High Dynamic Range Might Be Added to Ultra HD Blueprint in Three Years, Says Project Chair

A group at the International Telecommunication Union is reviewing proposals from Dolby, Technicolor, Philips and the BBC.

High Dynamic Range (HDR) technology — which effectively expands the range between the darkest and brightest images a TV or other display can produce — is generating growing attention in Hollywood's production community, and it “may well be an important feature of Ultra HDTV in future years, though the jury is still out, and will take some months to reach a verdict,” according to David Wood, chairman of the International Telecommunication Union group responsible for a recommended global blueprint for Ultra HD.

The ITU has already defined two flavors of Ultra HD. The first is often referred to as 4K, or four times the resolution of HDTV, which is used for today’s Ultra HDTVs; and the second is effectively 8K, or 16 times the resolution of HD, which is getting the most attention from Japanese public broadcaster NHK.

As part of its next step, the ITU group led by Wood is considering the addition of HDR to its Ultra HD recommendation. Wood told The Hollywood Reporter that at this stage in the group's work, the “most interest" is in providing HDR in a second phase of the 4K flavor of Ultra HD, "which we may expect to see in about 2017 or 2018."

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But he pointed out that there are still questions surrounding the development and potential roll out of HDR-supported TVs "and whether the public will like them. However, the trend in screen brightness is ‘upward.'

“In many parts of the world, those who have seen demonstrations of high dynamic range on TV screens with the higher screen brightness’s, find that it does increase the perception of image quality significantly," Wood said. "It does bring ‘sparkle’ to the image, and allows you to see more detail in dark areas of the image. To some, the HDR ‘gain’ is more valuable than more definition, because you notice it further back from the TV set.  But the benefit you get depends on the content that the program maker provides.”

Still, he pointed out that there’s not complete agreement on this belief, saying, “NHK is not convinced of the need for HDR because they believe the public may find high brightness TVs unattractive."

A revision to the Ultra HD spec to include HDR would effectively mean that today's Ultra HDTVs would be unable to display the new format.

Dolby aims to move quickly to bring HDR to the market. It has already introduced a proposed HDR format that it calls Dolby Vision, and both Sharp and TCL are working on Dolby Vision-supported TVs that are expected to be available for retail purchase later this year.

But according Wood, the ITU is considering all format options. “The [ITU group] is currently investigating several proposals for HDR, which are being suggested by Philips, Technicolor, Dolby, and the BBC," he told THR. "The plan is to perform quality evaluations that will allow them to be ranked for effectiveness.”

These tests will be conducted by an ITU group lead by the BBC’s head of HD technology, Andy Quested. “They have a work plan which we hope will lead to a conclusion between now and next Spring,” Wood reported.

Additional organizations working on aspects of HDR include the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers and the Moving Picture Experts Group.

Email: Carolyn.Giardina@THR.com
Twitter: @CGinLA