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The next 4K HDR iPlayer trial will be the best yet − even if your TV isn’t 4K

Earlier this week, the BBC announced that football fans will be able to live stream this weekend’s Man City vs Brighton FA Cup semi-final in 4K HDR through iPlayer. We asked the Beeb for more details about the trial − here’s why it should be the best yet, regardless of whether or not you own a 4K HDR TV.

For the first time ever, the BBC is treating its 4K HDR coverage as its main production. In previous trials, HD and SD production has been prioritised, with 4K HDR production treated as a “separate, experimental production process”.

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The BBC says that the compromises that have had to be made with producing 4K HDR content in the past mean image quality hasn’t been quite as good as it could have been.

“For the FA Cup we have a native UHD/HDR production workflow, from which the HD and SD variants (including broadcast) are then derived,” Phil Layton, the head of broadcast and connected systems at BBC R&D, told Trusted Reviews.

“The workflow makes use of the backwards compatibility of HLG, and enables the camera’s sensitivity to light to be managed using the HLG signal. In broadcast parlance this process is called ‘racking’, this dynamic control is used to maintain consistent exposure of sunlit and shaded areas on a football or rugby pitch or tennis court etc. Previously the racking would be done on the HD standard dynamic range signal.”

He added: “So the UHD HDR picture is improved and because the HD picture is also derived from UHD the HD picture will be better than from a HD camera, plus there will also be more detail in the shadows and highlights of the HD picture.

“So all our viewers benefit from a much better picture, regardless as to how they’re watching.”

Simply put, even if you don’t watch the Man City vs Brighton game on a 4K HDR TV, the image quality should look better than usual.

Better still, conducting the trial this way should improve efficiency and reduce production costs, which should pave the way to more 4K HDR content.

“This overall flexibility is a key aspect of using HLG particularly in live production, and why the BBC uses HLG for HDR production. Hopefully the reduced cost of and complexity of using this method for UHD and HD/SD production will lead to more UHD content,” said Layton.

All of which begs the question: why hasn’t the BBC always approached its 4K HDR trials this way?

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“UHD is still growing as a format, and the majority of our audiences are still watching in SD and HD, which is why production processes have been centred around these so far,” Layton added.

“UHD production has been done as a parallel workflow, which increases both the cost and complexity of set-up and operation. Some of the small compromises which practically have to be made mean the UHD and in particular the HDR are not quite as good as native UHD/HDR production.”

Have you tuned into any of the BBC’s past 4K HDR trials? What did you think? Let us know on Twitter @TrustedReviews.

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