BBC Gives “Planet Earth II” Ultra-Quality Makeover on iPlayer

The BBC is showing portions of its famed series “Planet Earth II” in 4K high dynamic range (HDR) video, otherwise known as Ultra HD, to test the technical capabilities of the BBC iPlayer.

Certain televisions with the capacity to display such high definition will be able to see a four-minute footage of the show at that level of quality. The footage will be available until early next year. It shows a jaguar stalking prey, with perhaps the most notable scene being a brilliant depiction of a bright red frog sitting on top of a wet leaf. According to Wired, the BBC called this experiment with 4K HDR “an early” but important step toward streaming high-quality Ultra HD programs on BBC iPlayer in the future.

4K HDR technology uses more pixels to offer additional display options and can improve the quality of the pixels. While paid subscription services like Netflix and Hulu offer certain shows and movies in 4K HDR, there is a huge difference between a pre-recorded movie and streaming a program. Jay Tillen observed that in order for a movie to go under 4K HDR, every scene and shot must go through a color correction process. Netflix uses metadata to essentially correct movies so that each frame becomes compatible with the new technology, but that is harder to do with an instant stream.

BBC is trying to get around this problem using new technology called hybrid-log gamma (HLG). As Ars Technica explains, a broadcast with HLG can use a signal which compatible televisions can use to display the higher quality broadcast.

While television manufacturers are capable of creating TVs which are compatible with HLG technology, only a small handful on the market can actually accept the device. Only Panasonic TVs such as the Panasonic DX902 series can see it, though the BBC hopes that that this demo will encourage those manufacturers to create additional 4k HDR compatible televisions.

Unfortunately, the BBC will not be actually broadcasting shows on this new standard for the foreseeable future. The demand is not there yet given the lack of compatible televisions to justify the added expense of the new technology.