UltraHD: Can we see the benefits?

There seems to be some confusion as to whether the UHD resolution will be observable with screens 65 and under from realistic viewing distances due to human eye limitations. Is this true? Will the REC. 2020 wider color gamut have a greater impact on the average home viewer?

– Richard A.
Chicago, IL

This is a question that has come up a lot and there is no easy way to answer “yes” or “no”. When it comes to “Can we see the extra resolution?”, it’s hard to say if you can or cannot. If we rely on the science that we have, and how sharp human vision is, then it really depends on the screen size and how far away you are. The testing we use to measure our vision (Black on White, still images, ideal lighting) is much different than the way we watch movies or TV (shades of colors, moving images, different lighting) so what is true with one might not be true with the other.

We also don’t know everything there is to know about human vision. So while we think we have a good idea of what the average resolution a person can see is from a certain distance, we can’t be certain of it. We always learn more and more and what we believe today might not be correct tomorrow. I went ahead and designed a calculator that uses what we think we know about vision to answer this question based on your screen size and distance that you can use.

I’ve also talked to many other reviewers about this. Of the ones that I have talked to that have had UltraHD displays in for review and done direct A-B comparisons to non-UltraHD displays, they almost never see a huge increase in resolution. On still images they can see differences, often slight, but on moving content it is nearly impossible to tell. What they notice more is that non-UltraHD displays or projectors with better contrast ratios or better colors are more noticeable to the eye than the increased resolution is.

That ties back into your questions about Rec. 2020. I believe, and so do most people I talk to, that the expanded color gamut and increased bit depth offered by Rec. 2020 will provide more benefit to users than higher resolution will. The Dolby Vision demonstrations at CES this year were the most impressive things I saw with colors that are not possible on current displays, even UltraHD ones, and increased dynamic range that makes the image pop off the screen.

Right now there is no content support for this larger color gamut or increased bit depth in Rec. 2020. Some UltraHD displays have a larger color gamut, but there isn’t the software support. The only current promised UltraHD content this year, Netflix streaming, both requires more bandwidth than most people can get from Netflix and doesn’t support these extra features. It also only has a high enough bit-rate to really duplicate Blu-ray picture quality and not to take us to a truly higher level.

So in my opinion, features like Rec. 2020 and Dolby Vision will offer greater benefits than the extra resolution of UltraHD. And you’ll be able to see them regardless of seating distance so you won’t have to worry about that.