At NAB Show, Hollywood Says ‘Meh’ to 4K TV But ‘More!’ to High Dynamic Range

Dolby Vision

Improved contrast, color and brightness has creative community excited

LAS VEGAS — The age of ultra high-definition TV is clearly upon us. The exhibit halls at the National Assn. of Broadcasters’ annual convention and trade show are festooned with banners for 4K capture and post solutions.

But there’s not much excitement about it. In fact, there’s still quite a bit of skepticism about whether consumers will care about all those extra pixels.

There is excitement, though, about a related advance in television that is just dawning: high dynamic range TV. Cinematographers, designers and directors have long been frustrated at the limitations of television screens, film stocks, digital cameras and cinema projectors. HDR opens the door for them to bring the full vibrancy of the images they shoot to viewers. While HDR for cinema projectors is still at the experimental stage, HDR TV is nosing out of the lab into public view — and it may prove the killer app for UHD that gets consumers to upgrade their TVs.

There has been plenty of buzz at the NAB Show about HDR. It was a recurring theme of the Technology Summit on Cinema over the weekend, where cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki said in a panel that “Gravity” has already been color-graded for HDR and he’s looking forward to seeing it released that way. During the NAB Show proper, in a panel devoted to what UHD content will excite consumers, Vubiquity CEO Darcy Antonellis said, “It’s not just the number of pixels it’s the quality of pixels. Those of you who have seen high dynamic range, have really have seen a color palette you’ve never seen before It is stunning.”

Howard Lukk, standards director for the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) and VP of production technology for Walt Disney Studios, told Variety at the NAB Show that filmmakers are tepid about 4K TV.

“There’s a feeling in Hollywood, and even at the Walt Disney Studios, in order to change over the complete marketplace to a new format, we really need more than just more pixels,” Lukk said . “Adding more dynamic range and more contrast really makes a big difference. … This really looks like it is the compelling thing that would make consumers make that transition to a new format.”

The problem with 4K is that it’s hard to even see the extra pixels of 4K UHD television unless you are very close to the screen, he said. “And resolution isn’t everything, you need contrast as well.”

High dynamic range screens, however, offer that contrast. The highlights are brighter, the blacks are richer, and images captured with an HDR camera can keep details in both highlights and shadows. Also, HDR images show more colors, because bright colors don’t wash out to white. HDR doesn’t change the feel of a filmed image the way high frame rates do and it doesn’t come with the headaches — both literally and figuratively — of 3D. On the brightest prototypes, the picture improvement is as dramatic as the shift from standard definition to HD.

Lukk described seeing a scene from the Coen brothers’ “True Grit” that had been re-color-graded for HDR. “When you looked at James Brolin in the creek, and you saw the highlights off the creek, it really felt like you were really outside, looking at this creek,” said Lukk. “It still looked like a film, still looked like cinema, but it really gave you that impression. That stuff is really compelling.”

Existing TV contrast and brightness standards are based on the limitations of old tube TVs. Flatscreens have long since exceeded those capabilities. Dolby Vision, Dolby’s HDR transmission format, can handle highlights up to 100 times the current standard, though consumer TVs probably won’t be that bright anytime soon. At Dolby’s NAB booth, the company is showing an advanced TV prototype with 20 times the peak brightness of the current standard. Technicolor is showing an HDR demo on a monitor that can reach peaks twice as bright as Dolby’s.

Richard Welsh, who is on the board of SMPTE and is co-founder and CEO of Sundog Media Toolkit, said creatives aren’t weren’t craving more resolution, but can spot the HDR difference right away.

Welsh said today’s digital cameras already capture at such high resolutions that pixel count isn’t an issue for most creatives. “But high dynamic range is something that gives (creatives) a big creative difference they didn’t have access to. Once you get to the point of displaying that content in the cinema or the home,  you can present what you actually captured in the scene. I think that’s a game-changer from creatives’ point of view.”

However, Welsh said, HDR is difficult to explain and hard for people envision until they’ve seen it. Welsh said there’s scientific evidence that 4K by itself doesn’t add much to the viewing experience, but with HDR and a wider color gamut it’s “a massive step change.”

“The problem is in order to sell that, consumers need a good story, they need a number they can understand, and they all understand pixel count. We know that from the camera industry, where they go for megapixels. But the number for HDR aren’t the sort of numbers you can throw out to consumers to tell that story. The engineering and creative side of the industry understand (HDR) but it’s hard to sell.”

Also, while the pixel count for 4K images is standardized, there are likely to be many models of televisions, with different brightness, all able to call themselves “HDR.” Consumers will have to learn how to gauge what they’re looking at in showrooms.

Happily for the many creatives who are excited about them, HDR displays are coming out from the labs. Some major electronics manufacturers, eager to sell the current generation of UHD TVs, are not entirely on board with the HDR push, but Sharp, TCL and Vizio have announced HDR TVs that incorporate Dolby Vision technology. Dolby has one HDR TV in its booth, while Technicolor, in its suite at the Wynn, is showing its proposed approach to an HDR standard, which it hopes will be incorporated into the new High Efficiency Video Codec, an essential tool for UHD TV.

Technicolor is also showing its proprietary tech for expanding the dynamic range of library content. Its solution would be built into set-top boxes, so films and TV shows that were color-graded to the old standard would be able to take some advantage of HDR technology, even if the improvement isn’t as great as that on content that’s been color graded for the extra brightness and contrast.

Welsh said he believed that despite the difficulties pitching HDR to the public, when they see it, they’ll understand it — and want it. “The first time I saw an HDR TV, which is seven years go, I thought straightaway, ‘If that was the TV in the story, that is the TV I’d pick and I can’t imagine anyone feeling any different.’ Not because I’m an engineer; it just looks amazing.”


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  1. Dean says:

    Better reproduction of the artist’s intent is always better. Can’t WAIT!

  2. rolfens says:

    Dynamic range can be measured in f-stops. Most customers dont understand how megapixels are calculated anyway. They just know that it’s a number, and the more the better (which is not necessarily true).
    The limit would be the maximum dynamic range of human vision. I think thats on the neigborhood of 20 ev. Most cameras (sadly) do in the neigborhood of 10-12 ev, and lcd displays usually even less. An Hdr image can be shown on a non-hdr display by reducing contrast (or some other dr compression techniques). But there is not that much interest in that, except for having more details in the highlights / shadows at the expense of less natural looking tones.
    HDR has become like the silent elephant in the room, nobody mentions it because there is not much to be done until a manufacturer decides to do something about it. This is all good news, glad to hear them.

  3. s.kalaivanan says:

    display capablity gets unified, consumers are less distored less damage to their investment,

    what is happening to the capture side of hard ware, the camera, Lenses be it a still or video?

    my humble observation , my be looked upon for it’s relevancy here. its only creatingawareness I wish to persue as follows

    Downscale from 8×10>35mm film > Digital even smaller still called Revolution. Now upscaling to Fulframe,645, HD4k should be an Evolution.

    Full frame has become as Default. A few years from now camera manufacturers without any regret will call 645 call as Default. Cameras, and lenses in vast numbers were junked in the name of upgrading. It always has been a business for camera manufactures.

    I wish no small sensors, But intelligent solution one for good is to adopt to 645 strategy that could increase lifespan of investment Camera& Lenses to extend beyond 10 years at minimum. Now Pentax 645 capable 56Mb capture, with HD and 4K capability announced. Why not all cameras be it movie or still adopts to this format a 645 so that one camera for both still and video. I wish all movie cameras adopts to this,

    Why not a blend between imag A and D. I mean a merger of Dark magic studio and a 645medium format like a Pentax 645. A movie camera be modular with room to adopt 645 sensor and the zoom lenses already invested in 35mm. Among the nice aspect for me is flash sync 1/1800th sec.

    I can hear someone questioning about difficulty of designing zoom lenses for 645. With a pixel content of 645 we could as well have digital zooming without sacrificing quality. Which I hope would maintain Depth of field to remain constant on zooming. Hence it also means zoom lenses with a small zoom factor would be sufficient. Yes zoom lenses with bigger circle of definition is a manufacturing task.

    I wish to create awareness on this line and my flash-selection a matting technique. I request everyone’s help to project this issue.

  4. Bela Gordon says:

    In the FuturesPark section of NAB2014 there was a presentation of live HDR video mixing by a UK company goHDR. Spun out form the University of Warwick, goHDR demonstrated 16 f-stop capture and live streaming from their HDR video camera system using their unique HDR video codec. (goHDR are currently working on a 20 f-stop HDR video system). This stream passed through a novel HDR enabled mixing system from Vicomtech in Spain where the HDR content could be manipulated in real time. From there the HDR content was displayed on an HDR display – which is available now from innovative Italian company Sim2. The University of Warwick in the UK have been doing research into HDR for more than 15 years including being involved with BrightSide, the Canadian company that pioneered HDR displays over a decade ago. So a great example of European collaboration – co-ordinated by EU COST Action IC1005 -working to bring HDR video closer to the market.

  5. umlungu says:

    What a load of rubbish. You dont need HDR. They just need to make EXISTING professional OLED monitor quality available to the general public . Out of 20 flatscreens out there, only maybe 1 is any good, and that 1 does not come close to what a pro monitor can display. And by the way whats the point of all this if the room is not properly dark ? What IS true is that 4k is mostly overkill for delivery. A good 2K projector will provide ample resolution.

  6. misterk3 says:

    nice post, i love it!

  7. nanuklost says:

    Reblogged this on lostgraphics and commented:
    I would definitely like to see a high dynamic range in the delivered movie. Way more than larger images!

  8. It is amazing how different attributes of imaging are pitted against each other, as though they were competitive. It is as though you were to say “which would you prefer, sound or color?” 3D, 4K, HDR, HFR, that is not the choice. Any combination, or all of those may be used together (along with other advancements and enhancements) to produce a sum that is greater than the individual components.

    Regarding 3D, once again the false concept that 3D produces headaches is mentioned. 3D, by itself, does not cause headaches, any more than automobiles cause accidents. Yes, it is possible to get a headache from watching bad 3D, just as it is possible to get into an accident with an automobile that has defective brakes or steering. The real problem is that many, perhaps most, practitioners of the art and science of stereoscopic 3D do not fully understand the medium in which they are working. If they did, productions with more realistic and greater depth, yet much more comfortable to watch, would be normal.

    The instructions and methodology for shooting good, easy to watch high quality stereoscopic 3D are much more complex than could be covered in this comment, or even an entire article or series of articles. They involve nearly every aspect of pre-production, production and post production. But, in the end, they are worth mastering.

    In terms of visual impact, stereoscopic 3D has the potential for exceeding all other attributes combined. This does not mean, however, that it cannot be improved with the addition of higher resolution, better (and more correctly proportioned) dynamic range, brightness levels equivalent to 2D expectations, color, scaling, frame rate (or variable frame rates), transitions, and other aspects that are appropriate to both the display and the ambient conditions, as well as to the intent of the content designers and the story and/or message being conveyed.

    • EricJ says:

      When 4KTV came out, the interest wasn’t in seeing new clarity, it was the expression of a lot of disgruntled consumers still paranoid about the FCC “making” them buy flatscreen HDTV’s, thinking that the “greedy studios” were “forcing” 3DTV on them…And, thinking that whatever new format war arrived was going to wipe the old one off the face of the earth, rooted for 4K to “punish” the makers of 3D.
      But the public isn’t really that much of a techie to be concerned about what is the superior visual format or not–They just want their movies at home to look as good as the theater. If you told someone in 2010, “Now you can watch Avatar at home in 3D!”, they would know exactly what you were talking about. If you said, “Now you can watch it in superior clarity!”, they wouldn’t know what you had 4,000 -of-, and wouldn’t be sure whether it was HD, Blu-ray or this 4K thing that was the reason it looked so good.
      You need the mythical Killer App for a format to look good in the suburban living room, or all you’ve got is the expensive and unavailable tech-elitism that sank laserdisc in the 90’s.

      Hardware companies push new formats at us thinking we’ll all go CD and DVD on “the next one”, but CD, DVD, Blu-ray and Blu3D all solved problems that the consumer could grasp: CD sounded better, DVD didn’t rewind, Blu-ray held more and looked better, and 3DTV did what only the cineplex used to.
      Saying “It’s BETTER!” doesn’t quite persuade them into plunking down $3000 at the CES on day one unless they’ve got a good reason.
      And while HDR may be a better alternative to next-level clarity than Bigger Sets, it damages a format when companies get too excited and roll them out in too close proximity to each other. It makes the consumers suspicious and they start circling the wagons, even when they shouldn’t.
      (And that’s leaving aside the tragic industry problem that imploded 4KTV from the inside–Hardware companies who thought it would be about the disks, and studios who thought “Everything’s about download now!” Sorry guys, you can’t have -both- fantasies.)

    • TV manufacturers are rushing 4K TV to market without the rest of “Ultra HD” — including wider dynamic range and color gamut — fully implemented. In that sense it is the CE companies “pitting” one improvement against another. They are hoping 4K is enough to ignite sales, even without the rest of Rec. 2020.

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