When Akira was released to Ultra HD Blu-ray last December, Funimation failed to include a 4k disc encoded with the HDR10 spec, a layer of metadata using the Rec. 2020 color space that expands contrast, luminance, and saturation.
Funimation immediately issued a statement offering to send replacements for the UHD BD, which apparently started shipping late February. We just received the disc by mail and wanted to see how HDR would affect an animated film such as Akira.
It’s also a rare occasion when we get to check an SDR 4k Blu-ray against an HDR 4k Blu-ray (although technically, you could disable HDR on most TVs). If you get a chance, read our full review of Akira on 4k Blu-ray — a masterpiece of hand-drawn animation from director Katsuhiro Otomo.
It all starts with the menu! Taking a look at the home screens for both the Blu-ray (left) and 4k Blu-ray (right) you can already see a huge advantage in the boost from HDR10. The reds are the first thing you may notice (and some may say the reds are overdone) but also look at how the deeper black levels add contrast to the semi-opaque letters. And, luminance is definitely getting a boost here with HDR.
Speaking of black levels, without doing any TV calibration between the two discs there is a noticeable difference in how deep the black levels and contrast go in the HDR version. In these shots of Kaneda on his motorcycle you can see how the darker values create separation and contrast. But this shot is just a taste of the rest of the film where black levels have certainly been boosted.
This comparison between SDR and HDR is somewhat subjective though. TVs can be customized to show more saturated color, deeper blacks, and added contrast to simulate more color range (or the reverse, by flattening an image).
However, in the HDR10-enabled version of Akira there are colors that are really hard to simulate with non-HDR video such as the pinkish/magenta “goopy mass” that Tetsuo turns into. That’s a color that isn’t possible on many TVs.
Also take a look at the color of the street at night in the image above. The left image (SDR) is more grey and less saturated while the right image (HDR) has an aqua hue to it. There is also a slight boost in luminance found in the streaks of light emanating from the motorcycle.
What do you think? Is the HDR an improvement or more of a gimmick? If you purchased the Akira 4k Blu-ray edition and did not get an HDR-enabled disc you can contact Funimation.