Progress Made Toward Adoption of High Dynamic Range Content

Hollywood Sign
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A key next step toward making high dynamic range imagery, or HDR, available to consumers, will be made next week. Global standards body the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers plans to publish a technical standard that will assist in creating a consistent way for Hollywood to produce HDR-supported content for distribution on TVs, mobile devices or in the cinema, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

HDR effectively means that viewers will see a wider range from the brightest whites to the darkest blacks — a difference that has been dazzling those who have seen early demonstrations, and what many believe is a more noticeable upgrade compared with moving from HD to Ultra HD resolution.

But as with the launch of any new technological development, there are a lot of moving parts that need to align to get to global adoption. Among them is a standard ways to create and deliver HDR content — which could give the industry a smoother path while sidestepping a potential format war.

On Sept. 10, on the eve of the International Broadcasting Convention, SMPTE plans to publish a “transfer function” document, which is effectively a recommended way to represent HDR content, starting at the camera, that would be carried through the pipeline to postproduction and eventually delivery.

“This will be the first time there’s a standardized way of representing that HDR content,” SMPTE director of standards & engineering Peter Symes tells THR. “It was largely proposed by Dolby, it fully conforms with the Dolby Vision format.”

Dolby has actually played a huge role in generating early interest in HDR by unveiling an HDR format, dubbed Dolby Vision, earlier this year at CES. Dolby, as well as Technicolor, are both developing their own HDR systems for production through delivery of the content. (The new standard might additionally support the Technicolor effort; a Technicolor spokesperson was unavailable at press time.) Additionally Philips and the BBC are working on HDR delivery systems.

According to Symes, this first SMPTE HDR standard fits fairly easily into production, as many high-end digital cinematography camera such as Arri’s Alexa, Red’s Epic and Sony’s F65 are capable of capturing a wider dynamic range that today’s TVs are capable of reproducing. For postproduction, color grading and finishing systems from FilmLight, SGO and DVS has already announced support for Dolby Vision. With the new SMPTE standard, all postproduction system makers will now have a blueprint for adding HDR support.

Two additional standards, also related to communicating information about HDR as well as color gamut are expected to be published by SMPTE, possibly within the next six weeks, Symes related.

Meanwhile SMPTE is embarking on its next step, which will involve looking at the full HDR “ecosystem” and include delivery to consumer devices including TVs. With the BBC, Dolby, Philips and Technicolor all vying to make their proposals a delivery standard, things could get heated fast.

Symes says that an HDR study group formed by SMPTE will meet in Geneva in mid-September and expects to put out a report in the next six to nine months summarizing the various viewpoints and making standards recommendations. At that point, SMPTE will create a more formal standards group tasked with this work.

Additional professional groups are doing related work. For instance in Hollywood, the studio consortium Digital Cinema Initiatives is exploring support of HDR in its digital cinema blueprint.

Also related, the International Telecommunication Union is looking to define HDR in its Ultra HD blueprint. The Moving Picture Experts Group is developing Blu-ray Disc support for HDR. The international Digital Video Broadcasting organization is working toward adding HDR to its existing broadcast standard (used in parts of the world including Europe), and the HDMI Forum is developing a way to delivery HDR via HDMI cable.

Twitter: @CGinLA