Spears & Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark 4K Blu-ray Review

Cheaper than a calibration

SRP: £40.00

What is the Spears & Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark 4K Blu-ray?

The Spears & Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark 4K Blu-ray is the latest release from Stacey Spears and Don Munsil. The two are synonymous with test discs, video evaluation, picture quality and have already released two previous Blu-rays that enthusiasts (and reviewers) have found invaluable when it comes to correctly setting up, evaluating and optimising high definition equipment.

The third edition of their Benchmark series has been completely redesigned with Ultra HD 4K and High Dynamic Range (HDR) in mind. The disc takes full advantage of both HDR and Wide Colour Gamut (WCG) to push displays to their limits. The test patterns are all created in-house and are encoded in multiple versions using different metadata (both static and dynamic) and peak levels.

In this review, I’ll run through the main features and test patterns on the disc and explain in simple terms what they are designed to highlight. I should stress that the test patterns available are extensive and, as such, I’ll only be scratching the surface in terms of the capabilities of this particular Ultra HD Blu-ray. For detailed instructions on how to use this disc go to the Spears & Munsil website.

Configuration

Spears & Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark
When you first pop the disc into your player, you immediately default to the main menu page and the first sub-menu on that menu is Configuration. Here you can choose from various audio and video options.

These options are:

Luminance (cd/m2 or nits) – 600, 1,000, 2,000, 4,000, 10,000 (1,000 cd/m2 is the default)
HDR Gamut – P3D65|BT.2020 or BT.2020 (P3D65|BT.2020 is the default)
Audio Codec – Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio (Dolby TrueHD is the default)

Spears and Munsil have designed the disc to be future-proof – so it is encoded to include the full potential of 4K Ultra HD HDR, even though there are currently no displays that can reach 10,000 nits or BT.2020.

As you work down through the sub-menus, you can see the current video configuration in the bottom left hand corner. When using a test pattern, you can change the luminance and gamut settings (and audio when in the AV Sync tests) at any time by pressing the up arrow on the remote.

Picture – Test Patterns

The top menu shows you all the various sub-menus down the left hand side: Configuration, Video Setup, AV Sync, Advanced Video, Video Processing, Windows, SDR BT.709, and Demo Material.

You can move down through the sub-menus and select one. For certain sub-menus you can directly select individual test patterns, and for others there are additional sub-menus listed along the top. For these, you select one of the top sub-menus and then move down and choose the relevant test pattern.

When in a test pattern you can select the pattern before or after by using the left or right arrow buttons on the remote.

Spears & Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark

Video Setup

This sub-menu contains all the basic test patterns needed to evaluate and setup a display. The options are: Contrast, Brightness, Colour and Tint, Sharpness, Colour Temp, Framing, Bias Light, and Colour Space Evaluation.

This sub-menu is the one most useful to the casual user, and includes all the test patterns you need to set-up and optimise your display using the most commonly available user controls. You don't need to be a professional calibrator to use these test patterns, and they should be self explanatory. However, it would have been helpful if Spears and Munsil had included a page that explains how to use each test pattern, as they did on the two previous Blu-rays.

The Colour Temp pattern is a greyscale, and the Framing pattern shows the framing marks for 1.78:1, 1.85:1, 2:00:1, 2.20:1, and 2.35:1, which is really useful for creating different lens memory settings on a projector. The Contrast and Brightness patterns enable you to quickly and easily see if there is any crushing or clipping and thus establish how well your display or 4K player is tone mapping HDR content.

These test patterns are repeated in the SDR BT.709 sub-menu, which means you can use this disc to set up a display for SDR content as well. The Colour and Tint test patterns are mainly included for correctly setting those controls in SDR, and Spears and Munsil actually recommend you don't use them for HDR. To effectively set the colour and tint controls in SDR you'll need a colour filter, which annoyingly isn't included with the disc. Although if you own a Samsung or LG TV released prior to 2019, there's a blue-only mode you can use instead.


Spears & Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark

AV Sync

This sub-menu contains test patterns for evaluating audio and video syncing in your system. They can be useful for working out where a problem might lie when there are obvious audio and video sync issues in your system, and finding ways to eliminate any errors without resorting to trial and error.

There are three options: Continuous, Side-by-Side, and Sync–One2 (which works in conjunction with the synchronisation measurement app of the same name).



Spears & Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark

Advanced Video

As the name suggests, this sub-menu contains advanced test patterns that are probably more useful to calibrators and reviewers looking to evaluate the performance of a display. However, if you're an enthusiast who wants to check the viewing angle, resolution, contrast ratio or chroma performance of your display (or possibly 4K disc player in certain cases), this is where you look.

The tests are:

Evaluation
Chroma Alignment, Colour Space Evaluation, Dynamic Range High, Image Cropping, Dots Black, Viewing Angle, HDR Colour Bars, Full Field White 100 cd/m2, Chroma Alignment Numeric, Chroma Upsampling Error, Dynamic Range Low, Geometry, Dots White, Viewing Angle Dots, Starfield, Full Field White 201 cd/m2
Resolution
Multiburst: Luma, Chroma Crossed, RGB Legal Cb, Linear ST2084, Chroma Locked, RGB Legal Cr
Wedge: Luma, Chroma Crossed, RGB Legal Cb, Linear ST2084, Chroma Locked, RGB Legal Cr
Zone Plate: Luma, Chroma Crossed, RGB Legal Cb, Linear ST2084, Chroma Locked, RGB Legal Cr
Ramps
Stimulus: White, Red, Green, Blue, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow
Saturation: Red, Green, Blue, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow
Tone Mapping: White, Red, Green, Blue, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow
Contrast Ratio
Simultaneous: Alignment, 4x4 Checkerboard, 4x4 Checkerboard Inverted
Sequential: On - Alignment, On - 100%, Off - 0%, Off - Single Pixel, Off - Corner Contrast, Off - Tunneled, Off - Starfield
ADL
100%: 01% - On, 01% - Off, 02% - On, 02% - Off, 03% - On, 03% - Off, 04% - On, 04% - Off, 05% - On, 05% - Off, 10% - On, 10% - Off, 15% - On, 15% - Off, 20% - On, 20% - Off, 25% - On, 25% - Off, 30% - On, 30% - Off
40%: 01% - On, 01% - Off, 02% - On, 02% - Off, 03% - On, 03% - Off, 04% - On, 04% - Off, 05% - On, 05% - Off, 10% - On, 10% - Off, 15% - On, 15% - Off, 20% - On, 20% - Off, 25% - On, 25% - Off, 30% - On, 30% - Off



Spears & Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark

Video Processing

This section is similar to the previous section, in the sense that the tests are aimed mainly at calibrators and reviewers, but once again enthusiasts will find them interesting. These tests are motion based, unlike the previous static patterns, and offer a chance to test the scaling and motion handling of a display or player. As a reviewer, I find the FALD Zone Counter particularly useful.

The tests are: Quantisation Rotate, Quantisation Motion, Scaling UHD, Scaling HD, Motion Res. Half Cosine, Motion Res. Square, Stock Ticker, xXx Parade, Wedge Luma, Motion Interpolation, Luminance Loading, FALD Zone Counter, HSV Sweep BT.2020, HSV Sweep P3D65/BT.2020, Monotonicity YCbCr, Monotonicity RGB.



Spears & Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark

Windows

These test patterns use 10%-sized windows that allow you to calibrate the two- or 20-point white balance (greyscale) control and colour management system on a display. If you don't have a pattern generator but you do have access to a colour meter and measurement software, these patterns can be very useful. They can also be useful if you have a pattern generator, but it doesn't support more advanced calibration measurements such as saturation sweeps or ColourChecker patterns.

The tests are:

Greyscale
Alignment: 0%, 5%, 10%, 15%, 20%, 25%, 30%, 35%, 40%, 45%, 50%, 55%, 60%, 65%, 70%, 75%, 80%, 85%, 90%, 95%, 100%, 15% Full Field
Peak vs Size
1%, 2%, 5%, 10%, 25%, 50%, 75%, 100% (tests go from 1%-sized window to full field)
ColourChecker
White, Grey 80, Grey 65, Grey 50, Grey 35, Dark Skin, Light Skin, Blue Sky, Foliage, Blue Flower, Bluish Green, Orange, Purpulish Blue, Moderate Red, Purple, Yellow Green, Orange Yellow, Blue, Green, Red, Yellow, Magenta, Cyan
Saturation Sweeps
White: 100%, Red: 20%, 40%, 60%, 80%, 100%
Green: 20%, 40%, 60%, 80%, 100%, Blue: 20%, 40%, 60%, 80%, 100%
Cyan: 20%, 40%, 60%, 80%, 100%
Magenta: 20%, 40%, 60%, 80%, 100%
Yellow: 20%, 40%, 60%, 80%, 100%
Gamut
White, Red, Green, Blue, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, White 100%

Demo Material

Spears & Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark
This section includes just under eight minutes of demo material specially shot using 5K and 8K RED digital cameras (Red Dragon and Monster 8K VistaVision). This footage was captured at resolutions higher than 4K to ensure that both the luminance and chroma resolution are both retained in full 4K resolution when creating the 4K digital intermediate.

The colour grading was done using both a native BT.2020 monitor and a P3D65-based monitor that was then converted to BT.2020. This future-proofs the disc, and it includes options to compare them.

The demo material has been designed to really push the limits of a 4K HDR display, with peak highlights, bright full field images, darker scenes and highly saturated images. The demo material is encoded at very high bit rates that range from 60 to over 90Mbps.

The really useful feature here is the ability to select how you watch the demo material, allowing you to choose between HDR10, Dolby Vision, and HDR10+. The Dolby Vision material includes both FEL (Full Enhancement Layer) and MEL (Minimum Enhancement Layer) options at 12-bit, while the HDR10 and HDR10+ options use 10-bit video depth.

If your display doesn't support either of the dynamic metadata formats (Dolby Vision and HDR10+) the disc informs you of this fact, but you can still access the demo material in static HDR10.

There is also the option to compare HDR and SDR demo material using side-by-side images.

You can play the demo material using any of the following options:

Dolby Vision: 10,000 BT.2020 (FEL) or 10,000 BT.2020 (MEL)
HDR10+: 10,000 BT.2020
HDR10: 10,000 BT.2020, 4,000 BT.2020, 4,000 P3D65/BT.2020, 4,000 BT.709/BT.2020, 2,000 BT.2020, 1,000 BT.2020, 600 BT.2020, HDR/SDR Butterfly (compare SDR and HDR)
SDR/HLG Variable: 100 BT.2020
SDR: 100 BT.709

Audio

The configuration page allows you to select Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio, but this audio only applies to the demo material. The only other audio on the disc is in the AV Sync tests.

Anything Missing?

Overall, this is a very impressive 4K HDR Blu-ray that includes every video test imaginable. However, there are a few features missing that I'd like to see.

First of all, if you're going to include colour and tint test patterns, it would be good to also include the colour filter so people can actually use them (even if it's only for SDR set-up). In addition, if Spears and Munsil don't recommend using the colour and tint patterns with HDR, why include them as HDR test patterns in the first place?

That brings me on to my second gripe: the two previous editions of Spears and Munsil included a feature where, when in a test pattern, if you pressed the up arrow on your player remote a detailed explanation of how to use and interpret that particular pattern appeared. Now, when you press the up arrow you can change the luminance, which is convenient. But why not have that appear using the down arrow, and keep the up arrow for the info about the test pattern?

While some of the patterns are easy to interpret, there are plenty that will have users scratching their heads and wondering what they're supposed to be looking for. Spears and Munsil plan to include detailed explanations on their website, but it would be so much easier to pull up a quick explanation while actually in a particular test pattern.

My final gripe relates to the audio: it would be really helpful if Spears and Munsil included Dolby Atmos and DTS:X test tones. This would allow users of the disc to set the channel levels on soundbars that don't include internal test tones or automated set-up features. I often get asked where it's possible to obtain Atmos and DTS:X test tones, so it would be great to simply point people in the direction of this disc.

Verdict

10
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Spears & Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark 4K Blu-ray Review

The Spears & Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark 4K Blu-ray is the kind of disc that any self-respecting AV enthusiast should have in their arsenal. It includes every conceivable test pattern, allowing you to set-up, evaluate, and even calibrate your 4K display (assuming you have the necessary measuring equipment and software).

The disc enables you to optimise your TV or projector for both SDR and HDR, as well as test your display's ability to handle HDR10, HLG, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision. It's even handy for checking out your UHD Blu-ray player's capabilities, and optimising every step in your video chain to ensure your soundbar, processor, or receiver isn't doing anything it shouldn't.

Whether you're an absolute beginner, a gifted amateur, or a fully-qualified professional, the Spears & Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark 4K Blu-ray is a must-own disc.

Reference Status

Scores

Movie

10

Picture Quality

10

Sound Quality

.
9

Extras

.
9

Overall

10
10
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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