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Does the 4K Ultra HD badge mean my TV is future proof?

If you’re shopping around for a 4K TV, get used to seeing this logo

Digital Europe, the industry group representing manufacturers on the continent, has announced a standardised logo for any device with 4K Ultra HD capabilities. 

What this means is that any TV you buy will have a display resolution of 3840×2160, it will let you watch 4K content from Netflix and it will let you play HEVC (H.265)-encoded files. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the TV you buy will be capable of handling 4K TV channels. 

Sticking a badge on a TV doesn’t make it any more ready for 4K than the graffiti on this wall does
Sticking a badge on a TV doesn’t make it any more ready for 4K than the graffiti on this wall does

Digital Europe said: “The Ultra HD label will inform consumers that the display device they are considering buying is compatible with all major sources of Ultra HD content and that it will be able to display this content in Ultra HD format.”

Older TVs such as the Sony KDL-84X9005, KD-65X9005A / 55X9005A 2012 and 2013 ranges weren’t able to stream HEVC-encoded files, meaning buyers who wanted to watch 4K files they’d acquired from the internet had to buy one of these peripherals

Buying a 4K TV with this Ultra HD kitemark means you won’t have to fork out for any expensive extras. At the moment, that’s all it means. 

The DTG (Digital TV Group) in the UK and other broadcasters have yet to define what the broadcast standards are for 4K TV channels. All 4K TVs with the Ultra HD badge must come with an HDMI 2.0 connection

This enables 4K video at up to 60 fps (frames per second), but that may not be enough for 4K TV channels. 

Broadcasters have suggested that 100fps or even 150fps might be the minimum required frame rate for live 4K TV, especially sports. If it’s decided that 60fps isn’t enough, we all might have to buy new 4K sets once, say, BBC One 4K and Sky Sports F1 4K arrive. 

Digital Europe’s kitemark doesn’t say anything about dynamic range or colour palettes either. Broadcasters want 4K TV to feature HDR – High Dynamic Range – which will increase the levels of contrast available on screen and generally make for a richer picture. 

Increasing the colour palette from 8-bits (which Full HD currently uses) to 10-bits is also desirable and something that Digital Europe’s kitemark doesn’t take into account. 

The new Ultra HD logo means your TV will have a high resolution and will stream 4K video, but not necessarily watch TV
The new Ultra HD logo means your TV will have a high resolution and will stream 4K video, but not necessarily watch TV

Chris Johns, chief engineer at Sky said at the IBC conference in Amsterdam last week: “There is a worry with the Digital Europe release where they have committed to the basics of Ultra HD and are sticking to 8-bit. All broadcasters want to push the boundaries and go for 10-bit and above simply to deliver a bigger, better picture. 

“There is that big push to make it happen but then you take a deep breath and suddenly realise there are all the nuances of frame rates.” 

Johns added that with footage shot at 60fps and 120fps has revealed a disconcerting strobing effect, suggesting that 100fps or 150fps is needed for 4K: 

“When we looked at this and the proposal went forward for 60 and 120fps we quickly discovered that lights, cameras, shuttering and lightning in a 50Hz world produce strobing effects. So we still have to have the 50Hz variant for a time. It may be several years before we get to a single harmonised frame rate.” 

This chimes with what Simon Gauntlett, chief technology officer for the DTG told us earlier this year. Gauntlett said: “Lighting sources have caused the most issues for sports broadcasting. The BBC has done a lot of tests with 120fps footage and found that flicker, caused by high rate LED stadium floodlights, is a problem.”  

Our first impressions of 4K footage (filmed at 50fps) was that while the detail was impressive, there were certainly issues realting to contrast and motion blur that needed improving. 

If we end up buying TVs that can’t handle 4K video higher than 60fps, then we’ll need to dig deep in our pockets again once the TV channels are ready.

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