"Ultra HD Premium" certification aims to tame TV makers' madness

Pop quiz: What is HDR Give yourself two points if you know that it's an acronym for high dynamic range. Now what's the difference between LG’s HDR Plus and Sony’s X-tended Dynamic Range Not sure How about explaining the difference between Samsung’s SUHD or HiSense’s ULED

These are just a few examples of how the TV industry loves to confuse consumers, larding up every mildly interesting feature with self-aggrandizing jargon, to the point that it's hard to know what you're really getting.

It's a problem the industry might finally be on its way to solving, thanks to a simple label dubbed "Ultra HD Premium."

Sure, the term itself sounds a lot like the mumbo-jumbo it's aiming to decipher. But Ultra HD Premium serves a higher purpose: TVs that carry this label must adhere to certain metrics for resolution, high dynamic range, peak luminance, black levels, color gamut, and audio quality. In other words, it's a dead-simple way to tell if the TV you're looking at is a cut above the rest, regardless of who makes it or how it's been calibrated on the showroom floor.

The effort is coming at just the right time, with 4K resolution becoming widespread, and TV makers moving on to pixel quality as the next big metric. For instance, most vendors at CES 2016 are talking about high dynamic range, or HDR, which promises deeper blacks and more vibrant colors. Still, a TV that supports HDR content might not get bright enough to take full advantage of the format, which is where a spec like Ultra HD Premium comes in. (For HDR, earning the label requires either 1000 nits peak brightness and less than 0.05 nits black level, or more than 540 nits peak brightness and less than 0.0005 nits black level.)

Some other examples: Ultra HD Premium TVs must deliver 10-bit color bit depth, and they must reproduce at least 90 percent of the P3 color gamut, which is what movie theaters use in their digital projection systems. These sorts of specs can easily make peoples' eyes glaze over, so you can see why there's interest in an overarching label to signify quality.

The group behind this effort is the UHD Alliance, a 35-member consortium that includes electronics brands such as LG and Samsung, video providers such as Netflix and DirecTV, film studios such as Warner Bros., and several other tech companies. Their plan is to set up testing centers around the world where TVs and content distributors can earn Ultra HD Premium designation. Some TV makers are already on board, with Samsung having announced certification for its entire 2016 SUHD TV lineup.

Whether consumers will notice or care about this certification program remains to be seen, but the broad industry membership at least gives Ultra HD Premium a decent shot at wide adoption. For sanity’s sake, let’s hope it succeeds.


Jared Newman

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