NEW YORK — Plans for TVs and content supporting high dynamic range (HDR) came into somewhat sharper focus in recent days with announcements by content providers, TV makers and production services company Technicolor.
HDR greatly improves the contrast ratio of video content on HDR-enabled TVs, delivering much brighter highlights and much deeper blacks without washing out details in the bright and dark. It also delivers a far wider color gamut than conventional displays.
Consumer-facing companies announcing HDR plans include Vizio and Sony along with content providers Vudu, Netflix and Amazon.
Vudu announced that it will stream content using Dolby Vision HDR technology starting later this year, and Vizio unveiled a pair of high-end Ultra HD TVs that will stream Vudu’s HDR content (see story, left), initially consisting of select Warner Bros. titles. Specific availability dates for the Vizio TVs and Vudu content weren’t announced, but they are due sometime later this year.
For its part, Sony said it will bring HDR to market, launching two 4K UHD TVs that will be upgradable to HDR via a firmware upgrade available later in the year. The TVs will support the single-layer HDR specification under development by the UHD Alliance.
Though Dolby Vision and the alliance spec are vying for inclusion in TVs, Technicolor business-development VP Mark Turner called it “absolutely possible” to build both technologies into a TV.
The alliance’s HDR spec is part of a wider alliance specification that will set a performance standard for UHD content, content distribution, and displays, including high dynamic range, wide color gamut, frame rates, immersive audio, and future resolutions. The alliance has targeted availability of TVs meeting its specs by the end of the year.
The alliance, announced at International CES, is developing technical specs and performance metrics that “deliver a premium entertainment experience throughout the Ultra HD ecosystem from content creation to consumer enjoyment,” the group said. The alliance will also will help develop industry-standard branding so consumers can identify certified premium UHD content and playback devices.
Alliance members include LG, Panasonic, Sharp, Samsung, Sony, Dolby, Technicolor, Walt Disney, Netflix, 20th Century Fox, and Warner Bros.
For his part, Netflix VP Scott Mirer appears to be on board with the alliance standard. During a recent press event hosted by LG, he said he expects an HDR standard to be finalized “shortly” and hopes to stream HDR content late this year. At CES, Netflix announced plans to deliver HDR streams to LG TVs at an unspecified time.
Netflix, however, could be planning to offer both technologies. Said a Dolby spokesperson, “Netflix also publicly committed to delivering Dolby Vision content to the home in 2015. We are working with Netflix to make this happen and are especially focused on Netflix original content.”
For its part, Amazon also announced plans in recent days to offer HDR streams this year, though it didn’t specify whether it would use Dolby Vision or alliance technology, or both.
More than a year ago, both Netflix and Amazon were cited in a Dolby statement as “expected” to offer Dolby Vision content.
To bring HDR content to TVs, production-services company Technicolor went to the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show with new tools to accelerate HDR content creation. To bring HDR content to theaters, Dolby announced a deal with Walt Disney Studios to bring Dolby Vision movies to cinemas in the comping months.
Here’s what the various companies recently announced:
Amazon: The company will bring HDR video to the Amazon Prime Instant Video streaming service sometime in 2015, the company announced. Amazon Originals will be the first to arrive in HDR quality at an unspecified time later this year. Six months ago, the company launched movies and TV shows in 4K Ultra HD.
“We’re excited that Prime members will soon be able to view movies and TV shows, including Amazon Originals, in HDR quality,” said Michael Paull, Amazon VP of digital video.
Dolby: In a deal with Dolby to release films with Dolby Vision, Walt Disney Studios will bring the first movies in Dolby Vision to Dolby Cinema theaters. The first film will be Disney’s “Tomorrowland” starting May 22, followed by Disney Pixar’s “Inside Out” in theaters June 19. In addition, Disney’s “The Jungle Book,” due April 15, 2016, will also be presented in Dolby Vision, and more titles will be announced.
Theaters equipped with Dolby Cinema technology feature Dolby Vision screens and projection equipment as well as Dolby Atmos surround.
Most movies are captured and recorded using technology that produces the colors and brightness of real life, Dolby said, but “much of that richness is lost by the time moviegoers get to watch. Dolby attributes that to current cinema color-grading standards, which “are based on the limitations of current projection technologies and require that the content be altered to match their display performance — dramatically reducing the range of colors, brightness and contrast.”
Dolby Vision gives content creators “the freedom to use the full gamut of colors, peak highlights, greater brightness and amazing contrast with the confidence that those will be reproduced faithfully on cinema screens that feature Dolby Vision. “
Sony: Ten new Bravia 4K LED LCD TVs feature a new X1 processor to significantly increase contrast, clarity and color from the previous year’s TVs. They’re also designed to maximize the quality of all levels of 4K and HD sources, which range from 7-15Mbps Netflix and YouTube streams to Bluray players with data rates of more than 100Mbps. “You can’t treat all 4K sources the same,” said Philip Jones, video product information manager.
Triluminos technology also delivers the color gamut of quantum-dot technology without sacrificing brightness and without adding depth to TVs through the addition of a layer of quantum-dot crystals, the company said.
Via a firmware update later this year, two 4K models will be the company’s first to support HDR video conforming to the alliance’s single-layer spec.
The two HDR-upgradable TVs are the 65-inch XBR-65X930C and 75-inch XBR-75X940C. Prices were unavailable at press time.
To deliver HDR with maximum impact, the Sony HDR TVs will use local LED dimming and local LED boosting technology, Jones added.
Technicolor: Pointing out that 4K TVs preceded the launch of native 4K content, Technicolor made several announcements to ensure that a significant amount of content conforming to the UHD Alliance’s HDR spec will be available when TVs meeting the specs are available later this year.
Technicolor has developed tools to create HDR content using whatever specs are published by the UHD Alliance, business-development VP Mark Turner told TWICE. “Our tools will do whatever the alliance decides.” The alliance spec will aggregate existing technologies rather than create new technologies, he noted.
The company announced remastering services for broadcasters and studios to bring HDR to movies, TV shows and TV commercials and has already started working on titles, Turner said.
The company also announced an HDR plug-in for its color-grading system, which is used in the last step of finishing a piece of video, he said. It will automatically perform up to 80 percent of the work needed to regrade catalog content into HDR, and it will be licensed out to “rapidly accelerate HDR creation,” he said.