DECE's Mitch Singer Cautions Studios About Producing a Lot of 4K; Says HDR Is On The Way

Also during the annual SMPTE conference, director Joe Kosinski gave HDR high marks, and said he wants to make his next movie in 4K at 24 frame per second
Courtesy of Verance

Mitch Singer, president of the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem consortium behind UltraViolet, warned the Hollywood studios that they might not want to “rush to produce a lot of 4K content. [They may also] soon be producing HDR (high dynamic range).

"The question is how to monetize the content," he added. "My feeling is it’s going to be challenging for the studios.”

During this week’s Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers Conference and Exhibition, held at various venues around Hollywood & Highland, the technical community debated the attributes and business models for high resolution (4K and 8K), high frame rates and HDR (which effectively means widening the palette between the darkest blacks and brightest whites).

During a panel, Singer questioned if consumers will see a difference with 4K, but added that HDR is “the one thing that I could see across the room and I hope we get to that as quickly as possible. I don't know if studios can monetize it; I suspect they might reserve HDR for 4K tier content.”

On another panel (moderated by The Hollywood Reporter's Carolyn Giardina), Oblivion director Joe Kosinski said he would like to make his next movie in 4K but at today’s standard 24 frame per second frame rate. While he wasn’t enthusiastic about high frame rates, he gave high marks to HDR. He has already been testing this with HDR-mastered footage from Oblivion, some of which has already been shown at various trade shows as part of demonstrations of Dolby's developing HDR format Dolby Vision.

During an address, Hollywood Post Alliance president, Disney's Leon Silverman said it's "essential that we have consistent , predictable workflows as this content travels across different screens. We have some work to do. The idea of presenting a single expression with so many variables (i.e. resolutions, dynamic range and frame rates) is challenging. Another key issue is how to bake in the time and money to make this happen."

Various organizations are working to address these issues. SMPTE has already formed an working group that is tasked with studying HDR and developing standards. The Blu-Ray Disc Association is creating a new Blu-Ray format that would support both 4K resolution and HDR; that is expected to be ready during 2015.

The next generation cinema technology working group of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Science and Technology Council is in the process of creating standard evaluation material, which includes HDR as well as 4K. A portion of this test material, which was lensed at the Academy's Pickford Center and directed by Howard Lukk (a former Disney vp of production technology turned indie filmmaker), was previewed at SMPTE.

Also previewed during the confab was the first four and a half minutes of a 13 minutes short titled Emma —made in 4K resolution and with HDR in mind. Lukk, who also directed the short, reported that it would be used by SMPTE's HDR working group for technical evaluation. He also intends to submit it to film festivals. 

The short was actually made by various members of Hollywood's production community. In addition to Lukk, Daryn Okada (Dolphin Tale 2) served as director of photography and Douglas Crise (Birdman) edited the film. Emma was lensed over four days, last spring in Los Angeles, and posted at ARRI in Munich. 

Offering another perspective during the conference was the International Association of Broadcasting Manufacturers' director of business development and technology John Ive, who related that higher resolution is “inevitable, but it has to be done in an economical way. We are talking about a phase one—where we are now with consumer displays offering higher resolution but nothing more—and a phase two, which introduces value adds such as HDR.

"The technology supplier community has demonstrated their ability to deliver it, as we wait for standard to catch up and for it to be economically viable," he added. "We are waiting for the right moment in the replacement cycle. Those broadcasters who invested in HD at the moment are somewhat resistant — and currently have no way to deliver [4K and HDR] to their viewers.”

With SMPTE readying to celebrate its centennial in 2016, the society also kicked off fundraising for its “next century fund” for its continuing standards work. At a kickoff reception during the conference, the society recognized its first three “cornerstone” sponsors — Disney, Panasonic and Dolby — for bringing the fund to $1 million.

Twitter: @CGinLA