in and 65in models share the spotlight too. For now, unsurprisingly, just brands’ top-of-the-range sets will carry the UHD Premium torch.
But just because a TV isn’t stickered, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t fit the bill - and here lies the problem.
Despite Sony’s flagship 2016 XD93 and XD94 TVs easily meeting the required UHD Premium specification, they don't use the UHD Premium label. Sony, despite sitting at the UHDA table, has gone rogue, opting to use its own does-what-it-says-on-the-tin '4K HDR' logo instead, which it plans to apply to products that don’t necessarily meet the stringent UHD Premium spec.
Philips, too, is sticking to HDR-only branding, although none of its tellys meet the UHD Premium specification anyway; its top-tier ‘HDR Premium’ models only go up to 700nits, with its ‘HDR Plus’ sets coming in around 400nits.
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Is your existing TV Ultra HD Premium?
We know what you’re thinking: is the telly you bought last Christmas no longer up to scratch? With regards to the UHD Premium standard, probably. Some 2015 models may qualify, and thus be retroactively certified, but most won’t.
Don’t fret, though, for most of last year’s flagship sets are still mighty fine, and do support 4K and HDR for Ultra HD Blu-ray playback, and 4K HDR streaming from Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.
So, is UHD Premium a good thing?
While UHD Premium isn’t quite the ubiquitous all-embracing spec it could have been (not yet anyway), with some notable manufacturers opting out and only a handful of TVs included for now, the logic is sound.
See the Ultra HD Premium logo? Then you know you're getting the full-fat 4K experience.
What still remains to be seen is the full extent to which brands, most notably TV manufacturers, get on board.
MORE: Best 4K TVs 2016