Last week, the techier minds in the business convened in Philly for SCTE/ISBE’s annual engineering show. Yes, it got way out into the weeds at times, but there were some general takeaways for the industry at large. One of the biggies is that better pictures are coming. As one vendor put it, cable is being forced to the party, much like it was with HDTV, by competitors—be it AT&T/DirecTV or OTT services. When you hit your local Best Buy to look at TVs, you may be inundated with 4K buzz. But the industry is increasingly talking about HDR, short for High Dynamic Range. It uses less bandwidth than 4K, and importantly, it’s really about a greater range of brightness and luminosity.
While 4K is about increasing the pixels (thus a larger screen is good), HDR can make a difference even on a computer monitor—which is why companies like Netflix jumped in early to the space. You don’t even need a tablet-sized screen, with Dolby CTO Craig Todd holding up an iPhone during an Expo panel and proclaiming that it has more than enough horsepower to handle HDR. “HDR is the biggest improvement since HDTV,” said Alan Stein, vp, tech development and standards for Technicolor and Technicolor Fellow. Consider an NFL game on the East Coast around 4pm—shadows creep all over the field. With HDR, there’s more contrast and depth to avoid those dark spots in the picture, Stein said. Current TV captures a scene and squeezes it into a limited color volume, while HDR uses a much larger color volume.
We are starting to see pay TV ops move into the space. This month, Japanese satellite operator SKY Perfect is slated to launch the world’s first publicly available 4K HDR broadcast. Todd said one of the reasons OTT has moved much faster into the space than traditional video providers is that those online video providers don’t care as much about standards being in place. That’s being worked on by the UHD Alliance. NAB’s sr director of new media technologies Skip Pizzi also is a member of the Ultra HD Forum board, a group considered complimentary to the Alliance (it’s more focused on best practices vs standards). He said a number (more than 5 less than 10) HDR proposals are under consideration.
Over the summer, the ATSC conducted an HDR demo at CBS Studios in NYC (Pizzi has led the S31 Specialist Group on ATSC 3.0 System Requirements and Program Management, and has served as Vice-Chair of TG3). “It wasn’t a test per se. It was a comparative demo so we could see all the components,” Pizzi said. His take is that 4K costs the most in bits, but doesn’t have the immediate wow factor of HDR. Look for more conversations about HDR vs 4K in the coming months.