DirecTV Presents NHL 4K Game With Live HDR, But Was Anyone Watching?
UPDATE! DirecTV said Monday that its 4K Ultra HD telecasts with high dynamic range (HDR) are using the Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) HDR profile, which will be supported by select TV brands and models this year (though some sets are still awaiting firmware updates). The next 4K/HDR event will take place Dec. 19th with the broadcast of the Cleveland Cavaliers-Milwaukee Bucks game on the DirecTV 4K Events channel. Read more below:
DirecTV issued a release late Thursday afternoon (Eastern time) saying that it was televising that evening’s game between the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins and the Vegas Golden Knights in 4K Ultra HD with high dynamic range (HDR), making it the first major U.S. pay-TV service to deliver live HDR programming.
The only problem was, it didn’t say which high dynamic range (HDR) profile the service has decided to use for its HDR coverage, making it impossible to know if any TVs currently in the market would have the ability to actually present it on screen.
The broadcast amounted to a test of the forthcoming 4K/HDR capabilities of the satellite TV service, which is impressive on its own, but at this moment in the real world, live HDR broadcasts remain virtually useless to most 4K Ultra HDTV owners.
We made repeated attempts to reach DirecTV representatives for answers to our HDR questions before game time Thursday, but a spokesman could not help us and had not addressed our technical questions Friday, long after the broadcast aired. (By the way, Las Vegas defeated Pittsburgh, 2-1.)
DirecTV’s announcement of the event described its HDR as a profile that “enhances every pixel, adds depth, and pays greater detail to the brightest and darkest images, providing a viewing experience that allows you to feel like you are actually at the game from the confines of your couch.”
But, most 4K Ultra HDTVs in the market right now support only the HDR10 high dynamic range profile (there are more than six different ones being proposed), and in a few cases, like some Vizio and LG TVs, Dolby Vision.
As we have reported here, HDR10 uses static metadata and requires that HDR contrast and color grading be inserted into content in post production. That’s not realistic for live broadcasts like sporting events, unless using Samsung’s new HDR10+ dynamic metadata enhancement to the HDR10 baseline profile, which is based on the ST.2084 standard supporting the Perceptual Quantization (PQ) Electro Optical Transfer Function (EOTF).
Dolby Vision also uses dynamic HDR metadata based on PQ, and has the ability eventually to be used for live on-the-fly broadcasts, but only a few televisions, like some Vizio and LG models, are equipped right now with the firmware to utilize it. Companies like Sony, which have announced that certain 2017 TVs will support Dolby Vision, have not yet upgraded their firmware to support that profile.
As expected, DirecTV told HD Guru Monday, it is using the Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) HDR profile, which unlike other HDR profiles, does not need metadata of any kind, provides an open license, but will require firmware to support it in some TV makes and models. Companies including LG, Sony, Samsung and others have said some of their 4K Ultra HDTVs for 2017 were designed to support HLG, but in several cases the firmware supporting it is still not ready.
Read more about DirecTV’s HDR broadcast plans after the jump:
It was reported in broadcast trade publications after CES 2017 that DirecTV was planning to use HLG for its HDR events, but the company has repeatedly refused to confirm those plans to HD Guru over the course of the year, saying an announcement would be coming later. Well, HDR is here, but DirecTV still isn’t saying which HDR profile it’s selected and has now used. On Monday, a DirecTV spokesman told us that the satellite service is using HLG as its HDR profile now, but it continues to look at additional HDR profiles and technologies for possible adoption at a later date.
As for now, DirecTV said subscribers with the necessary 4K/HLG-supporting TVs will also need the following:
- An Internet-connected Genie HD DVR (Model HR54 and above)
- A DirecTV 4K Ready TV or a compatible 4K TV connected to the latest 4K Genie Mini.
Installation of a DirecTV 4K Ready TV by a DirecTV technician ensures the best results. “Please call us at 800.288.2020 to schedule an installation appointment,” DirecTV said.
Subscribers will also need to have signed up for DirecTV’s “Select” programming tier, at a minimum, to get its 4K channels.
Frustratingly, DirecTV’s on-screen programming guide did not list the NHL game on its Channel 106 for 4K events a few hours before game time and we weren’t able to record it to check if the HDR was viewable. (Unfortunately, we weren’t near a capable television at game time last night to check.)
Prior to the game, we called a representative within Samsung’s technical department to see if he was aware of the upcoming 4K/HDR telecast of the hockey game and were told he was not. Samsung is among a handful of TV manufacturers that make DirecTV-ready televisions.
He also pointed out that Samsung 2017 TVs have not yet received firmware updates to turn on HLG HDR or even its own HDR10+ dynamic metadata HDR profile, which Amazon is now supporting in select 4K movies on the Amazon Prime OTT service. Samsung doesn’t support Dolby Vision.
The 4K/HDR NHL telecast was shown on channel 106 and was simulcast in HD standard dynamic rage (SDR) on the NHL network.
In the meantime, the announcement means that DirecTV is adding 4K Ultra HD and HDR live game coverage to the list of select professional sports it has been supporting with 4K UHD game telecasts in the past. Other 4K sports shown by DirecTV have come from the MLB, UFC, NBA, Olympics, pro golf and others.
Along with the announcement of last night’s planned HDR event, DirecTV presented its latest slate of upcoming 4K/HDR programming including the following:
- 13 NBA games, starting with the Cleveland Cavaliers-Milwaukee Bucks game on December 19.
- The University of Connecticut-Duquesne women’s college basketball game on December 22 at 7 p.m. ET;
- The Rose Parade, live from Los Angeles, on January 1 at 11 a.m. ET;
- A pre-recorded presentation of the Brian Setzer Orchestra’s 14th annual “Christmas Rocks” concert on Monday, December 18, at 8 p.m. ET.
By Greg Tarr
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