Basse: Theaters Will Need To Catch Up To HDR TVs
Hanno Basse, Fox Filmed Entertainment (FFE) Chief Technology Officer and chairman of the Ultra HD Alliance, said 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment continues to push the envelope on production of 4K Ultra HD content with high dynamic range (HDR), but the creative license of filmmakers using the format can sometimes be limited by the inability of digital movie theaters to produce the same HDR performance levels as today’s premium 4K UHD TVs.
Filmmakers now getting involved with HDR productions are restrained from adding certain HDR elements viewable on new TVs that can not be reproduced on movie theater screens.
Meanwhile, theaters that are already playing Dolby Vision and Dolby Cinema content with Dolby’s flavor of HDR don’t achieve the same parameters as TVs conforming to the Ultra HD Alliance’s Premium certification specifications for high-performing 4K Ultra HD TV, Basse said.
Fox is hopeful that professional digital theaters will one day be able to handle all of the extra luminance and contrast benefits produced on 4K UHD TVs that conform to the new UHDA Premium format for home-based 4K UHD TVs.
Basse and Samsung recently entertained HD Guru and a group of technology reviewers at the Fox Innovation Lab in Century City, CA to get an update on how his studio and others are loading up supplies of HDR-enabled movies and programs for Ultra HD Blu-ray and Vidity digital download distribution.
Read more or our Q&A report with Basse from the Fox Innovation Lab after the jump:
What is the Fox Innovation Lab?
Hanno Basse: The purpose of the Fox Innovation Lab is to catch technology trends very early when they are just about to emerge or maybe even when they are still in people’s minds or on the drawing board, and make sure that our content creation strategy is aligned with whatever other trends are out there.
We knew HDR was coming. We wanted to turn it into a consumer product. Our artists needed to understand how to use this new format and what the right ways are to prepare the motion picture content for this new medium and how do we preserve the creative intent of the director? At the same time we wanted to help them utilize the right cameras and so forth. So we worked with Samsung on the specifications for the consumer display and we worked with all of the creators on figuring out how to create the content. When the first HDR TVs hit the market in the spring of last year, we actually had content available to go with them.
We are doing similar things now, and have projects related to Virtual Reality (VR) and new distribution methods including robust delivery of our content into the mobile space, because there is obviously a lot of consumption now that is migrating into mobile. And also, when we create these new experiences like HDR — and Virtual Reality is a big new technology in the lab here as well — how do you actually deliver this to consumers in a meaningful way?
So we are working with major consumer electronics and technology companies around the globe to figure out how our content strategy should be aligned with the emerging technologies that we are seeing.
So 5G, for example as the next generation of mobile communications, is going to open up new possibilities for us as content providers, since we are trying to figure out how to work in that space, and then we try to look one or two years out from there.
In our living room set up, we try to replicate a high-end consumer viewing environment. We have a 7.1-channel audio system that is Dolby Atmos [and DTS:X] capable to create an immersive [object-based audio] experience. In addition, we have a standard dynamic range (SDR) display on one side and a high dynamic range (HDR) display on the other side. The facility also has a viewing room designed to accompany consumer focus research groups in an observation environment that allows people to interact with the technology and content in a typical focus group atmosphere. Our focus group subjects comprise representative samples of different demographics. We walk them through each experience, so we walk them through the Ultra HD Blu-ray experience, the Vidity experience, and HDR vs. SDR.
Many of the tools needed for HDR display calibrations are still in development. How do you have your monitors here at the lab calibrated?
Basse: For the displays we use both Samsung’s people for calibrations and our own. In the beginning, when we were working primarily with prototypes, we were using Samsung’s people exclusively, but now we are to a point where even a high-end consumer needs to be able to calibrate these displays, so we use our own people.
For our calibrations we go by the recommendations that Samsung has given us, and it is the same thing for the retailers right now. They communicate with us, and there are measurement tools to figure out what is specifically a very high level of performance as a consumer would buy it.
What standard is Fox using for HDR mastering?
The Fox Lab also has an Ultra HD Blu-ray mastering room, where Ultra HD Blu-ray titles are mastered for HDR peak luminance. The room is equipped with a Samsung Ultra HDTV with a peak luminance of about 1,000 nits, as specified by the UHD Alliance in the Ultra HD Premium certification, and an SDR display. In the UHD Alliance we have now developed what we consider to be a high quality standard for high dynamic range in consumer televisions and content. Without a standard in the past it was hard for anyone to know exactly what HDR is. The UHD Alliance now has over 40 members who are working together to help establish a standard for the next generation of audio and visual entertainment.
From an artist’s standpoint, if you look at an HDR vs. an SDR display, it isn’t about it being just brighter. It’s really about more contrast, more detail and much better saturation in colors.
It’s also that the color space is wider. So we were using the Rec. 709 color space for decades, and now we are using the DCI P3 color space, which is the same one that we are using for digital theatrical distribution. Again, this is something that the artists like because it is now much closer the theatrical original than the Blu-ray was ever able to do. Because there are certain limits in what standard Blu-ray allows you to do.
Who makes the decisions on the production side about whether a movie is going to be made in HDR and is it pre planned when the movie is green lighted?
Basse: Over a year ago, Fox became the first Hollywood Studio to take the step to assure that all of its major releases would be produced in high dynamic range. Ever since Kingsmen came out in the spring of 2015, all of our new releases that exceeded certain box office thresholds, which we cannot disclose, would come out in high dynamic range. It’s not just the tent poles, either. Eddie The Eagle, for example, has an HDR release, and that obviously wasn’t the most widely viewed movie in the theaters. It’s just really, really small movies that hardly anyone has seen that won’t be produced in HDR.
What helps us in general is that whether you shoot in film or you shoot with digital cinema cameras like Red Dragon, the Arri Alexa and others, they all are capable of a lot more dynamic range than these TVs have. They all have the color gamut coverage that we need. And also for visual effects, the power formats that we are using and the entire workflow that we are using are accommodating high dynamic range. But we are typically not pushing all theatrical releases in HDR. They are still done in the theatrical environment at 48 nits or 14 ft. lamberts peak brightness, but P3 color space. The first grading is all that happens on a theatrical projector, but then in post-production we make a different version up of the raw files that are HDR.
Because our theatrical distribution today isn’t in high dynamic range, our filmmakers don’t necessarily think about HDR when they shoot it. They are starting to think about it now. It depends on the filmmaker. So for example, for our new Ultra HD Blu-ray Deadpool, the director, Tim Miller, did not go out to shoot for HDR [it was added in post-production], but for Deadpool 2 they will take the HDR input into account.
By the way, Tim Miller and the star of Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds, saw this and are big fans of HDR.
The only thing is that because our distribution [into digital theaters] is not in high dynamic range, you can’t do everything you would want to do in HDR, because you can’t do something at the expense of the theatrical distribution. If there is a key plot point that you need to get across that’s done with lighting or with showing some detail or whatever, you have to make sure that the same element gets across in the theatrical release. Long term I think that is going to change when we have a similar HDR experience in the theater, which we don’t have today.
But bottom line, which cameras they use, how do you light it?, how do you shoot it,? what the look of the film is?, that’s up to the creative team and especially the director. We don’t really influence that. So even when they do the push process to create the high dynamic range version, still, the director rules. Whatever the look they are going to get out of a TV like this, that’s the look we are going to put in the market. We do try to explain to them that there is a big difference between [SDR and HDR displays], and that’s something they should pay attention to, and they typically do. But at the end of the day the last word is with the director.
When you say you are producing a movie in HDR does that automatically imply that they are also 4K?
Basse: For us it is. All of our HDR releases will come in 4K.
So, even if they don’t go out looking to shoot for HDR, they are using a camera that captures all of that information that’s needed to add it in post-production?
Basse: Yes. There are several aspects of this. There is shot composition, so that elements in the background and so forth that need to be in the shot are put there intentionally. That’s a decision they need to plan ahead of time. Then, a lot of these elements come out in the grading process. So what we found since we’ve been doing this is that a lot of the information that we need is in the raw camera file, in the raw negative. We just need to pull it out in the post-production process. So we are very fortunate to have this ability in these new cameras.
You say that you have no theatrical releases in HDR, but there are some. Dolby Vision, for example, comes out in theaters all of the time. Does Fox do any of that?
Basse: Yes we do. The Martian for example was done in Dolby Cinema [HDR, Dolby Atmos and other features], and The Revenant also had a Dolby Cinema release. But when you look at the parameters for Dolby Cinema and you look at this [points to an HDR-10 display], there is still quite a bit of difference in terms of peak brightness and a few other things. So, we are working with Dolby and a few other companies to try and figure out how do we get this experience in the theater?
Clearly, Dolby Cinema is a good step in the right direction, but we would like to expand it a little further. We also need a solution that fits in thousands and thousands of movie theaters and we don’t think that Dolby really has plans to do that at this point. It all comes down to the cost of this. It is a very expensive solution.
I’m not saying that we can’t get there from here, but we need something that is scalable and closer to this [Ultra HD Premium parameters]. Because, if there is too much of a difference between what this medium can do and what happens in the theater we will always have to go for the lower denominator in terms of artistic expression. It’s the same thing with high frame rate. Why would we want to do high frame rate, because there are certain shots that you cannot have today in 24 fps, such has fast pans, especially in 3D, impossible at 24 fps. But if a majority of your distribution is in 24 fps, which it is, then you still can’t have those shots.
How do you handle remastering old films?
We’re looking into the catalog right now to see what we can actually do. There are a number of issues with going back into the catalog. The biggest issue is the quality of the source material, so with Independence Day we got really lucky. It was shot in the mid Nineties and it was quality source material. But others, when you look at the differences between SDR and HDR, there are a number of creative decisions that go into doing this. So, in The Revenant how bright do you want the sun to be? How green do I want this foliage to look? Do I really want all of this detail in the foreground and to what degree does it distract from Leo walking back there, which is where you are supposed to look? Who makes these decisions? It can only be the director or the artists that worked on the film. So for a lot of the catalog titles the talent is no longer available to do it. That’s a little bit of problem. You don’t just pull everything out that they can.
Can you go back to the original film and scan it for 4K?
We’ve actually been doing that for quite a while. Since we started this back in, I believe it was 2010, whenever we had a title that we wanted to put on Blu-ray, whenever we pulled it out of the vault we would re-scan it in 4K. So, we have the material, but then the issues are: do the visual effects actually hold up, and you can even see some of the issues of 4K in standard dynamic range. Obviously, there are a lot of things we can work through, and we do want this to be a catalog play as well.
How many bits do you digitize a film in?
The scan is done in a 16-bit uncompressed workflow. It has limitations in what the scanner can do, but the workflow is done in the widest format possible for mastering.
With color gamut, an issue we have had has been getting the red right in London double decker buses. They have always been just a shade off. Now we can get it right. Another huge issue is the blue in the sky. In standard dynamic range skies might tend to look a little grayer, duller and milky but with high dynamic range that blue is much more saturated. There is such a thing as color volume. So you look at the color gamut, and you put your luminance capability on top of it. So this SDR display can show differentiated colors at certain luminance levels. If it gets too bright certain details all get crushed down into white. If it’s too dark it gets washed out into dull gray black. Then you get good colors, but only in a certain limited range. But on the HDR display, that range gets much, much bigger. So you can still get a bright image in the sky and still see the blue around it, where as in the SDR display you can either get bright or blue, but not both.
What is the UHDA working on next?
We continue working on this so for the content side right now, we have something in the works for scripted content for the post-production workflow. But we are now working on something that will also work for live broadcast content, where you don’t have the luxury of grading and post-production. So we are discussing that. And also, on the device side we are working on what specifications for Ultra HD Premium would look like for mobile devices, computer displays and all those kinds of things.
By Greg Tarr
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