The TV marketing buzz for 2015 has been all about adding high dynamic range (HDR) to the 4K Ultra HDTV experience.

Industry leading set manufacturers, content producers and video distributors are all scrambling to prepare solutions for getting specially encoded HDR 4K Ultra HD streaming movies (and possibly Ultra HD Blu-ray discs) into the market by the end of the year.

More on what’s going on to deliver HDR content to the home after the break:

To some enthusiasts, HDR and wide color gamut technology, which will accompany it, will bring the extra picture quality benefit to new generation 4K Ultra HDTV screens that some felt was lacking in early generation products.

In short, HDR offers deeper black level and greater contrast with detailed shadows and distinct highlights to make colors appear richer and, importantly, brighter. In addition, new supporting screens have been developed to deliver actual brightness to the image, and not just whiter whites. Most importantly, HDR allows for detailed brightness and deep blacks on the same screen at the same time, offering a picture that is more natural-looking to the eye.

Although systems for boosting dynamic range in standard content are available, the best implementation of HDR starts with new 4K UHD cameras capable of capturing up to 15 stops of light. The captured content is then specially produced and encoded as metadata placed on top of the main file carrying instructions to HDR-enabled TVs on how to use their dynamic range capabilities to present images on the screen. These new sets will add brightness boosting technologies to deliver not only more detail but brighter peak lighting output and darker black areas on the same screen.

To date, only a handful of TVs have been announced as supporting HDR content later this year. These include Samsung’s JS9500 series LED LCD TVs, Sony’s X930C, and X940C XBR series TVs, LG’s EG9600 series 4K OLED TVs, the Panasonic TC-65CX850U and Vizio Reference Series TVs.

The multi-industry Ultra HD Alliance is currently reviewing HDR proposals for its endorsement, with a popular spec. within the alliance supporting a single-layer metadata solution, while an alternate Dolby Vision system uses the option of a dual-layer or single-layer solution for delivering HDR with or without backward compatibility for standard dynamic range content.

Although Dolby Vision and the alliance specs are competing for adoption, UHD Alliance members have told HD Guru that multiple HDR formats are possible for adoption, as the technology adds little to the data rate. 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 HDR, wide color gamut, bit depth, frame rates, and immersive audio.

Technicolor revealed during the recent National Association of Broadcasters convention that it is working to ensure that there will be UHD Alliance HDR-spec.-based content available to play on supporting TVs and devices this year. Technicolor said that it has developed tools to create HDR content based on which ever specs are selected by the UHD Alliance.

Among the tools Technicolor has already developed for HDR are re-mastering systems for broadcasters and studios and an HDR plug-in for a largely automated color-grading system to be used with catalog titles.

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Similarly, Roland Vlaicu, Dolby Labs consumer imaging VP, recently told HD Guru that Dolby continues to enable various mastering facilities in Hollywood to master content in Dolby Vision, using new color-grading tools including plug-ins and Dolby Vision enhanced monitors.

The following is a look at what some content providers are working on to deliver HDR content to the home:

Amazon said it plans to bring HDR video to its Amazon Prime Instant Video streaming service sometime in 2015. Amazon is working with Hollywood studios, leading technology innovators and global consumer electronics companies. It has not specified which HDR system it would employ, but officials with the streaming service said the first HDR-encoded content it offers will be found in Amazon Originals programming later this year.

“HDR is the natural next step in our commitment to premium entertainment,” Michael Paull, Amazon VP of digital video, said in a statement.

Amazon plans to handle the HDR rollout in a similar fashion to the launch six months ago of movies and TV shows in 4K Ultra HD. The HDR content is expected to stream to Amazon’s video-streaming app on smart TVs that will support the same unspecified HDR format that Amazon will support.

M-Go revealed at International CES that it was planning to offer 4K Ultra HD streaming movies and television shows with HDR metadata sometime this year. The company, which is a member of the Ultra HD Alliance, recently confirmed for us that it intends to go with a single-layer HDR solution, and will have a full slate of HDR content to support next-generation TVs.

Netflix announced at the 2015 International CES that it plans to deliver HDR streams to LG TVs at an unspecified time. Scott Mirer, Netflix VP, told HD Guru that it is possible that Netflix would support more than one HDR format, including the UHD Alliance’s open single-layer standard and some version of Dolby Vision, although the company would prefer consensus. Mirer said both systems differ primarily in their encode processes. Mirer said he expects Netflix to begin delivering HDR-content sometime this year.

Samsung’s U.S. marketing team could not confirm for us a recent report saying that the company is planning to soon offer a couple of unnamed feature films with HDR metadata via a Samsung Video Pack. But a company spokesman did say that Samsung has arranged to provide clips from the upcoming Steven Spielberg feature film “Jurassic World” for demonstration on Samsung SUHD TV sets in 500 Best Buy stores across the country until the movie appears in theaters June 12th.

According to the spokesman, the “Jurassic World” (see logo pictured above) 4K Ultra HD demo clips will include HDR and a wide color gamut (DCI-P3 standard) which will be demonstrated on connected Samsung JS9500 and JS9000 series TVs.

Samsung has significant brand placement in the movie, which includes a shot of a Samsung Innovation Center in the film. Samsung, which will also include “Jurassic World” footage in its global marketing campaigns, released a “behind the scenes” video on You Tube about it Monday.

Vudu said that later this year it will be the first streaming service to offer six movies produced in the Dolby Vision HDR system for Warner Bros. The Dolby Vision-enhanced titles will include dual-layer streaming, with backward compatible Rec-709 and standard dynamic range encapsulated in the overall stream, along with Dolby Vision enhancement on top of it. Vizio said that the Vizio Internet Apps smart TV platform on forthcoming Vizio Reference Series 4K Ultra HD TVs will carry the Vudu over-the-top movie app capable of streaming the Dolby Vision enabled titles.

Warner Bros. said those first titles will include: “Edge of Tomorrow,” “Into the Storm,” “The Lego Movie,” “Man of Steel,” “Sherlock Holmes” and “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” with more to follow.

The HDR titles have been re-mastered using Dolby Vision on the FilmLight Baselight system, and includes “greater brightness in a fuller palette of rich new colors and deeper nuanced darks never before seen on TV,” according to a statement issued by Warner Bros.

Broadcast television networks might even be supporting HDR content in the near future, once the new ATSC 3.0 digital TV broadcast platform is approved for use. Technicolor and Sinclair Broadcast Group recently demonstrated a live broadcast of 4K Ultra HD with HDR based on proposed ATSC 3.0 technologies.

ATSC 3.0 is the next-generation digital broadcast platform currently in development for implementation in the United States, it will skip over ATSC 2.0, combining proposals for that system with additional advancements.

Many in the video engineering community endorse HDR as an important element to the advancement and success of 4K Ultra HDTV broadcasting since its benefits are more readily discernible than 4K UHD resolution alone.

HDR uses a fraction of the data rate required for higher resolution and higher frame rates. Comparatively, Ultra HD resolution signals require up to a 16x greater data rate for about a half-grade of improvement, while doubling the frame rate yields a full grade of improvement for a lower payload increase.

Sinclair/Technicolor HDR broadcast demonstrations used Sinclair’s experimental orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) transmission system, which is a frequency-division multiplexing (FDM) scheme used as a digital multi-carrier modulation method. A large number of closely spaced orthogonal sub-carrier signals are used to carry data on several parallel data streams or channels.

Technicolor said the demonstration used a transmission under real-world conditions outside of a laboratory, and that it successfully delivered high-quality HDR content broadcast at HD and 4K/UHD resolutions in a single-layer with backwards compatible standard dynamic range.

Both HDR and legacy devices, including fixed position TVs and mobile devices, were all able to receive and display the broadcast signal. The system was based on open standards (HEVC, SHVC, 3D Audio from MPEG-H) plus HDR, with MMT and DASH transport streaming standards, and Technicolor’s Staggercast and Fast Channel Change technologies that ensure “consumers do not lose audio capabilities even when reception and video are not seamless experiences,” Technicolor said.

Mobile tests were said to have yielded a received signal at up to 60 miles away and, separately, a mobile broadcast signal was received by a device moving at up to 120 miles/hour, Technicolor said.

Technicolor said the demonstration proved its HDR video solutions support broadcast at HD and 4K resolutions, as well as delivering standard dynamic range and transmission to mobile devices.

By Greg Tarr

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