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BBC testing out “Planet Earth II” in broadcast 4K HDR with Apple iPlayer app

by on December 12, 2016

Stephan Jukic – December 12, 2016

For a small number of BBC iPlayer app users with a certain type of 4K HDR display, Planet Earth II will look particularly gorgeous thanks the inclusion of 4K resolution and high dynamic range in its mastering.

This is an option that the BBC rolled out earlier in the week on December the 8th and select UK users of the iPlayer app on Panasonic 4K HDR TVs can watch a part of the landmark new nature documentary with a level of visual beauty and clarity that has probably never before been seen in a major documentary of this kind so far. The BBC has offered a four minute clip of Planet Earth II in full high dynamic range and 4K resolution on iPlayer and based on what we’re hearing from some viewer impressions, the show looks downright stunning indeed.


As for the Planet Earth II documentary itself, it was entirely filmed in 4K resolution and though it’s currently being broadcast only in Full HD for a vast majority of potential viewers, plans for a full-blown 4K release with the documentary’s HDR formatting included are in the works. The BBC is certainly aware of the growing percentage of consumers who now own 4K TVs the problem of delivering the series in 4K resolution through the content-to-TV pipeline is partly responsible for delays in letting the public enjoy the full ultra HD version of this spectacular successor to the groundbreaking original Planet Earth documentary from 2006.

Getting streamed, compressed 4K and 4K HDR content to viewers via internet connectivity is one thing and a steadily growing content industry but performing live satellite broadcasts of digital TV content in 4K resolution is still a clumsy process even for major broadcasters and despite its efforts to streamline this pipeline, the BBC is still lagging in 4K entertainment delivery.

Then there is another interesting issue behind the Planet Earth II release that further complicates its release in 4K HDR. Quite simply, the new documentary version was mastered through a type of broadcast HDR technology called HLG, or Hybrid-Log Gamma, which is backwards compatible with some existing TV displays but to a very limited degree. This new HDR standard is royalty-free and has been developed specifically for broadcast 4K HDR entertainment transmission by the BBC and its Japanese counterpart the NHK service. The vast majority of current 4K TVs, HDR 4K consoles and other devices use the HDR10 standard that is popular for most of today’s HDR 4K content. HLG is simply not widespread enough for the BBC to deliver Planet Earth II in HDR to a wide enough audience.


The reason why Planet Earth II was recorded with HLG high dynamic range instead of the much more usable HDR10 or even Dolby Vision HDR formats is because HLG is far more suited for broadcast content than the other standards are. Instead of using metadata for HDR encoding, HLG depends on an inserted additional HLG signal which goes out with a 4K broadcast transmission to a consumer’s 4K TV or set-top box and with this dual signal method, the receiving home entertainment display can either display the content in SDR 4K or in HDR 4K if the TV being used supports the HLG content format.

Right now in the U.K, only “Panasonic’s latest screens” support HLG HDR according to the BBC and other 4K TV makers will be releasing a firmware update for HLG support only in 2017. For this reason, the BBC is apparently waiting for a broader compatibility in consumers’ TVs before letting the public haves access to the superb full 4K HDR version of Planet Earth II.

HDR broadcasts in 2017 from other services like Sky are also likely to use the HLG format for high dynamic range.

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  • Ben Ballard
    December 13, 2016 at 1:53 am

    This is a welcome piece of news as far as broadcasting in 4K compatible formats goes. Sadly the BBC haven’t been proactive enough in their approach to broadcasting, which is a shame as they have always been at the forefront of broadcasting to the general public in the past. They HAVE dropped the ball slightly as far as 4K content goes, it’s only taken them 3 years or so to get their act together.

    I’ve currently got the HLG codec version of the BBC iPlayer demoing Planet Earth II on the Panasonic TX65DX902 in store, and it DOES look a spankingly glorious picture quality. When firing it up from the Apps section it asked if I wanted to trial the “Beta” version of BBC iPlayer, then to exit and restart it. I would urge anybody who has a 2016 Pana or access to one, to try it out. Ep 3 “Jungles” looks fantastic!!

    (I’ve yet to try it on the LG OLED55E6 as I’m currently clearing panel noise on it (SO annoying it generates noise and you have to do this), however I shall post another response as to what I find with this TV)


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