This week saw the release of Sony’s new “Mastered in 4K” line of Blu-rays, and with them has come plenty of speculations, a bit of controversy, and quite a few questions. Questions like, “Are these discs actually in 4K?” and if not, “What benefits do they offer?”
Well, those are all valid questions that deserve answers without any marketing-speak. I’ll be detailing exactly what these “Mastered in 4K” discs are and what they aren’t.
“Mastered in 4K”
Before going any further, I think it’s important to immediately make this one point very clear: These new discs from Sony are not actual 4K Blu-rays. If you read the series carefully, they all say “MASTERED IN 4K” and not “IN 4K”. So only the master file of these discs are in 4K resolution. So although the series doesn’t present any of its films in 4K resolution, the video presentations are all sourced from 4K masters. They were then downconverted to 1080p. In addition, the entire discs are being dedicated to the films’ technical presentations allowing for highest video bitrates in Blu-ray format which is 34.8 Mbps (most Blu-ray movies run between 16 Mbps to 24 Mbps). In theory, this should all provide the best possible picture quality for the movies in question.
That might all sound fancy on paper, and it is. The only problem I have is the name “Mastered in 4K”. It’s NOT the master that make most of these releases look better but the bitrate. This series should’ve been called “Superbit” just like the line of high bitrate DVDs from back in the standard definition days.
With all that said, there are still some major distinctions about these discs that are worth noting. First, these releases are all optimized for 4K upscaling and confirmed from my tests that they even contain special upconversion protocols that will work in conjunction with Sony’s new line of 4K Ultra HD displays. This proprietary algorithm will ostensibly provide the best possible upconverted picture. Of course, you need to have a Sony 4K display that is compatible with “Mastered in 4K” to take advantage of this. For those with regular 1080p displays, the higher bitrate video will still conceivably improve stability and clarity in fast moving scenes, especially on large projector screens. Lastly, the “Mastered in 4K” line is also said to feature an expanded color gamut that is designed to improve color reproduction. The packaging unfortunately wrongly indicates that the expanded colours can be enabled through any xvYCC-compatible TV and Blu-ray player, but my testing with this feature yielded rather underwhelming results. The expanded colours can only be seen in a positive way only when both display and Blu-ray player are Triluminos compatible WITH xvYCC options on both ends being enabled.
This initial wave of ‘Mastered in 4K” titles includes ten films: Spider-Man (HUGE improvement), Ghostbusters (HUGE improvement), Total Recall 2012 (also HUGE improvement), The Amazing Spiderman (huge improvement ONLY when viewed on a projection system), Battle: Los Angeles (quite honestly I keep falling asleep while watching this movie), Angels & Demons (another HUGE improvement especially in the dark areas and shadow details) and yet to be reviewed Glory, Karate Kid 2010, The Other Guys and Taxi Driver. Based on the discs I’ve tested so far, all movies benefit from the higher bitrate, although quite honestly if you’re watching these discs from distances further away than THX or SMPTE viewing distance, you won’t be able to see the difference. ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Spider-man,’ on the other hand, have been given more apparent upgrades due to the remastering of the master file themselves, and the results are certainly an improvement even on a 50″ TV viewed from 12 feet away..
As I continue to review some of the remaining titles, I’ll point out any other minor or major improvements we come across, so be sure to check out my Quick Movie Reviews for more updates.