Is Your Ultra HD TV REALLY an Ultra HD TV?

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tout-4k-vs-2k.jpgNumber three - which requires that an Ultra HD TV be able to upconvert current HD sources to its native resolution - is interesting in that I'm not entirely certain why the CEA felt compelled to add it. To the best of my knowledge, every current UHD TV on the market can do this, just as every current 1080p TV will upconvert lower-resolution sources to its native resolution. Certainly, some UHD TVs will do a better job at upconversion than others, but they all do it. One of my industry-insider pals speculates that this addition may be a pre-emptive measure to dissuade some (particularly lower-end) manufacturers from entering the market with a UHD monitor that does no upconversion at all and labeling it as a UHD TV. The Seiki SE50UY04 UHD TV that turned heads last year with its low, low price did a very poor job upconverting lower-resolution signals, but some reviewers and consumers recommended it for use as a monitor only, to show native UHD content. This could prompt some manufacturers to remove the upconverter entirely to sell a cheaper TV, and that's fine as long as the monitor is labeled in such a way that consumers know what they are (and are not) getting.

Numbers five and six are somewhat disappointing to me: they basically acknowledge that, from a color standpoint, the status quo is good enough. The ITU's Rec 2020 Ultra HD standard  defines a much larger color space than the current BT.709 (aka Rec 709) standard and specifies 10- or 12-bit color. These color improvements will truly make UHD content stand out, even on smaller screens where the higher resolution may not be easily discerned. But for now, the CEA is content to say that the displays don't need to be capable of anything better, although they "may support wider colorimetry standards."

Beyond the core characteristics, the CEA has also addressed questions surrounding smart or networkable UHD displays. At least in the TV world, a vast majority of new UHD TVs are also "connected" TVs, and the majority of early UHD content will be streamed over the Internet from sites like Netflix. With that in mind, the organization has also come up with a list of characteristics specifically related to this TV genre. For a display system to be referred to as a Connected Ultra HD device, it must meet the following minimum performance attributes:

1. Ultra High-Definition Capability: Meets all of the requirements of the CEA Ultra High-Definition Display Characteristics V2 (listed above).
2. Video Codec: Decodes IP-delivered video of a 3,840 x 2,160 resolution that has been compressed using HEVC and may decode video from other standard encoders.
3. Audio Codec: Receives and reproduces and/or outputs multichannel audio.
4. IP and Networking: Receives IP-delivered Ultra HD video through a WiFi, Ethernet, or other appropriate connection.
5. Application Services: Supports IP-delivered Ultra HD video through services or applications on the platform of the manufacturer's choosing.

Note that HEVC (aka H.265) is the only video compression format that's specifically mentioned. HEVC is currently being used by Netflix for its 4K streaming, but YouTube uses Google's VP9. Most TV manufacturers have announced support for both formats; just make sure your connected UHD TV of choice contains the proper decoders for any and every UHD streaming site you want to use.

These new CEA guidelines will take effect in September 2014...but there's a catch. They are voluntary, so manufacturers are free to completely ignore them and label their display devices any way they choose. To further clarify the matter for both retailers and shoppers, the CEA is working with member companies to develop an official UHD logo to help identify products that meet the CEA's guidelines. We'll let you know when that logo arrives. It's a safe bet that you will find all of these characteristics in UHD models from the big-name manufacturers; but, if you go way off-brand to get a deal that seems to good to be true...well, you know the saying.

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