BBC iPlayer is streaming four stunning minutes of Planet Earth II footage in Ultra HD and HDR. Just in case David Attenborough’s show didn’t look impressive enough already.
The experimental footage marks the highest quality the BBC has ever broadcast and will be available on compatible TVs until early next year.
“Filming Planet Earth II provided the perfect opportunity to capture the BBC’s world-class documentary making in unprecedented quality,” says the BBC.
The test footage follows a jaguar emerging from the shadows to stalk prey and the mesmerising effects of rain dropping on tiny animals and their habitats, including a range of greens and a frog in a shade of red never before seen on a TV.
The experiment is an early but important step toward streaming high-quality Ultra HD programmes on BBC iPlayer in the future. Central to the trial is the inclusion of HLG, which the BBC sees as an “integral part” of future Ultra HD programming. Where Ultra HD improves image quality by increasing the number of pixels in a TV set, HLG – a form of High Dynamic Range (HDR) – takes this one step further by providing better quality pixels.
HLG was developed by BBC R&D and Japanese broadcaster NHK to address the complex needs of TV broadcasters. It’s also based on open standards to ensure all audiences can enjoy the best possible Ultra HD experience in the future. HLG was recently included in the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) HDR-TV standard.
“It’s closer to looking through a window than watching a standard TV set,” says Phil Layton, Head of Broadcast & Connected Systems, BBC Research & Development. “Crucially, HLG works with existing TV technology and workflows making it ideal for broadcasters, and audiences, all over the world.”
Dan Taylor-Watt, Head of BBC iPlayer, says: “The extra quality HLG brings to Ultra HD needs to be seen to be believed. It’s still early days for the technology but this experiment puts us in the best possible position once audience demand is there. This year we’ve brought live events like the Euros and Olympics to iPlayer, introduced new personalised features and now we’re giving people a glimpse of what the future may hold.”
The public Ultra HD and HLG test on BBC iPlayer allows the corporation to better understand how the technology affects existing infrastructure and workflows. It also allows the team to identify the various obstacles and challenges to streaming full length programmes. Plus we all get to have our jaws drop all over again.