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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.

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