High Dynamic Range TV Gets a Leg Up — And Maybe an Upcharge

Technicolor-Vubiquity partner to deliver HDR to networks, suggest "premium rates" for it

Courtesy of Technicolor

High Dynamic Range video could well be the next big thing, the killer app for Ultra-HD TV and the improvement that triggers the next wave of TV upgrades.

And thanks to a new pact between Technicolor and Vubiquity, it should be available to hundreds of TV networks and studios by year’s end, even in content that wasn’t made for the format.

If so, though, consumers may have to pay for more than a new TV to see it.

In announcing its partnership with Vubiquity on a new HDR video delivery service that would deliver HDR content to video distributors on a mass scale, Technicolor said HDR content is something “service providers can offer at premium rates.”

Some TV providers are still charging a premium for high definition services even as they have introduced new up-charges for the latest TV upgrade, UltraHD. Yet until now, there’s been little talk of HDR as a new premium tier. Technicolor’s statement suggests it and Vubiquity, and perhaps the larger video industry, believe HDR is an upgrade consumers will be willing to pay more for.

The Technicolor-Vubiquity partnership aims to give hundreds of TV networks and streaming services the ability to delivering HDR video to consumers — even content that wasn’t made for HDR. The service will include  an “in-network” High Dynamic Range video “upscaler” that the companies say is the first of its kind. It takes video mastered for existing TV standards and turns it into HDR video.

“We have some live sports content that we have upscaled and I don’t think anyone would know the difference. It’s pretty stunning,” said Mark Turner, Technicolor VP corporate partnerships & alliances.

“HDR makes highlights brighter, shadows darker and adds contrast in the middle,” said Turner. That, in turn, allows screens to show colors that can’t be displayed without the extra brightness and contrast. The result is an obvious improvement over the images today’s viewers see on televisions, mobile devices, monitors and in theaters.

Vubiquity is a multiplatform video services company that provides the underlying technology for video distributors, including linear channels and on-demand streaming. According to its website, its clients include “600 leading film studios, television networks, independent producers and MCNs,” and “over 750 global video distributors of TV networks and streaming services.” Former Warner Bros. executive Darcy Antonellis is the company’s CEO.

Technicolor and Vubiquity expect the new HDR delivery service to launch later this year. Technicolor will demonstrate it (by reservation only) during this year’s National Assn. of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas.

Once Vubiquity’s video delivery services include upscaling, the amount of HDR content in the marketplace would surge. That would help solve the chicken-and-egg problem that plagues all new picture standards: Producers don’t like to pay to make content for a system no one is watching, and consumers don’t like to pay for an upgrade no one is making content for.

Video upscaling is somewhat controversial. Some UltraHD TVs and Blu-ray players have built-in upscaling that adds pixels to HD or DVD pictures, turning them into 4K Ultra-HD images. Yet those upscaled images are generally considered inferior to “native” content, which is shot and distributed in 4K. Upscaling encourages consumers to buy a 4K UltraHD TV, but discourages producers from investing in creating native 4K content, because consumers see some version of 4K even without it.

Technicolor is providing two key piece of HDR technology for the service: its HDR Intelligent Tone Management system, which will do the HDR upscaling; and its HDR distribution technology, which allows a single video signal to go to both new HDR-capable screens and older models that can’t display HDR.

“With this system you don’t have to build a second network and everyone gets the benefit,” said Turner. Technicolor’s distribution tech is a rival of Dolby Vision, which piggybacks HDR on a standard video channel or stream.

Turner also said that since Vubiquity serves a wide network of content providers, the “visually richer HDR experiences” can reach more consumers faster. The key to generating large amounts of HDR content, said Turner, is “to do it in live broadcast systems instead of doing it through over-the-top or OTT,” Turner said.

Early in 2016, the UltraHD Alliance announced its “UltraHD Premium” standard, which incorporates HDR. There are two flavors of UltraHD premium, one that accommodates LED screens, which are quite bright but don’t have dark blacks, and another that works for OLED screens, which have rich blacks but aren’t as bright as LED.