Thought this was a notable (though possibly temporary) problem with 4K UHD blu-ray at the moment, taken from blu-ray.com’s review
of the Goodfellas UHD blu-ray.
Short story - regular 1080p blu-rays from 4K masters of catalog titles shot and finished photochemically (everything prior to what...1998?) are currently visually superior to 4K UHD blu-rays of those same titles, until this calibration problem gets fixed:
The UHD disc of Goodfellas is based on the same 4K scan of the original camera negative that was used to generate the 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray. This new version is something of a landmark for Warner Brothers, because Goodfellas is its first "deep catalog" release in what remains a fledgling format. All of Warner's previous 4K discs to date are 21st Century films completed on digital intermediates, but Goodfellas is entirely a product of the analog era, which constitutes the bulk of cinema history. This makes it an informative preview (along with such Sony titles as Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II) of how older titles originated on film and completed photochemically may fare in the brave new world of 4K and High Dynamic Range.
Before turning to the UHD of Goodfellas, let me take a short detour to discuss calibration. The gold standard of calibration has been set by the Imaging Science Foundation (or "ISF"), which was created in 1994 to establish standardization in electronic imaging. Calibrators trained and certified by the ISF are routinely retained to adjust and confirm the accuracy of the displays used in post houses and DI suites, and they are also hired by home theater installers and enthusiasts to provide the same services for consumer equipment. ISF calibration requires several key components. These include a colorimeter for measuring a display's light output, color values and wavelengths; and a signal generator to feed the display standardized test patterns that can be measured by the colorimeter. Top quality colorimeters are expensive devices that cost more than the average home theater, and their proper use depends on an intimate understanding of the underlying technology—which is why accurate calibration requires the hiring of a properly trained and equipped professional.
The challenge of 4K and HDR at the moment is that no signal generator currently on the market is capable of supplying the requisite test patterns. Most importantly for present purposes, these test signals would include an HDR-graded PLUGE pattern, which is an essential tool for setting black levels. In the absence of any standardization, calibration for 4K and HDR has remained a moving target, and this limitation affects the entire UHD chain, from creation to playback.
A small group of technicians has coordinated with industry representatives to develop a 4K/HDR test disc that can be used for ISF calibration. Although the disc is not yet widely available, I am fortunate enough to work with one of its creators, Kevin Miller, who is both a charter member of the ISF and its officially designated Technical Consultant. Recently, Mr. Miller used this disc to re-calibrate my system for HDR color and black levels. All of my UHD reviews written since that procedure bear the paragraph in italics below, specifying the calibration equipment and methodology.
Even before the latest calibration, it was obvious that the 2160p, HEVC/H.265-encoded UHD of Goodfellas suffered from black-level issues. Since the procedure, I have rewatched the disc several times. In comparison to the Blu-ray, the UHD reveals a slight (a very slight) increase in visible detail and grain, but the improvement continues to be overshadowed (literally) by improper black levels that cast a haze of overbrightening across the entire frame. The effect is most pronounced in scenes set in darkened interiors such as clubs and bars—and there are many such scenes in Goodfellas. A good example is the bar scene (chapter 33) in which Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) narrates the planning for the Lufthansa heist, while the camera picks up each member of the crew being assembled by Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro). The last to enter is "Stacks" Edwards (Samuel L. Jackson), and as he walks away from the camera into the back of the bar, the outline of his figure softens and the details fade. The same phenomenon can be observed after the heist, when Jimmy is celebrating at the same bar, but his jubilation turns to fury when he discovers that members of the crew have disobeyed his orders not to attract attention with luxury purchases. In scenes such as these, the UHD's image is routinely less distinct and detailed than the Blu-ray's, because the blacks are too bright. The UHD's colors appear to have been slightly intensified compare to the Blu-ray, with reds and blues the chief beneficiary, but here again the overbrightening tends to undercut any improvements by dampening color intensity.
Is the UHD unwatchable? Not at all. As with many video phenomena, the eye quickly adjusts to the presentation, and the elevated black levels become routine. But having watched Goodfellas repeatedly on both UHD and the 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray, I find the Blu-ray to be a better viewing experience. (And yes, my setup is also ISF-calibrated for 1080p.)
Like other studios, Warner touts HDR as a major enhancement, but the UHD presentation of Goodfellas demonstrates that the HDR sticker prominently affixed to every 4K title does not necessarily guarantee a superior image. While the 4K image could no doubt be re-graded with accurate black levels, it is uncertain whether and how much the corrected image would offer any meaningful improvement over the Blu-ray. Regardless, Goodfellas stands as a demonstration of why HDR is not automatically a benefit. As UHD progresses, it may turn out that some—possibly many—older films should be left in SDR, without any attempt to "enhance" their blacks, contrast or colors.
[Viewed on a system calibrated using a Klein K10-A Colorimeter with a custom profile created with a Colorimetry Research CR250 Spectraradiometer, powered by SpectracCal CalMAN 2016 5.7, using the Samsung Reference 2016 UHD HDR Blu-ray test disc authored by Florian Friedrich from AV Top in Munich, Germany. Calibration performed by Kevin Miller of ISFTV.]
Edit - just found a thread
about movies that have been finished photochemically since 2004, and then this:
to that post