With the current lockdown, we’re spending more time at home. Time we can use to finally watch all the movies and series that have been on our watch list for far too long… Why not also take advantage of this extra time to optimize the image quality of your television or projector to enjoy movies and series in the best possible conditions?
There are several ways to do this: you can change your television or switch to video projection (for a very large image), improve the quality of the source, check and optimize the cabling, and check and optimize the TV’s and/or projector’s settings, but also those of the network media player or Blu-ray player.
4K TVs, 8K TVs and 4K Ultra HD projectors
Your HD television is starting to show its age, you think it’s too small and you want to enjoy the realism of Ultra High Definition images and the richness of HDR content. Perhaps you’ve been thinking about investing in a projector to enjoy large images for some time now.
For anyone who hasn’t already, investing in a 4K Ultra HD TV, 4K projector or 8K Ultra High Definition TV is a crucial step in improving image quality and enjoying high dynamic range (HDR) content. What are the advantages of 4K or even 8K Ultra High Definition? How can you navigate through the many different ranges offered by TV and projector manufacturers? We will be answering all these questions in this guide.
4K & 8K Ultra High Definition
Today, 4K, also referred to as Ultra High Definition, has become the norm, providing more detail in an image of the same size. Materials, textures, the actors’ skin, backgrounds, everything is richer and more realistic. With over 33 million pixels, an 8K image is even more spectacular when it comes to realism.
By increasing the number of pixels per frame, one can enjoy a larger image without changing the distance between the screen and the viewers and without seeing individual pixels.
HDR, HDR10+ & Dolby Vision: high dynamic range images
The popularization of movies, series and documentaries shot in high dynamic range (HDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision) means you can enjoy extremely bright and contrasted images with a great deal of nuance, as well as highlighted details in the darkest and lightest areas. However, you’ll need a 4K HDR TV or projector to experience it.
4K OLED TVs are the champions of contrast thanks to their ability to produce incredibly deep blacks and exceptionally realistic HDR images. Instantaneous response times and wide viewing angles complete the picture. They are perfect for home theater movie nights in dark and/or dimly lit rooms (contrasted and soft image), at ease with sports (low latency) and suitable for video games (G-Sync/FreeSync compatible models).
Samsung’s QLED TVs excel at reproducing high brightness peaks, making it easy to display images in the daytime and in a brightly lit room, even with HDR content. Most QLED TVs also feature a very good anti-reflective filter (the image remains visible in the daylight) and come in many different sizes (from 43”/108cm to 85”/214cm across).
Lifestyle TVs are characterized by their design, but also provide excellent image quality. Designed to be proudly displayed like a decorative object (Samsung Serif range), or on the contrary to blend into the decor like a picture frame (Samsung The Frame 2019 and Samsung The Frame 2020 ranges), they can also resemble a mirror when switched off (Weemove TV).
Ultra short throw projectors
An alternative to having a television in the living room, ultra short throw projectors can display a very large image (up to 2.5m in diagonal) placed at the foot of a wall or projection screen. Usually very bright, they can even be used in the daytime, especially if you project the image onto a dedicated short throw projection screen with a technical canvas.
The stars of dedicated home theater rooms, 4K Ultra High Definition projectors can also be used in the living room, placed on a table or mounted on the ceiling using a projector mount. These projectors are becoming more accessible with many models now available for under €1.500, such as the Optoma UHD30, the Acer M550BD and the Benq W2700.
Optimize the video source
This may seem obvious, but it is always important to remember that to achieve good image quality, it is essential to make sure that the quality of the source is optimized. This applies whether you have a subscription to a video streaming platform, a large collection of dematerialized movies, or shelves full of DVDs, Blu-rays and 4K Ultra High Definition Blu-rays.
On a 4K television, even a model with a powerful upscaling feature, you won’t obtain the same image quality when watching a DVD (720 x 480p definition) as you will when watching Netflix, Disney+ or Prime Video in HD or 4K, a Blu-ray (HD1080p), or a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray movie in Dolby Vision. Moreover, some 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray players feature a video section capable of providing exceptional image quality, even with low definition sources, thanks to very powerful upscaling algorithms.
With online streaming services such as Netflix, Prime Video and Disney+, if the bandwidth of your Internet connection is limited, the image quality will also be limited. For example, Netflix requires 25 MB/s for 4K and 5 MB/s for HD. With lower speeds, you will have to settle for DVD standard image quality.
Consequently, a fast internet connection is needed to enjoy the best image quality offered by different online streaming services. It is partly for this reason that Netflix offers three different subscription plans with three different levels of quality: SD, HD and Ultra HD.
The main streaming services have taken certain measures so as not to saturate the network infrastructure, which is very busy at the moment. For example, Netflix has decided to limit the quality of various video streams (standard quality, 1080p HD and 4K) to reduce the required bandwidth by about 25%.
Prime Video and MyCanal have followed suit, along with Disney+ (which owns the Marvel and Star Wars catalog in addition to Disney and Pixar classics). The American studio has even decided to limit its content to 1080p HD definition for the time being, as 4K Ultra High Definition video streams have been temporarily suspended.
Naturally, these restrictions in video quality have an impact on the image displayed on the screen. More compression means less detail and sharpness. Most users will probably only notice minimal differences and get used to them. This isn’t the case for purists with a keen eye, who will turn to physical media in their search for the “perfect” image and audio.
Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Investing in a good 4K UHD Blu-ray player is always a good idea if you want to enjoy the best image quality. Paired with an OLED TV, a QLED TV, a 4K UHD TV or a 4K UHD projector, a 4K Blu-ray player is a premium source that provides a very high-quality image.
Physical media provides unparalleled image and sound quality, especially in 4K Ultra High Definition. A 4K UHD Blu-ray disc has a high and consistent bandwidth, which ensures the best possible transmission of 4K UHD images and multi-channel HD digital audio. This benefits movies and series, as well as Blu-ray concerts.
Streaming, on the other hand, requires data to be compressed for both the image and the sound, even with a high-speed fiber-optic internet connection. Despite the quality of recent video codecs, streaming always comes with a certain reduction in quality, resulting in an on-screen image that isn’t as attractive as the image provided by a 1080p HD Blu-ray or a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc.
Optimize the HDMI connection
A good HDMI cable is essential in order to enjoy the richness of 4K Ultra HD images in HDR, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision whether you use a 4K Ultra HDR projector or an OLED or QLED 4K Ultra HD TV, and whether your source is a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player or a network media player.
As we have stated before, a high-end cable won’t improve image quality, but it will preserve it. On the other hand, a poor quality cable may not carry the signal correctly and/or may not protect it from interference. A high-quality HDMI cable optimizes and secures the signal transmission, which reaches the television without alteration.
To choose an HDMI cable, it is important to take a look at its technical specifications. The quality and structure of the copper used (OFC, LGC), the structure of the cable, the insulation of the conductors, the quality of the connectors and the shielding have an impact on the quality of the signal transmission. The quality of the materials used, the robustness of the connectors and the care taken during manufacturing also ensure durability and consistent performance over time.
HDMI cable certification
Attention should also be paid to the cable’s certification and/or the bandwidth it can deliver. In practice, a High Speed HDMI cable (up to 10.2 Gbit/s) is enough to enjoy 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays (3840 x 2160 pixels at 24, 25 and 30 fps). However, a minimum bandwidth of 18 Gbit/s is required for 4K HDR video, in both HDR10/HDR10+ or Dolby Vision.
You should also check that each element connected using an HDMI cable has the correct standard HDMI connectors for the bandwidth of the streams that will be sent and received:
- HDMI 1.4 standard = 10.2 Gbit max. (4K 24/25/30 fps)
- HDMI 2.0 = 18 Gbit max. (4K HDR/Dolby Vision 60 fps)
- HDMI 2.1 = 48 Gbit max. (4K HDR/Dolby Vision 120 fps & 8K 60 fps)
Taking length into consideration
Lastly, it is also important to consider the length of the HDMI cable to avoid excessive signal loss. From 5 to 8 meters, attenuation may begin to be noticeable, causing artifacts and/or signal loss. Over 10 meters, it is recommended to use an optic HDMI cable such as the NorStone Jura HDMI-Optic or an HDMI signal booster/repeater like the NorStone HDMI 3D repeater.
Optimize the image settings
4K Ultra High Definition TVs all provide several image presets adapted to different viewing conditions: Standard, Vivid, Cinema, Sport, Gaming… A different image mode can be selected and memorized for each of the TV’s inputs (Cinema mode for the Blu-ray player, Gaming mode for the game console…). However, it is often useful to take a quick look at the television’s menus to make sure the main presets are optimized and that the image displayed is as faithful to the director’s original vision as possible.
Choosing the right preset
The different TV image presets are calibrated to match the most common home viewing conditions or certain types of content. Depending on the manufacturer, they may have different names.
- Eco: reduces power consumption by decreasing the brightness of the screen.
- Standard: suitable for viewing in a room that is neither too bright nor too dark. The image has moderate contrast, brightness and sharpness.
- Vivid/Dynamic/Intense: suitable for viewing conditions during the day or in a bright environment, this mode usually increases the contrast and brightness (sometimes the sharpness).
- Cinema/Movie: mode suitable for viewing in dim lighting conditions or even total darkness. The image is generally more nuanced, softer and not as bright. This setting is often the closest to video standards, with accurate colorimetry and an image that is true to the original master.
- Sport: optimized mode for viewing sporting events and matches with improved motion sharpness (shots, running…)
- Gaming/Game: setting suitable for gaming with increased brightness, contrast and sometimes sharpness to better distinguish the details in the image. Video processing is disabled to optimize response times by reducing input lag.
In addition to these more common image modes, there are other modes for specific or independently calibrated video content: Dolby Vision Bright and Dolby Vision Dark for viewing Dolby Vision HDR content in the daytime and the evening, ISF day and night modes to store settings carried out by a calibration professional, THX modes calibrated by engineers from the renowned American studio and more.
Lastly, the recently released Filmmaker mode is widely used by the main 4K TV manufacturers in order to provide an optimal automatic image preset that the user doesn’t have to adjust.
Fine-tune settings with a calibration disc
Despite manufacturers’ best efforts to fine-tune image settings with each new generation of 4K Ultra High Definition televisions, calibration may be required to achieve the same settings as those found on professional monitors used for movie post-production calibration. It is the most reliable way to ensure that the images on the screen are identical to those shot and approved by the director.
To calibrate your 4K HDR television or 4K UHD projector, you can use a calibration disc such as the Spears & Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark disc.
This disc allows you to control and adjust many display settings, including contrast, brightness, colors and hues, sharpness, color temperature… In addition, this calibration disc is the first to let you compare all HDR (High Dynamic Range) solutions on the market in real-time, simply by pressing a button on the remote control. This is an important factor as it is very complex for a television or a projector to handle the high contrast, high brightness levels and wide color spectrum of HDR content.
Activate the television or Blu-ray player’s upscaling
All 4K Ultra High Definition TVs and 8K UHD TVs, as well as some 4K Ultra High Definition projectors can perform upscaling to convert the image of the source to their native definition. The results vary quite a bit from one TV to another. However, high-end 4K and 8K TVs equipped with powerful video processors that use artificial intelligence-boosted upscaling technology can provide excellent results.
However, 4K and 8K TVs aren’t the only devices capable of upscaling, which can also be carried out by Blu-ray players and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray players. Consequently, it may be interesting to test the upscaling quality of both.
What about gaming?
For several years now, manufacturers of 4K TVs and Ultra High Definition projectors have been attentive to the needs of the gamer community, improving the input lag of their devices. As a reminder, input lag is the delay between the moment when the image is generated by the console or computer and the moment when it is displayed on the screen. If it is high, the player will see the game action with a delay and will inevitably react too late.
VRR, G-Sync, FreeSync
Offering a very low input lag, most Samsung QLED TVs and the latest generation of LG OLED TVs are also compatible with Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) features such as the Nvidia G-Sync and AMD Freesync technologies.
In practice, instead of displaying the image at a fixed refresh rate, which can cause stuttering or even tearing, the television locks onto the frequency at which the video processor of the console or graphics card send the images to the TV.
ALLM (Auto Low Latency Mode)
Lastly, even TVs that don’t support VRR technology offer a gaming mode that enhances brightness and contrast so that details are easier to perceive and disables video processing to optimize screen response time. Most of the time, the gaming mode can be accessed via the Image mode button on the remote control. 4K TVs with ALLM (Auto Low Latency Mode) can even switch directly to Game Mode and automatically optimize the settings as soon as they detect a compatible game console.