More than a week ago, the World Cup 2018 started in Russia. The Netherlands is not there, but from our living rooms we can of course enjoy football. And we can do that in high quality because the World Cup can be seen in 4K Ultra HD and HDR. We have watched the first week of football in this high quality and were impressed.
The World Cup can be viewed by everyone via NPO 1, but you want to enjoy the 4K resolution and the HDR view then you need access to the special NPO 1 UHD channel. Unfortunately, that channel is not available to everyone. Ziggo, for example, does not pass it on, at KPN you need a special 4K subscription (with decoder) and Canaal Digitaal offers the channel via satellite. An overview of all providers offering the World Cup in 4K and HDR can be found in this article.
We use the 4K set-top box from KPN and a corresponding 4K subscription that costs € 71.50 per month costs.
In the field of hardware, a number of things are required to view the signal in full glory. For example, the provider’s set-top box (or the smartcard module) must be able to receive and transmit 4K signals. In addition, the TV must be able to display a 4K Ultra HD signal in full resolution and HDR support is also required for HDR playback.
We use two similar setups. In one set-up (a living room with lots of light) we have the LG OLED65E8 oled TV, accompanied by the KPN 4K set-top box. The other setup is in the darkened test room. Here is the slightly older LG OLED65E6 oled TV, also accompanied by the KPN 4K set-top box.
Incidentally – at least at KPN – something else is required to view a UHD-channel. You need a fast internet connection. Our tests showed that viewing one UHD transmitter can easily cost between 20 and 30mbps. Since at KPN the TV transit is at the expense of internet speed for the rest of the house, this is something to be reckoned with. KPN offers the 4K package only in regions where fast internet is possible.
4K and HDR HLG
But, what exactly do you get when you switch on the NPO 1 UHD channel? The 4K Ultra HD resolution first, and that will be known to everyone. You get an image with a resolution of 2.160 by 3.840 pixels, a lot sharper than we are used to.
In addition, you get an HDR view, something that perhaps not everyone knows. HDR stands for high dynamic range and simply means that the image has a larger dynamic range. For example, dark shadows and bright lights can be perfectly displayed in one image, without the shadow getting gray or the lights appearing dull.
Now HDR is not a standard by which it broadcasts. Various HDR standards have been developed to display content in HDR. HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma) is the generally accepted standard for broadcasting HDR content. HLG makes it possible to send both SDR (standard dynamic range) and HDR in one signal, which saves the providers a lot of bandwidth and also directly provides the optimal picture for people without and people with a television that supports HDR. HLG also has a disadvantage and that is that the standard does not have dynamic metadata. The HDR setting for a specific broadcast is therefore predetermined, regardless of the difference in brightness per scene or moment. The HDR view is therefore not optimized per scene / shot, which is the case with Dolby Vision and HDR10+.
But, HDR offers more than just a larger dynamic range. A larger color range also falls under the standard. Put simply, this means that a larger number of color shades can be displayed, something that (with HDR support) naturally also needs to be able to give. Ultimately, this also creates a view that is closer to reality. Where the standard HDTVs use the Rec.709 color space, 4K HDR TVs use the Rec.2020 color space.
We also checked with KPN what exactly we get, and that matches the expectations. The 4K signal is compressed using the HEVC codec and is displayed with the Rec.2020 color space.
Before we started with the World Cup in 4K and HDR, we were asked about the settings of the TVs. that we used. We can be quite short about that, however, since we have chosen one of the standard HDR modes and have eliminated many of the extra functions and options to get as true a picture as possible.
For the LG OLED65E6 is that it is professionally calibrated in HDR mode. We use the HDR (User) mode and leave the default settings for the most part. Options such as TruMotion, SuperResolution and Dynamic Contrast are disabled. The TV itself indicates that an HLG signal is recognized and thus switches to the selected HDR mode.
The LG OLED65E8 has a number of new modes for HDR playback and for this model ( not professionally calibrated) we have chosen the Technicolor Expert mode. This gives the best HDR experience from the box in our view. This model also applies to the fact that we have disabled almost all other options or have shown them at the standard setting.
It is not very difficult to find the right mode, especially in the E6 series with a limited number of modes. Most modes provide a very exaggerated color rendition and too high brightness, something that immediately stands out. It may sound strange, but when it comes to HDR, the darkest mode is often the best mode with the most accurate color rendering and the best contrast.
First impression: World Cup in 4K and HDR
It is a whole introduction, but of course it is all about the image quality and thus the general experience. How does the World Cup in 4K and HDR actually look like? Images in this article say little, but if we have to describe it briefly, we are absolutely impressed.
Looking at the 4K Ultra HD resolution, it is already a world of difference. Of course we switched between NPO 1 HD and NPO 1 UHD several times, and then the difference (as with the other elements) is absolutely noticeable. Because of the higher resolution everything is simply a lot tighter, the picture looks calmer and you actually see more details, for example in the stands but also in the face of football players.
But, it is like said the combination of elements that make the image impressive. So the display is also a lot smoother than we are used to (the signal is 50Hz UHD) which is certainly an important point in football. With fast movements, back numbers or the ball become a bit fuzzy but by far not as out of focus as with the HD version of the broadcast. Even without the TruMotion options, the display remains smooth, sleek and detailed. If you turn on the TruMotion option lightly, it will become slightly tighter, but you will see some hitches or image errors here and there. Incidentally, it is noticeable that the E8 (probably thanks to Black Frame Insertion and the new a7 processor) performs slightly better than the E6.
The difference in color reproduction is enormous. The HD version of NPO 1 seems very dull when we switch back. On the UHD channel the colors are a lot more intense and richer, the color range is clearly higher and everything comes to life more. It is a much more dynamic representation with more color depth, without the appearance of certain colors exaggerated or unnatural. This is especially noticeable in the colored public and the shirts.
Looking at HDR there is also a big difference, but there are still some hooks and eyes. To start with the positive; the dynamic range is very large, and that is reflected in the highlights in particular. From stadium lights and the sun shining on the audience or the field to sparkles on the ball and white uniforms. The whole is a lot more natural and realistic than we are used to. Light parts of the image come to life much more and splash from the screen, combined with more detailed dark areas with more nuances. The HDR effect is obvious and gives the competition an extra dimension. Such a large range provides more dynamics and more depth.
But, the HDR reproduction is not perfect and that is due to the standard used; the HLG standard. This standard, unlike HDR10 + and Dolby Vision, does not provide dynamic metadata. Put simply, this means that one HDR setting for the entire broadcast is chosen (static) instead of optimizing the HDR representation per shot or per scene (dynamic). As a result, some images in HDR look great, but other images are either too dark or too light. There is no optimization available so that images that require a different setting are also perfect in HDR.
This is reflected, for example, in competitions that take place in the afternoon. When the focus is in the foreground and this foreground is in the shadow (dark), background is sometimes very overexposed when it is in the sun (light). At various competitions you clearly saw that in close-up (or medium shots) the camera adjusts itself to make the foreground that is darker lighter, which also ensures that the background where there is a lot of light is almost completely white. The details of the stand will then disappear. Conversely, it also applies; we have seen several matches where half of the field was in the shade and the other half in the sun. The part in the sun was full of details and tight, but the part in the shade became quite dark. Certainly in a more brightly lit room that can be too dark. At a game in the evening or a completely illuminated field, there is no problem and the HDR view looks very tight. It is not a big problem because the action is clearly visible in all cases, but it does show that people have not yet reached perfection in the field of HDR.
A little different point that shows that the perfection is not there yet – and that the tests are of course – is that for the first 6/7 games the audio ran almost 2 seconds behind the image. That is quite irritating, but fortunately it has been solved. The problem, incidentally, was in Russia, not at KPN. It is also good to report that in the rest and immediately after the game is switched to an HD image. After all, the recordings in Hilversum and outside the stadium in Russia are – unfortunately – just in HD.
All in all, I can say that I am very satisfied with the UHD broadcasts from the NPO, via KPN. After switching to the HD version of the channel many times, I do not want to go back. The image is much better in almost all areas than we are used to, from resolution to color and clarity. In the field of HDR is certainly still gains to be booked, but with this version we are already making a big step forward.