The BBC has started its first ever consumer trial of 4K content, offering a four-minute clip of Planet Earth 2 in Ultra HD through its free streaming platform, BBC iPlayer.
What's more, it also uses Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) picture tech, a form of HDR, to present greater contrast on compatible televisions. Or, at least, it will when it becomes available on TVs that support it.
So, how do you watch the 4K clip? When is it available until and what do you need?
BBC iPlayer Planet Earth 2 4K Ultra HD trial: When and where is it available?
The Ultra HD trial started on Thursday 8 December and runs until early 2017. It is available on BBC iPlayer on compatible Smart TV sets that have been tested and approved by the BBC tech team so far. It can also be viewed on Virgin Media's V6 box and the 2TB Sky Q box. You will get an alert on your version of iPlayer if your TV is already compatible when you first start it up.
BBC iPlayer Planet Earth 2 4K Ultra HD trial: What TVs are compatible and can I get it on my TV?
As the BBC tech team has high standards as to how it wants the footage to be seen, it will only work on specific televisions. Some TVs are capable of 4K HDR and/or 4K HLG video playback, but they need slight tweaks by the manufacturers to play the Planet Earth 2 content correctly. Therefore, the list of compatible TVs is currently limited to recent Panasonic 4K sets - and even they won't playback HLG, just the 4K Ultra HD resolution.
Here is the complete list of compatible TVs so far:
- Panasonic CX680 Series
- Panasonic CX700 series
- Panasonic CR730 series
- Panasonic CX800 series - reviewed here
- Panasonic CR852 series
- Panasonic CZ950 Series
- Panasonic DX902 Series (Screen Sizes: 65, 58,50) - reviewed here
- Panasonic DR852 series (Screen Sizes: 65, 55)
- Panasonic DX802 series (Screen Sizes: 58, 50) - reviewed here
- Panasonic DX750 series (Screen Sizes: 65, 58, 50)
- Panasonic Dx720 series (Screen Sizes: 58, 50)
- Panasonic DX700 Series (Screen Sizes: 58, 50)
- Panasonic DX680 Series (Screen Sizes: 55, 49, 40)
- Panasonic DX650 series (Screen Sizes: 55, 49, 40)
If you have one of the above televisions, woo-hoo, you're set. If you don't but you're sure your television can receive 4K HLG video, such as the 2016 LG OLED series of TVs, don't fret, the BBC told Pocket-lint that more televisions will be added to the list during the trial. And HLG will likely be enabled.
The broadcaster is working with manufacturers to make sufficient software changes in order to present the trial footage in the correct manner. We'll update the list above as more compatible sets are added.
One alternative is to play it through a set-top-box onto a TV. Both the 2TB Sky Q box and the Virgin TV V6 box are able to play the trial clip. That way it doesn't matter which 4K TV you play it onto.
Some existing Virgin Media customers are getting V6 boxes installed right now, so they will be able to access the four-minute video through the BBC iPlayer app. And Sky Q customers can find it in the iPlayer section of their Catch Up menu.
BBC iPlayer Planet Earth 2 4K Ultra HD trial: How do I play it on my TV?
If you do have one of the Panasonic TVs, Sky Q, a Virgin TV V6 box or a television that has subsequently been made compatible, you should load up the BBC iPlayer app and you will be presented with an opening screen asking whether you want to try "better quality video" or go straight to the normal iPlayer homescreen. Choose "Try it".
BBC iPlayer Planet Earth 2 4K Ultra HD trial: What is HLG?
We all know what a 4K resolution is (3840 x 2160) for Ultra HD video, but what is Hybrid Log Gamma? Well, we've got a handy guide explaining exactly that here: What is Hybrid Log Gamma and why should you care?
It is basically a high contrast picture format, a bit like high dynamic range (HDR), but easier to broadcast. The feature above goes into much more depth.
Can I watch Planet Earth 2 in 4K Ultra HD elsewhere?
Strangely, although Planet Earth 2 (or Planet Earth II, as it is written in the show credits) was entirely shot in Ultra HD, the BBC is only broadcasting it in Full HD. And, at present, the only disc versions soon to be available are DVD and Blu-ray.
The four-minute tech test is the best you can get for now.