One of my favorite things about my job is hearing a client’s excitement about their new TV or projector and how they can’t wait to have it calibrated for maximum performance. I always ask my clients what they do and don’t like about the system. This helps me get an idea of what they like and how the calibration will benefit them.
Recently a new client reached out to have me work on his new 80+” HDR/4k TV. His sources are an HDR/4k Bluray player, an HD set top box, a rack mounted Windows PC with a 4k video card, and he streams his favorite apps directly from the TV. All of the sources are running through a $2k HDMI switching AVR. All of the components are in an A/V rack and a 25’ HDMI cable connects the output of the AVR to the TV. Because of inconsistent performance with ARC, he has a 25’ optical cable carrying audio from the TV back to the AVR in order to get sound from streaming apps. This is a pretty common setup that a lot of calibrators run into on a daily basis.
His biggest complaint was that he expected more out of his expensive HDR discs. He already has about a dozen, and based on the titles he has spent at least a few hundred dollars on them. His specific complaint was that these titles didn’t look any better than their respective 1080p counterparts. Red flag number one! Anyone who has this type of setup and is buying HDR/4k discs is usually blown away by the picture. I had a feeling that something was up with some component in the system...could be hardware, could be a cable. More on that later!
After tweaking the TV for a few hours it was time to make sure that the rest of the system was set up and calibrated. The TV calibrated well, so I set the AVR so that it was doing nothing to the video signal. The Bluray player needed minor tweaking, and the Windows PC only had a resolution setting. Red flag number 2 appeared when we noticed that the Windows PC was maxed out at 1920x1080 (while it has a 4k video card). Further investigation was definitely needed! Now it was just a matter of tracking down what was causing the bottleneck in the system.
My first instinct was that the AVR is not capable of passing high bandwidth HDR/4k signals. My first test was with an HDR/4k disc. I popped in Blue Planet 2 and queued up episode 5 “Green Seas”. The shots of the coral reefs and the sea urchins are some of the best shots I’ve ever seen (which is why it has made its way into my regular rotation for demo material). Red flag number 3 showed its face...no HDR logo on the TV when the disc started playing. I was beginning to think that my hypothesis was correct, but I wanted to narrow it down without spending hours troubleshooting. I used my Murideo Six G/Six A combo and tested the HDMI cables. All were up to 18gbps spec. I then used my Murideo Six A HDMI analyzer to test the signal coming out of the AVR. Sure enough, the output of the AVR was 1080p with no HDR. As a last ditch effort I looked up the specs of that specific AVR and found no literature confirming that it could handle 18gbps, HDR, or 4k. Luckily I only spent a few minutes troubleshooting, but I had the problem narrowed down to the AVR. So...now what?
Luckily, my client has some options. Some easy and inexpensive, one very expensive, some high performance, some low performance.
Option 1: Keep the system as-is. No HDR/4k from his discs, and compressed audio from apps since the TV audio is travelling over an optical cable.
Option 2: Upgrade the AVR. This is the most sensible option as this would give him HDR/4k and high resolution uncompressed audio, but by far the most expensive solution.
Option 3: Pick up an HDR/4k streaming device, two AVPro AC-DA12-AUHD, three 18gbps 25’ HDMI cables, and a handful of short 18gbps HDMI cables. The HDR/4k streaming device’s output would connect to the input on the AC-DA12-AUHD. One of those outputs would connect directly to the TV, and the other output would carry audio to the AVR. Rinse and repeat for the Windows PC. Connect one output of the Bluray player directly to the display and the other output to the AVR for sound. The cable box could continue to use HDMI to the AVR since that does not require a high bandwidth 18gbps pipeline.
Considering these three options, Option 3 is the most cost effective and will offer the most performance. The client would get HDR/4k signals to his TV, and he would still be able to hear uncompressed sound formats while streaming. Only a few relatively inexpensive items need to be purchased and installed: the HDR/4k streaming device of choice, two AVPro AC-DA12-AUHD, and some new cables. He would get the best audio and video out of each device in the system for months or years to come until he is ready to spend thousands on a current gen AVR.
Adding HDR/4k components to a 1080p system can be confusing and intimidating, but it does not have to be. Be aware of what the entire system is capable of, not just the sources or the display. If you understand the entire system and pipeline, you can upgrade one or two components at a time instead of upgrading the entire system. If you need a hand in system design, installation, or troubleshooting, we at AVPro are always happy to help!
Article by Jason Dustal