NAB Wrap: Hollywood Fast-Tracks High Dynamic Range

Hanno Basse - P 2015
Courtesy of FOX

Hanno Basse - P 2015

Efforts to deliver high dynamic range imagery to consumers went into high gear last week at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show. Meanwhile, virtual reality and drones got plenty of attention at the Las Vegas confab, which this year counted slightly more than 100,000 attendees.

“I would fully expect that every release we make now will have an HDR grade,” Hanno Basse, CTO at 20th Century Fox and president of the studio and manufacturer coalition UHD Alliance, asserted during one NAB panel. “I think we are going to see that throughout the industry pretty quickly.”

Interest in producing HDR — a wider range between the whitest whites and blackest blacks in a picture — is resulting in a steadily growing arsenal of technologies that support different flavors of HDR. Generally speaking, all of the high-end digital cameras can support HDR, as well as many major postproduction systems. For instance, an HDR short titled Trick Shot, lensed with Canon’s new C300 Mark II and finished with SGO’s Mistika grading system, was screened on the Canon booth. And for home entertainment, Dolby featured prototype Vizio TVs that support its Dolby Vision HDR format.

There are a lot of moving parts involved in getting this content to consumers, but, speaking for the UHD Alliance, Basse asserted that a consistent and inter-operable HDR experience is an achievable goal. "We want to have a first version [of a quality spec] later this year to coincide with the Blu-ray Disc Association (which intends to introduce Ultra HD Blu-ray with HDR support)," he said.

“We need to find common ground from the studio perspective, consumer electronics perspective, broadcast perspective," he continued. "And once we do that, we need to figure out how to communicate that to consumers.”

Where it comes to monetizing HDR, Warner Bros. vp of digital initiatives Bryan Barber related that a “tough challenge” will be figuring out how deep to go into catalog titles.

Lionsgates’ senior vp of mastering and technical services Jo Dee Freck suggested an HDR pass for every movie that is already planned for remastering. “It may be a little additional time or money, but not as outrageous as if we go back and remaster it again later.”

Basse warned that converting catalog titles is still in an experimental stage. “[HDR] also increases contrast, which will bring out film grain and dust," he said. "Imperfections will be more visible."

He added that for HDR to come to television, another critical piece that needs to be figured out is how to deliver sports, news and other live content.

Virtual reality — for everything from games to narrative studio content, red carpet events and Hollywood awards shows — also had a high-profile NAB. Mandalay Entertainment chairman Peter Guber emphasized the promise of VR during his opening keynote, and VR technology developer Jaunt touted VR's potential during a keynote at the NAB Show’s Technology Summit on Cinema. Meanwhile, companies such as Technicolor were positioning themselves as VR content creators.

Guber asserted that VR will reach every sector, and stakeholders should think of themselves as being in the “emotional transportation business. ... Audiences are demanding to be participants, not just passengers.”

All of the studios are experimenting with VR, as they aim to figure out the most attractive applications, and how to monetize them.

Warner Bros. is pursuing gaming “pretty aggressively,” according to Barber, who added that Hollywood also needs to understand how it can be applied to storytelling. “I think it will be like other creative tools, and we’ll apply it at certain points in the story. It’s brand new, and we have to find out how to incorporate it.”

On how to monetize the content, Jaunt CTO Arthur van Hoff believes live streaming will come to these headsets, and when that happens, pay-per-view events such as boxing could be new revenue streams.

A limited number of VR goggles have reached the market — such as Samsung Gear and Google Cardboard — but many more brands are on the way.

Meanwhile, hovering around the convention halls and drawing huge crowd were drones in all shapes and sizes, and their creative potential was another big topic.

“I think we are seeing a true evolution of aerial artistry — not just getting shots from the air, but really telling a story,” said Dan Kanes, a Local 600 member and co-founder of wireless system developer Paralinx, which was recently acquired by production accessories maker Vitec. “We're starting to move past the ‘Model T’ days of drones in cinema, with redundant onboard flight computers and better controls. It’s closer to having cars with seat belts for safety. From a technical standpoint, I'm excited to see better integration of drone-specific camera systems.”

Most of the major camera makers were showing lightweight cameras for drones, including Arri’s Alexa Mini, Blackmagic’s Micro Cinema Camera and Canon’s new C300 Mark II.

The Federal Aviation Administration is working to loosen regulatory restrictions, which could make these systems more popular in production. Safety standards remain a key topic.