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Experiencing the Masters in 4K HDR

Beyond the Better Picture, There are Some Other Benefits Currently Available When Watching 4K Broadcasts

Following up on an earlier post about 4K getting more broadcast TV content this year this past weekend saw The Masters golf tournament getting its first ever coverage in 4K HDR. The coverage was presented exclusively on DirecTV on two separate channels which included full coverage of Amen Corner (holes 11, 12, 13) and holes 15 and 16. You can read the full press release about the coverage here.

While DirecTV has carried The Masters in 4K previously, the addition of HDR (High Dynamic Range) really improved the coverage, most noticeably the improved detail in white level and shadows. Whether it was dimples on the golf balls, clouds in the Augusta, GA, sky—especially on the overcast play during round three—the white coveralls of the caddys’ uniforms, or the sand in the bunkers, the 4K HDR broadcast delivered a far more realistic viewing experience.

Beyond the better picture, there are some other benefits currently available when watching 4K broadcasts. First, the 4K channels currently don’t feature any commercial breaks. I’m sure this is because of the broadcast workflow and there not being any 4K commercial content, but neither The Masters or a recent 4K baseball game between the Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers on DISH had a single commercial break. Instead, when the regular broadcast cuts to commercial, the baseball coverage switched to a live field/dugout cam, and at Augusta coverage either just continued or cut to a view of the leaderboard.

Second, audio quality seems to be significantly better. I’m not sure if this is due to more bandwidth for the audio tracks, or that the broadcast is mic’d better, or just that levels are noticeably higher. Sounds like the ball exploding off the club face, or chunks of divots and balls landing, and the splash of sand out of a bunker all sounded far better on the 4K channel. Also, the better audio revealed multiple instances of player’s swearing after bad shots, particularly from Patrick Reed during Friday afternoon’s round. These definitely weren’t on the broadcast coverage and had the announcers fumbling to pardon his language.

Colors didn’t seem to be noticeably any more saturated or pushing boundaries beyond the regular 1080p broadcast. I was hoping that the HDR broadcast would push the color boundaries a bit beyond HD’s Rec.709, which richer, deeper greens and more vibrant blues and reds, but that didn’t appear to be the case.

For golf fans, DirecTV really delivered up a sumptuous feast with four channels of coverage on its Masters Mosaic channel. Here you could monitor the live broadcast coverage, follow featured groups, or focus on Amen Corner or holes 15 and 16.

Turning to DirecTV channel 105 or 106 prior to coverage beginning had this splash screen promising good things to come.

It is difficult to capture image quality for presentation here, but I’ve tried my best. All pictures are taken from the same position, on the same TV (a Sony XBR75X850D), with the same settings, and with the same camera (iPhone7). I tried to pause the two images on the same moment, but some could be a few frames off.

Obviously, going from the screen, to my iPhone’s camera, to my computer, to a re-sized/reduced resolution, to your computer monitor is going to impact all of the difference, but still they are pretty stark. Due to the limitations of image sizing on Residential System’s site, you can see the images in full size by clicking here. I would suggest right-clicking on an image, opening it in a new tab, and then zooming to full size for best comparison.

As expected, the 4K resolution really paid dividends in fine detail like images of the patrons viewing the tournament. Above is the image in 1080P, and below is the same image in 4K HDR.

Here Jordan Spieth over the ball looks blurry and out of focus in 1080P. There is virtually no detail in his pants, the tee box is a green field of mush, and the ripple details in the pond are mostly non-existent. Compare to the 4K HDR image below. 

The bunkers at Augusta are powdered sugar white, but this gets totally blown out in the 1080P broadcast in favor of getting some shadow detail. You lose almost all of the footprints and texture of the sand and are left with a singular white hue compared with the 4K HDR image below.

Perhaps one of the starkest examples of white levels being blown out in the 1080 broadcast was Tiger’s shirt from Friday’s round. Seen above, Tiger appears to be wearing a plain, all-white shirt and the logo on his hat and glove is all but lost. In the 4K HDR image below, you can see that Tiger’s shirt actually has a subtle pattern with a lighter shade of white.

Hopefully this is just the tip of the iceberg and we’ll start seeing even more events and broadcasters adopting 4K HDR!