IBC Wrap Part 2: Work Toward High Dynamic Range Live Broadcasting Underway

Technicolor and Dolby were among the companies that showed technology demonstrations with an eye toward live HDR broadcasting.
PRNewsFoto/LG Electronics USA, Inc.
All major set makers now offer Ultra HDTVs and many have acknowledged work toward adding HDR.

In this second of a two-part series on high dynamic range (HDR) at the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC), which wrapped this week in Amsterdam, THR explores early work on the potential of live HDR broadcasting and other technical developments. Part 1, which looks at the creative potential, as well as impact on the cinema and standards issues, can be found here.

High Dynamic Range (HDR) -- an image attribute that offers a wider range between the blackest blacks and whitest whites in images -- has been generating plenty of interest in cinema circles, as well as for remastering movies for home entertainment, but the potential to offer HDR in live broadcasting is considered by many to be a key missing link in the HDR dialog. At this year's IBC,  focus was moving in that direction.

Delia Bushell, managing director at BT TV and BT Sports in the UK, spoke about BT Sports' recently-launched Ultra HD 4K sports channel and said the company is looking to add HDR capabilities, possibly in two years. Sky Broadcasting in the UK is among additional broadcasters testing HDR.

“There’s still some technology questions open, but the big issue is the cost,” said Twentieth Century Fox CTO Hanno Basse, who chairs the UHD Alliance that's working on quality standards for HDR home entertainment. “For a Hollywood studio, making HDR is fairly straightforward. On the [live] TV side, they don't have that luxury, especially if it’s 4K. They’ll need new cameras, switchers … and that’s a much higher investment.”

On the technology side of the equation, during IBC several manufacturers showed demonstrations of how live HDR broadcasting might be handled. For instance Technicolor teamed with video processing company Elemental (which was recently acquired by Amazon Web Services in a deal reportedly valued at around $500 million) to host a live IBC demonstration of a broadcast delivery system of 4K with high dynamic range.

The demonstration includes a new server-based version of Technicolor’s Intelligent Tone Management software that scales standard dynamic range source material (in this case, 4K at 60 frames per second) for HDR use. The aim is to allow sports or live event productions to continue use current cameras and infrastructure at a venue, and also upscale the broadcast to include HDR. The Elemental Live video encoder was used for encoding and delivery in the demonstration.

Dolby also hosted an HDR 4K demonstration, playing live images that were captured on manufacturer Grass Valley’s IBC exhibition stand using the Grass Valley LDX series broadcast camera that now supports HDR. The feed was encoded along with the HDR information by a Muse Live encoder in from Envivio (which last week entered into an agreement to be acquired by Ericsson for approximately $125 million).

Meanwhile, the IBC Conference Prize was awarded to Andrew Cotton and Tim Borer of BBC Research & Development for their paper that proposed a method of delivering and displaying HDR video "while remaining compatible with conventional systems."

As to resolution, most attention has been on the 4K (four times the resolution of HD) flavor of Ultra HD, but Japan is planning a move to an 8K Ultra HD (16 times the resolution of HD) broadcasting system, with broadcast trials set to begin with the 2016 Rio Olympics and a targeted completion of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

At IBC, Japan public broadcaster NHK, which is developing the 8K “Super Hi-Vision” system, showed a technology demonstration of its 8K system with HDR. It was displayed on a prototype 8K and HDR supported TV from Sharp. NHK has not yet decided when it would begin to incorporate HDR into its broadcast trials; it's not expected to be ready for the Rio Games, an NHK rep told The Hollywood Reporter.

A limited number of production and postproduction tools that support 8K in addition to HDR are starting to enter the market. In production, Red previewed its 8K “Weapon” upgrade for its Epic cinema camera; the upgrade is scheduled to be ready by the end of the year. (It also introduced an option to enable live HDR monitoring on set.)

For postproduction, SAM (the company previously known as Quantel) was showing its Quantel Rio finishing system (used at post houses such as Burbank’s Fotokem) with a top-of-the-line model that supports 8K and HDR. SGO’s Mistika postproduction system, whose customers include J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot, was also at IBC and ready with 8K and HDR capabilities. Cinegy meanwhile previewed an 8K codec, Daniel2, expected to be available to developers by the end of the year.

Also around the IBC exhibition floor, ARRI -- a big HDR proponent -- showed images photographed with its HDR-ready Alexa and Amira cameras, includes the 6K Alexa 65 from ARRI Rental, displayed in HDR on a Samsung SUHDTV.

Postproduction system maker Rohde & Schwarz highlighted its recent HDR update for its Clipster system.

In the “Future Zone” of IBC, Disney Research in Zurich showed some experimental work in HDR tone mapping, which the company said is aimed at finding a way to reduce HDR imagery to a standard dynamic range while maintaining scene details without significant visual artifacts.