NAB: How Will Hollywood Get High Dynamic Range Content to Your TV?

Hollywood Sign - H 2015
AP Images/Invision

Hollywood Sign - H 2015

Hollywood is taking an increasingly keen interest in producing high dynamic range (HDR) content, meaning there's a wider range between the whitest whites and the blackest blacks in the pictures. But while HDR feature production is already getting to the starting point, there's still a need for standards, and there's no method in place to produce it live and broadcast it to homes.

Expect to hear a lot more about this when the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show starts on April 11 in Las Vegas.

“If we have a good colorist and good mastering display, it's not super difficult to create HDR [features]. The bigger issue is that, long term, you [need] more than just motion picture content. So to what extent will broadcast TV be ready?" asked Hanno Basse, CTO at 20th Century Fox. “In my mind that’s the most important piece. It’s more complicated and will be a challenge for broadcasters.”

Basse was recently named chair of the UHD Alliance — a coalition of most of the major Hollywood studios as well as stakeholders in the manufacturing world — which aims to get out in front of issues such as this with the hope of avoiding a format war and creating an orderly rollout.

This will also include work in resolution and frame rates. But in the area of HDR, the coalition's work will start with defining a quality standard. “We are about determining the next generation of what a premium entertainment experience looks like, including quality parameters and how to maintain creative intent," Basse told The Hollywood Reporter. "That’s a key piece for the studios."

"HDR means different things to different people, so we want a unified definition," he added. Already, various flavors of HDR have been introduced, including Dolby Vision for expected Dolby Vision-supported TVs or Samsung’s format for its new SUHDTVs. Standards bodies such as the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers are working on technical standards.

As to broadcasting HDR, the current U.S. broadcast system was developed more than a decade ago for the digital television transition, and features such as HDR and Ultra HD (4K) were not included at that time; work has started to explore an update. For instance, a few days ago, Technicolor and Sinclair Broadcast Group revealed that they have completed a live broadcast test of Ultra HD with HDR, emphasizing that it met many of the requirements of a proposed new broadcast system known as ATSC 3.0.

Meanwhile, broadcast equipment manufacturer Grass Valley is making HDR its next step. “We are working with Dolby Vision and other adaptations of HDR,” said Marcel Koutstaal, general manager of Grass Valley’s camera factory. “We tested [HDR broadcasting] in Europe with MotoGP and worked with the EBU (European Broadcasting Union) trials at the European Athletics Championship in Zurich.”

He believes delivering HDR to the home will be easier than Ultra HD (4K). “The technology could be available today,” he said. “We’ll be showing HDR materials at NAB with Dolby Vision.”

For non-live HDR content in the home, certain streaming services have already indicated interest in delivering Ultra HD with HDR. While light on detail, Amazon made an announcement on Friday that it intends to offer HDR this year to Prime members and customers in the U.S., U.K. and Germany. The company didn’t reveal how much content or which Amazon Originals titles would be available. It also didn’t indicate which flavor or flavors of HDR it would support.

Previously, Dolby announced plans for Amazon, as well as Netflix and Vudu, to provide Dolby Vision content when Dolby Vision-supported TVs are available. Netflix has indicated that it might not limit itself to one format. Meanwhile Samsung said streaming service M-Go would be the first to offer HDR content for SUHDTVs.

Separately, the Blu-Ray Disc Association has developed an updated Ultra HD Blu-ray format that includes HDR support and is scheduled to begin rolling out later this year.

“We had an incredible response so far from this technology. We really think this is the next generation of home entertainment,” said Basse. “I totally expect that publishing titles in this format will be one of the things we’ll just do.”

Work is also underway to bring HDR images to theaters. To that end, recently launched Dolby Cinema offers Dolby Vision, and Imax's new laser projection system is also billed as HDR-ready.