The Ultra HD Alliance

What It Is and Why It Matters

The Ultra HD Alliance
The Ultra HD Alliance

Most people agree that the arrival of Ultra HD/4K resolution and high dynamic range (HDR) content to the world of television is set to have a profoundly positive effect on picture quality in the coming years. Just about everyone also agrees, though, that the technicalities associated with getting 4K and, especially, HDR content into the home run the risk of terrifying technophobic consumers into just sticking with the old HD TVs they already know and love.

Fortunately, for once the AV industry has tried to get ahead of this potential problem. How? By setting up an Ultra HD Alliance (UHDA) working group consisting of many companies from all sides of the AV industry with a focus on making sure that everyone is working towards a common goal. Or to put it more simply, the AV industry has itself established the UHDA to try and stop HDR turning into the AV equivalent of the Wild West.

A Who's Who of the UHDA

The UHDA boasts 35 members at the time of writing, covering the content creation, mastering, distribution and playback aspects of the AV industry. Those members are: Amazon, ARRI, DirecTV, Dolby, Dreamworks, DTS, Fraunhofer, Hisense, Hisilicon, Intel, LG, MStar Semiconductor, Nanosys, Netflix, Novatek, Nvidia, Orange, Panasonic, Philips, Quantum Data, Realtek, Rogers, Samsung, Sharp, Sky, Sony, TCL, Technicolor, THX, Toshiba, TPVision, 20th Century Fox, Universal, Disney and Warner Bros. 

The UHDA’s quoted goals make interesting reading, and are worth reproducing in full here:

  1. Define a next generation premium audio‐visual entertainment experience
  2. Promote broad industry adoption
  3. Promote consumer awareness
  4. Reach consensus on quality criteria & a quality regime, assured by the UHD Alliance, across the ecosystem of premium content, devices and services
  5. Enable new business opportunities in premium UHD leveraging cooperative efforts across the end‐to‐end ecosystem

Worthy though these goals undoubtedly are, it’s fair to say it’s taken a bit longer than we might have hoped for the UHDA to nail down point four about reaching a consensus on quality criteria. Thankfully, though, it finally announced at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that a consensus - of sorts - had finally been reached in the form of the Ultra HD Premium standard.

Finally, Some Clarification for Consumers to Cling Onto

You can find out more about Ultra HD Premium in my separate article, but essentially it presents consumers with an easy way of seeing at a glance if a TV or piece of content has the specification necessary to do justice to the next generation of Ultra HD/4K and HDR video. 

With the Ultra HD Premium ‘standard’ (in reality it’s more a set of recommendations than an actual standard) now in place, why did I earlier qualify the notion that it represents a consensus among the UHDA’s members? Two reasons.

First, despite all the brands on the UHDA roster supposedly working together to arrive at the Ultra HD Premium’s fairly specific specifications/recommendations, I heard enough during my own visit to the 2016 CES to know that not every brand agrees with all the Ultra HD Premium recommendations, with one even suggesting to me that the part of the Ultra HD Premium spec that essentially accommodates OLED technology was a mistake.

Second, not every brand in the UHDA seems ready, willing or able to adopt the organization’s Ultra HD Premium spec; Sony, in particular, is not using the Ultra HD Premium badge on its 2016 TV range despite being a key UHDA member.

Still, while no organisation involving so many usually competing brands was ever likely to work as perfectly, uncompromisingly and swiftly as we might like, overall the UHDA does still feel like a comforting and focussing presence at a time when the potential for consumers to be confused by all the new options to them has arguably never been stronger.