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What is BBC HLG and how can I watch it?

The BBC is always pushing the limits of how it offers video content to viewers and the most advanced tech right now is its UHD HLG stream. This offers 4K and better-than-HDR level quality video that can be streamed over a normal internet connection to a smart TV via the BBC iPlayer app.

So how does this compare to normal HDR? Will it be broadcast over the air? Which devices will be able to display UHD HLG? Yup, this new development creates more questions. So we’ve rounded up all there is to know to offer a single source for all your answers, right here.

BBC UHD HLG: What is it?

The BBC’s new standard has been developed by its R&D department in conjunction with Japan’s NHK broadcaster. The result is a new version of HDR that should play nice with broadcasting and streaming for a stable yet high-quality way to deliver content in the future.

More specifically the new standard is called Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) which means it can display lots of colours and wide contrast ratios. So, yeah, similar to HDR but better, claims the Beeb.

BBC UHD HLG: How does it work?

The standard offers full Ultra High Definition 4K resolution but it’s the HLG part that makes sure you’re not just getting more pixels, but better quality pixels. The result is a show of colours aired which have never previously been seen on the iPlayer.

The HLG standard uses a 10-bit colour offering meaning colours numbering around the one billion mark. This is part of the BT.2020 standard and will mean colours being displayed that you may never have seen on TV before.

Another factor in high contrast imagery that helps it look more lifelike is peak brightness. While Dolby Vision tops out at 10,000 nits, no TVs currently go above the 1,000 nit mark so HLG, much like HDR-10, offers more than any current TV can handle in terms of peak brightness.

The HLG standard can offer 14 stops of light variation where the human eye tops out at picking up 15 stops – so this is as close to reality as you can get right now.

BBC UHD HLG: How can I watch it?

The BBC is offering a four minute clip of footage rendered from Planet Earth II in full UHD HLG quality. If you have a compatible smart TV with the BBC iPlayer app you can watch it.

Simply open the BBC iPlayer app and you will be prompted to try out the high-quality stream. If you have a decent quality internet connection (ideally 20MB plus) then you should be able to watch it.

The catch is that all TVs currently out there will need a firmware update from the manufacturer to fully show off HLG at its best. So if you view it right now you’ll be seeing an HDR version. That’s still great and enough to impress but bear in mind it’ll be even better when those TVs get updates.

The BBC is using this to gauge interest, test streaming stability and ultimately drum up excitement. It’s a chicken-egg scenario where a heightened interest (and therefore more content) should help push manufacturers to include the standard on new TVs and update older models where possible. It should also help to push for more of the broadcast spectrum so we could see this high quality content broadcast over the air in the near future.

Read next: Planet Earth 2: How to watch in 4K


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