David's Take: Spears and Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark Disc - A Fanboy's Love Letter

David Susilo

Published: 07/10/2019 11:52:54 AM EST in Vision

David's Take: Spears and Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark Disc - A Fanboy's Love Letter

I've been saying for more than two decades that just because the specifications are the same, it doesn't mean the end result will be the same. This is true with everything. In the last year alone, I've been attacked by keyboard warriors in online forums for being a fanboy of certain brands. In a way, it's true. I am a fanboy. However, I'm a fanboy of quality, not brands.

The biggest attack I've receive came from the media player community. Some claim that all UHD players are identical. It's the typical "digital is digital" group of posters. I beg to differ. Even without test patterns, I can visibly see differences in upscaling quality from 1,080p to UHD resolution, chroma up-sampling from the native 4:2:0 subsampling back to 4:4:4, error correction capabilities, and the list goes on.

Thanks to the new Spears and Munsil UHD HDR benchmark disc, at the very least, the upscaling and chroma up-sampling quality can be proven easily, even to the less initiated. Not only for UHD players, but also displays and everything in between.

Available on amazon.ca for $64.95, the disc provides a plethora of test and demonstration materials that enable anyone, from amateurs to seasoned professionals, to evaluate media players and display performance, identify weak links in hardware (such as a video processor or HDMI matrix and receivers) and software, and dial in optimal settings.

"Every pattern has been rethought with high dynamic range (HDR) and Ultra HD in mind," says co-creator Stacey Spears. "We believe this disc completely changes the game for test and evaluation discs, by making use of all of the features and range that HDR and wide-gamut standards can offer."

HDR was designed with the future in mind, but the implementation is all over the place. Instead of creating a standard based solely on the capabilities of existing displays, video-standards bodies designed HDR to meet the capabilities of future displays as well, the developers explain. When properly implemented, HDR content, be it HDR10, HDR10+, HLG, Dolby Vision, and Technicolor HDR, remains backwards-compatible with today's technology while making available metadata and picture information that will produce brighter, more dynamic, and more colourful images on future TVs. Content can now be smartly scaled to use the colour depth and dynamic range of the display, which means the content we watch today may actually look better on future display technologies such as 12-bit panels coming in the future.

"HDR represents a new way of thinking about video," says Don Munsil, "with a completely different approach to transfer functions, or what we used to call ‘gamma,' and that meant that a bunch of old patterns just plain didn't work anymore. Video is now encoded for very-high-brightness devices, and then has to be remapped by the display to fit that display's actual capabilities. Needless to say, every display does it a little differently. Now, with the UHD HDR Benchmark enthusiasts and professionals will be able to get insight into exactly what the display does when it makes those important remapping decisions."

I find the above statement to be very true, especially when it comes to the lower-nit displays, regardless of technology being used. Essentially, outside of Sony's Z9D 4,000-nit display, every display (LCD, OLED, projection) will have to compromise. Thus, their internal tone mapping needs to be as perfect as possible. (Automatic tone mapping used by Panasonic UHD players and JVC 2019 line-up of projectors are the exception.)

"There really isn't any other way to make patterns that we can stand behind," said co-creator Don Munsil on the Website. "We build every pattern using our own tools, written from scratch in C++. If a pattern needs to be generated directly in a very specific colour space and data format, we generate it in that colour space and format; we're not limited to what you can do with off-the-shelf graphics software. In a few cases, we've had to create our own format, because no existing file format could represent the pattern we needed to create."

UHD HDR Benchmark includes new editions of some favourite patterns from earlier discs plus many new patterns exclusive to Spears & Munsil.

Stacey Spears explains: "The problems of artifacts caused by colour conversion and video processing remain as relevant as ever for HDR and UHD, but HDR adds exciting new problems to all the old ones. We rebuilt the colour-space evaluation pattern from scratch and put in one place everything an end-user or professional evaluator needs. Every pattern we make goes through that same process and is refined again and again to make it clearer, simpler, and more precise."

Short of owning a Murideo Fresco Pair http://www.murideo.com/murideo-pair-ultimate-hdmi-testing-set.html that costs approximately $5,000, this disc is the best way to evaluate your video system. Even after owning the Fresco Pair, I still find many of the disc's patterns to be extremely helpful to confirm that my findings to be true and not affected by "fanboy bias."

Article Tags:  david's take, spears and muesli, uhd, HDR, benchmark disc, video, quality, videophile


David's Take: Spears and Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark Disc - A Fanboy's Love Letter

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