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What is Mastered in 4K?

John Archer


What is Mastered in 4K and does it make a difference?

What is Mastered in 4K?

The AV industry is buzzing with talk of 4K (aka Ultra-High Definition, or UHD). All the big TV brands have 4K TVs on the market, and a few cheapo brands are flogging 4K TVs too. The film and TV industries are starting to shoot more and more stuff in 4K, and an ever-growing number of commercial cinemas around the globe are shifting from celluloid or HD projectors to 4K digital ones.

There’s just one problem with embracing the 4K dream at home: There’s bugger-all native 4K content for the home right now. The industry is still seemingly many months away from launching a 4K disc format, and potentially much further away from 4K broadcasts (unless Sky decides to shake things up towards the end of the year).

Netflix is on the verge of launching a 4K streaming service, but other streaming services are well behind with their plans, and Netflix’s service will depend on you having at least a 15MBps broadband speed to achieve a respectable 4K result.

Sony, though, believes it has something with which to fill the current 4K void. A sort of 4K–assisted Blu-ray, for want of a better description, dubbed ‘Mastered in 4K’.

The idea is that the Full HD film versions on Mastered in 4K Blu-rays have been derived either from more-than-4K masters of their original celluloid prints or, in one or two cases, downscaled from original 4K digital footage.

To be clear, the final digital films on the Blu-rays still only have the same 1920 x 1080 pixels of actual resolution as normal Blu-rays. But the argument goes that because these full HD files were derived from higher-resolution masters, their images will be more precise, with better colours, less noise, and enhanced sharpness and detail. Not least because the higher-resolution mastering process will provide more detail from the original print for the Blu-ray masterers to draw on when going through their (hopefully…) frame-by-frame compression process.

Another important element of the Mastered in 4K discs is that they’re all mastered with ‘x.v.YCC’ colour specification. This delivers an expanded colour range closer to that contained in original source material. So if you have a Blu-ray player and TV equipped with x.v. YCC playback capability – such as the PS3 console and Sony 65X9005A 4K set predominantly used for this feature – you should be able to enjoy a richer colourscape with Mastered in 4K discs.

Finally, Sony has worked with Sony Pictures film studio to optimise the algorithms involved with down-converting 4K movie masters so that they can be aligned with the upscaling processes of the X-Reality Pro processors in Sony’s 4K TVs. The result should be cleaner, more detailed images.

The downside to all this potential picture wizardry is that the Mastered in 4K process requires the use of more space on a Blu-ray disc, meaning that extra features like documentaries and audio commentaries take a hit. In fact, they’re all removed completely from Mastered in 4K releases.

The idea that the same number of pixels can deliver better results because a different mastering technique was used will doubtless sound like fish oil to some. However, we’ve seen Sony running demos of Mastered in 4K discs that seemed pretty convincing, so we are expecting to see some differences between the eight Mastered in 4K releases rounded up for this feature and their original Blu-ray releases.

The question is, will this difference be strong enough to justify spending more on the Mastered in 4K version, or even potentially replacing a non-Mastered in 4K version with a Mastered in 4K version? Or will Mastered in 4K end up looking like a well-intentioned but ultimately flawed experiment soon to be forgotten about in the mists of AV time?

Read on to as we take a look at some of the Mastered in 4K titles to find out.

Chris Marsden

March 10, 2014, 12:34 pm

This sounds like the old Supa-bit discs that Paramount tried with DVD. This was, in my opinion, a great idea as you had no extras and when you put the disc in the film just played. No messing with forced trailes or anti piracy messages. Basically because the DVD was a higher bit rate than normal discs there was not space for anything but the film.

Therefore the fact that there is no extras on these 'Mastered in 4k' discs does not bother me, (I think they should offer discs with this option at a cheaper rate than normal all the time) but I think the term Mastered in 4k is misleading and a confusing term and the fact they are, in most cases, more money is just a con.

Dean Weaver

March 10, 2014, 2:08 pm

increase in definition is not noticeable & for the increase in colour, I could just in increase the saturation (similar effect anyway...) - a TOTAL WASTE of time and money....


March 10, 2014, 2:19 pm

An increase in colour information in the video stream and increasing the 'saturation' on your TV aren't the same thing at all, though I can't fault your conclusion.


March 10, 2014, 2:33 pm

It's still a 'full hd' movie. Only so many pixels that you can put on screen. What this sounds like to me is upping the quality of the image for each frame, thereby making it look a bit nicer. Shouldn't all sudios be doing this with their movies? Making them look as good a possible?

Not that all extras are evil (barring that non skippable piracy video), shouldn't all movies be created so that they take up all the rest of the space on a disc? Or are studios just lazy?

I remember the start of the bluray/hd dvd. Thank God there was competition at that stage and that image quality was part of it.


March 10, 2014, 5:47 pm

I'm trying to remember the last time I watched an extra on a blu-ray release and failing miserably. In theory, it sounds like a good thing to get rid of the extras for increased picture fidelity and, as you say, something all studios should be doing.


March 11, 2014, 12:05 am

These "Mastered in 4K" discs are still only 1080p "HD" and not really 4K, but these discs are still worth consideration. They have been given a better treatment than the standard releases. Less digital manipulation and better encoding, resulting in less artifacts and more visible fine detail.


March 11, 2014, 7:26 pm

I second that the Superbit range instantly springs to mind - for me it was a Sony/Columbia DVD of Bad Boys. The main advantage I can see is reducing the number of nasty shocks you get when you pay a premium for a Blu-Ray only to discover it's from a really terrible source, and the extra capacity is so under-utilised that it may as well be a vanilla DVD. Those early Gladiator BDs were infamous, weren't they? As for skimping on extras, here's a crazy idea - stop being so cheap and justify the price increase, by putting your featurettes on a regular second disc! As with Superbit, my overall impression is this is a holding pattern brand with no real significance until the full on 4K campaign onslaught begins. (Remember those old DVD ads? "It's a movie on a disc!" [Pins drop like bullets.])

Jeff Dixon

October 12, 2015, 4:45 pm

I recently bought the Ghostbusters pack in mastered 4k filming. It looks worse than my HD channels. Anyone else experience this issue with that movie?

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