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BBC starts testing Planet Earth II in 4K & HDR on iPlayer

08 Dec 2016 | Rasmus Larsen |

UK’s BBC has publicly started testing how much new video technologies, namely 4K and HDR, can improve the already-pristine pictures in Planet Earth II. To do that BBC is using the third HDR format, HLG.

Planet Earth II in 4K/HDR

If you have already watched Planet Earth II you have yet to experience it in its full glory, says BBC. To be able to experience it in 4K and HDR, however, you have to look beyond broadcast and disc formats, and instead look towards streaming via BBC iPlayer.

The full episodes are not ready to enjoy in the better picture format yet so BBC has instead released a 4-minute compilation clip.

- “One of the clips is a frog on a leaf with lots of rain, and the reason this is so interesting is that the redness of the frog is a really deep Ferrari red that you would never get in broadcast television at the moment," said Phil Layton, lead of broadcast and connected systems at BBC R&D to BBC News.

The video clip is available on BBC iPlayer starting today and will be removed again in early 2017. BBC is hoping to broadcast its first TV channel in HDR within 18 months.

Planet Earth II UHD

There is always a ”but”

And here is the bad news. You may already be familiar with the first two HDR formats; HDR10 and Dolby Vision. BBC and Japan’s NHK have developed a third format for broadcast dubbed HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma).

And to stream Planet Earth II in HDR, BBC is using HLG to ensure that the same signal is compatible with both HDR and non-HDR TVs.

The HLG format is not widely adopted. BBC says that it works on 2015 and 2016 Panasonic TVs but nothing else yet. Other TV manufacturers such as LG, Sony and Samsung have demonstrated HLG support on 2016 TVs at trade shows but not announced any concrete plans to add it via firmware.

- "The experiment is an early but important step toward streaming high-quality Ultra HD programmes on BBC iPlayer in the future. Central to the trial is the inclusion of HLG, which the BBC sees as an integral part of future Ultra HD programming. Where Ultra HD improves image quality ... HLG takes this one step further by providing better quality pixels," BBC said.

BBC is asking owners of HDR TVs to help trial the video clip and report back their findings.

HDR TVs with support for HLG, according to BBC

2015 TVs: Panasonic CX680, CX700 , CR730, CX800, CR852, CZ950 (OLED)
2016 TVs: Panasonic DX902, DR852, DX802, DX750, DX720, DX700, DX680, DX650
- Source: BBC, Wired , Pocket-lint

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