Ultra HD Premium: What It Means and Why It Matters

Finally the worlds of UHD and HDR TV technology get some clarity

The world of home entertainment tech has all but standardized two impressive video technologies: Ultra HD resolution (also known as 4K), and high dynamic range (HDR).

Ultra HD resolution provides four times as much resolution as full HD, and HDR content offers enhanced brightness, contrast, and color performance. A separate set of specifications unveiled by the UHD Alliance in 2016 takes these specs a bit further. It's called Ultra HD Premium.

What Is Ultra HD Premium?

Developed by the Ultra High Definition Alliance (UHDA), a working group of more than 30 industry brands, Ultra HD Premium is a badge or logo that is meant to tell consumers which TVs, displays, or video content are designed to deliver a more robust HDR and UHD experience.

To achieve the badge, products and displays must achieve a certain standard for resolution, bit depth, color gamut, high-dynamic-range imaging (HDRI) and rendering. If a potential buyer sees the logo attached to a product, they can be confident in a superior picture quality.

The Ultra HD Premium logo is essentially a recommendation system created by the UHDA; it is not a standard that all products in the industry must meet. That means it is possible that there may be products that are qualified to wear the Ultra HD Premium badge but do not because they haven’t been submitted to the UHDA for certification tests. Nonetheless, such guidance helps consumers navigate the often confusing world of UHD and HDR technology.

Here are the key elements of the Ultra HD Premium specification:

For TVs and Other Video Devices

  • Image resolution: 3840x2160
  • Color bit depth: At least 10-bit
  • Color gamut reproduction: Must be able to handle the BT.2020 color "representation" (a sort of container for wide color range information), and display more than 90% of the Digital Cinema Initiative’s P3 color standard (the standard widely used in commercial cinemas)
  • High Dynamic Range playback: A device must support the SMPTE ST2084 EOTF (Electrical Optical Transfer Function), which is the way a screen turns digital data into visible light. It must also achieve either brightness peaks of more than 1000 nits along with black levels below 0.05 nits, or more than 540 nits peak brightness and less than 0.0005 nits in the blackest picture areas.

If you’re wondering why two different recommendations are provided regarding peak brightness and black reproduction, it’s essential to accommodate both LCD and OLED screen technologies, since both are capable of producing excellent but differently "weighted" HDR performances.

For Content Distribution and Mastering 

  • Image Resolution: 3840x2160
  • Color performance: A minimum 10-bit signal
  • Colour gamut reproduction: BT.2020 color representation 
  • HDR: Must use the SMPTE ST2084 EOTF HDR system. 

In addition, the UHD Alliance recommends the following mastering display specifications when creating HDR content masters:

  • Minimum of 100% of the P3 color standard
  • Peak brightness of more than 1000 nits
  • Black level depth of fewer than 0.03 nits

One thing that’s not included in the UHDA’s Ultra HD Premium specifications for content distribution (not to be confused with the recommendations for mastering displays) are minimum and maximum luminance values. This is because including those specs might prevent content creators from being able to get the exact look they want for particular TV shows and movies.

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