Hollywood Stakeholders Analyze Potential of HDR, LED Cinema Screens

"Cost is the driver here," Fox CTO Hanno Basse warned Thursday at AIS' HDR Summit.
Courtesy of FOX
Hanno Basse

With its blacker blacks and whiter whites, high dynamic range is viewed by many in Hollywood as an imaging feature that could create a noticeable difference in the cinema. Studios execs, manufacturers and representatives from postproduction and visual effects houses examined this topic on Thursday during the Advanced Imaging Society's HDR Summit, held at Quixote Studios in West Hollywood.

“It will help get people back into theaters,” asserted Fox CTO Hanno Basse.

But an HDR rollout also faces some hurdles.

Today a big postproduction challenge are the literally hundreds of versions required for a wide release (including 2D, 3D, different light levels and local languages) — and HDR adds to that challenge.

Paramount senior vp postproduction Corey Turner reminded the crowd that currently the standard dynamic range (SDR) versions are the versions seen in the majority of theaters, and therefore that has to be the priority when postproduction schedules and budgets are tight. “We are super excited about HDR, but for the delivery date, we have to get the SDR done, then circle back and do the HDR. As demand goes up, we have to think about restructuring time, schedules, budgets and priorities.”

Basse agreed, adding, I think if we weren’t constrained by SDR delivery, [the filmmakers] would shoot and compose differently. We all want to get to HDR. From a studio perspective, it’s clearly a problem we are in the process of addressing.”

“Cost is the driver here," he added. "We need something that is scalable and doesn’t break the bank. And we have options on the horizon." Basse was among several speakers who emphasized that HDR standards are necessary. “And if there’s HDR, there should be one version, not three versions," he said.

Currently HDR can be viewed in venues that offer Dolby Cinema or Imax laser projectors. Additionally, France-based EclairColor launched a HDR system for certain models of digital cinema projectors. This currently equates to 131 screens worldwide.

But stakeholders want to expand the reach of HDR. Said Basse: “That’s why we are looking at Light Steering and LED."

LED Cinema Screens — effectively cinema screens based on the technology used for digital signage — offers an option with their brighter screens that support HDR. Samsung has started a rollout and Sony is right behind.

But there are several challenges, not the least of which is cost. The Samsung Onyx LED cinema system currently costs around $750,000, though Mission Rock Digital CTO Pete Lude argued that costs will come down. “In a few years these could be financially viable. … and will become competition with laser projectors," he said.

The HDR evaluation working group of the American Society of Cinematographers Motion Imaging Technology Council also weighed in on LED cinema screens during the event. Seeming to address concerns of some filmmakers, the ASC Council's Thomas Wall said, "This doesn't look like signage; this looks like cinema."

"But there are problems," he added, citing several examples, including that the group found that strobing is "very noticeable when there are high contrast images. And noise jumps out at you and you can't use normal noise reduction without impacting the picture. ... Cinematographers need to think about these things if they are shooting for HDR."

Another HDR option is the Cinionic (Barco) “light steering” technology that got high marks from many who saw the demonstration when it debuted last month at CinemaCon

Thursday's HDR Summit hosted the first public demonstration in L.A. The system uses a new high contrast HDR laser projector with “light steering” technology that effectively throws more light at parts of the image that require high brightness, but not the darker areas. Todd Hoddick, head of studio relations and chief revenue officer for premium cinema at Cinionic, believes  “this opens up the promise of HDR for the masses at a ‘normal’ price point. You don’t need the brute force.”

Cinionic hopes to have a rollout of the technology by 2020.