Say Hello to Rec. 2020, the Color Space of the Future

Most modern computer and video HD displays conform to sRGB or Rec. 709, which as we know are similar for all practical purposes. There are billions of displays all over the world designed for these color spaces.

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Why on earth do we need a new one?
8K TV

What is Rec. 2020?

Rec. 2020 is the designated color space for ultra high definition TV, or UHDTV, in both its variants: 4K and 8K. It gets its name from the standards classification: ITU-R Recommendation BT.2020. Rec stands for ‘recommendation’.

Before I proceed, it is important to understand that Rec. 2020 (or Rec. 709 for that matter) isn’t the name for the color space. Rec. 2020 represents the full range of specifications under UHDTV, while Rec. 709 represents the full range of specifications under HDTV.

However, because no official name is given to the color spaces under these standards, we refer to them as Rec. 709 or Rec. 2020 color spaces. It often leads to confusion though. When I use these terms, I only refer to them as color spaces.

How does it compare to other color spaces?

Rec. 2020 is ultimately designed for television, and not cinema. Therefore, it is to be expected that its properties must behave according to current signal processing standards. In this respect, its foundation is based on current HD and SD video signal characteristics.

As far as color bit depth is concerned, it allows for a maximum of 12 bits, which as we know is more than enough for humans.

Rec. 2020 vs Rec. 709
Image Courtesy: Sakurambo

The bigger triangle is Rec. 2020, while the smaller one is Rec. 709. Clearly, there’s a huge difference. They share the similar D65 white point.

So, how does it compare to other color spaces? Check out the table below:

 Standard Percentage of CIE 1931
HDTV 35.90%
Adobe RGB 52.10%
Digital Cinema 53.60%
Super Hi-Vision/UHDTV 75.80%

Modern professional grade computer displays are capable of reaching Adobe RGB, which is similar to what Digital Cinema does, too. UHDTV, on the other hand, is a whole new ball game. It goes beyond what anyone has ever experienced (except in real life!).

In most likelihood, the engineers at NHK thankfully considered that at 8K the wow-factor can only be sustained with zero compromise in color. 12-bit Rec. 2020 is probably as good as it can get.

Some might want a theoretical color space wider than what the human eye can see. Then again, humans are known to make crazy wishes. Rec. 2020 is an ‘on-the-field’ color space, meant for cameras, displays, delivery and distribution. Wide gamut spaces are good for algorithms crunching numbers, but totally unnecessary in the real world.

The true implementation of Rec. 2020 will be a huge challenge. The question you need to ask is, what if we get there? If the engineers can deliver the NHK promise, how cool will that be?

Do you see yourself shooting in Rec. 2020 in the near future?

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3 replies on “Say Hello to Rec. 2020, the Color Space of the Future”

  1. No, Rec. 2020 ISN’T more color than the eye can see, the CIE 1931 color space AKA XYZ color space, the one that Rec 2020 is a subset of, is based on what the human eye can see and this misunderstanding devalues your entire article to the point of being worthless.

    1. Bumble, your ‘correction” just restates what I read in the article. I think you misunderstood part. The newer Macs, including devices like iPads and iPhones, are all calibrated to the P-3 projection cinema standard, which looks much brighter on my ViewSonic pro monitor than the Adobe RGB space, but the Adobe RGB space seems to work best with my pro wide-spectrum Epson printer. I’d love to experiment with other wide spaces to see if I can get even better results, so this article was very interesting to me. This makes me think the 2020 space would be the best option for video work. But would that mean the colors will look anemic on many displays? I’ve read the new Pro iMac displays only show about 75-80% of the Adobe RGB space, making me think this is a war between Apple and Adobe over a color standard. The main difference I can see between the Adobe RGB space and the Apple adopted P-3 is that Adobe’s space favors cool tones in prints, and P-3 favors warm tones. Very interesting article, thank you!

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