Planet Earth II in Ultra High Definition is Psychedelic as Hell

Motherboard gets a sneak peek at the highest quality picture the BBC has ever broadcast.
December 8, 2016, 10:30am
Image: Planet Earth/BBC

"Fancy trying out better quality video as part of some tests we're doing?"

This is the understated way the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) will today notify certain lucky television viewers that they can bear witness to a glorious four-minute trailer for Planet Earth II in ultra high-definition and Hybrid Log-Gamma—the highest quality picture the BBC has ever broadcast.

Motherboard was privy to the trailer at the BBC's R&D center in London this week, where the public organization's top thinkers explained how the Hybrid Log-Gamma experiment is "an early but important step" towards streaming high-quality Ultra HD programmes on BBC iPlayer in the future.


Motherboard can confirm the experience was mind-blowing, emotional, and verging on hallucinogenic. In fact, the whole affair was so overwhelming one member of the preview party actually fainted (although Motherboard suspects this may have been in part due to the temperature in the room)!

Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG), essentially a modified form of HDR that enables images to be shown in extremely high contrast, has been jointly developed by BBC R&D and Japanese broadcaster NHK. It boosts the shadows and dark areas of the picture and supplies your retinas with more natural and brighter highlights. BBC R&D even told Motherboard that a frog's particular shade of red was never before able to be broadcast so accurately to traditional TV monitors.

HLG is backwards compatible and based on open standards, while providing boosted HD quality from 32-inch monitors to 100+-inch TVs. "When we innovate we do it for everyone," said a BBC R&D spokesperson.

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The trailer is only available to those with compatible internet connected TVs, however, and a BBC R&D spokesperson told Motherboard it's a bit of "a chicken and egg" scenario, as broadcasters like the BBC have to push technology standards of TV manufacturers, and TV manufacturers also have to push the standards of broadcasting quality.

Still, the experiment on the BBC's iPlayer audience will let the corporation learn more about how the broadcast standard will affect its infrastructure and high quality broadcasting technology, and it will also expose any obstacles or challenges to streaming longer HLG shows in the future. While the BBC isn't the first to broadcast in UHD 4K, with stellar programming such as Planet Earth, the organization's certainly got a reason to keep pushing the boundaries of picture quality.

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