Multi-Industry Ultra High Definition TV Alliance May Be Planning Your Next TV
We’re only about four years into the market launch of high resolution 4K Ultra HDTV, but TV manufacturers, content producers and engineering consultants made it clear at International CES a few weeks ago that we’ve only just started to see what this new display ecosystem can deliver.
Learn the details and read an interview with a UHD Alliance member spokesperson after the break.
Platform stakeholders want to prove that Ultra HD is about more than just pixels, and whether or not you’re in the market for the best picture quality an Ultra HD TV can deliver today or tomorrow, you might want to consider what the industry has coming just ahead.
Since the launch of the first 4K Ultra HD sets, content producers, engineers and the media have debated whether or not the average consumer is really deriving a perceivable benefit from typical TV screen sizes capable of producing four times the resolution (1920×1080 vs. 3840×2160 pixels) of the previous Full HD benchmark.
To help put some of those concerns to rest, set manufacturers have started developing UHD TVs that address other areas of the picture to make them look more realistic, such as adding more colors from a wider swath of the visual color spectrum, and more detail in the deep black and bright white ranges of the image. Some of these areas are being addressed in new technologies like Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) display panels, LED/LCD TVs using quantum dot technology and other approaches.
The results are as varied as the different approaches in play, and what has been glaringly lacking is the absence of input from the content side of the equation.
For this reason, representatives from multiple companies in multiple industries have put aside their differences to work together to develop a best of breed framework. This so-named UHD (Ultra HD) Alliance is seeking to create a functionally competitive environment through which TV manufacturers and content producers can enhance the images produced by all of those extra pixels with new levels of expanded color bit depth, a wider and more natural color palette, higher frame rates, new 3D audio sound and the inclusion of techniques for adding high dynamic range for greater image detail. (See CES Recap: Thoughts On Color for more on this).
Ironically, these added side benefits aren’t necessarily 4K Ultra HD resolution dependent. The same or similar results can be achieved on Full HDTVs. But from a business standpoint, adding those extra benefits to a technology treading dangerously close to commoditization wouldn’t give manufacturers a lot of room for profit and could add prohibitive cost to a low-margin display technology, when time and again the market has shown bigger resolution spec numbers inspire TV upgrades. In time, however, many of the benefits derived from this body will undoubtedly move into mid- and even low-end ranges of the TV market. Just don’t hold your breath waiting.
The alliance was spearheaded by Samsung and is initially comprised of a number of leading companies including: LG, Panasonic, Sharp and Sony; major Hollywood studios including: Disney, Fox, and Warner Bros.; programming distributors: Netflix and DirecTV, with others expected to join. The group also includes key input from technology standards and testing organizations such as Technicolor and Dolby that have long advocated some of the enhancements sought by the group, and have already started working with some set makers and content producers using proprietary approaches. The body is also set to create a quality assurance brand or logo backed by independent certification to help shoppers easily identify complying products and software.
Whether or not these disparate participants can quickly settle on a final consensus is yet to be seen. But for an industry that isn’t always known for making the launch of new platforms easier, understandable or fully satisfying to the end user, the intended mission of the Ultra HD Alliance, on the surface, makes a lot of sense. After all, what good is it to have a TV capable of presenting richer and truer colors with more detail if the content it’s showing is mastered using a different set of criteria?
John Taylor, VP of communications for Alliance member LG Electronics and chairman of the Consumer Electronics Association’s (CEA) 4K Ultra HD Communications Working Group, another body tasked with similar educational outreach goals, cautioned that the UHD Alliance should not be looked at as a standards setting body, but rather a guide post for those organizations like CEA, SMPTE and others, that will develop final standards for the industries. The Alliance will give all of the different parties a way to look at all of the proposals in play and coalesce around the best (or most agreeable) open approaches for all.
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With the first meetings scheduled to begin shortly, HD Guru touched base with a key representative from one of the member organizations – Mark Turner, Technicolor business development and partnerships VP – about his company’s perspective and expectations on the value of HDR, 4K UHD and the UHD Alliance. On their own, Alliance members Technicolor and Dolby have proposed delivering similar benefits from the inclusion of HDR, but using different methods and parameters. The following is a quick Q-&-A overview on what we should expect from this collaboration:
HD Guru: What is the goal of the UHD Alliance exactly? How do you plan to come to a consensus and how quickly?
Mark Turner: The goal of the UHD Alliance is to define what UHD should mean beyond just spatial resolution and to establish and communicate quality standards for new video technologies that will allow industry players to align and seamlessly integrate their offerings. Exactly which components form that specification are still in development as part of the Alliance‘s v1 work.
We’re seeing that everyone in the Alliance is in agreement that we need to agree on a standard and to do so with relative speed. The belief at Technicolor is that no one company can build the infrastructure for future storytelling experiences alone, so an open, collaborative framework is essential to mobilizing innovation and promoting integration by the entire value chain. Companies can then create and build using the UHD Alliance standards with the confidence that their offerings will interoperate seamlessly.
The UHD Alliance will establish a minimum level of viable specifications that will promise consumers a high level of quality. One of our objectives is to allow innovation to bloom on top of those specifications, so as the technologies continue to evolve, we anticipate companies will strive for even higher levels of excellence. The Alliance is currently working to establish specifications and best practices for so-far-undefined home entertainment features like HDR video and Wider Color Gamuts, for which you can expect to see results in 2015.
HD Guru: Why is expanding the color gamut important?
Mark Turner: At Technicolor, we believe there’s a huge benefit to widening the color gamut beyond the current REC-709 specification (which is 25 years old this year), but it’s hard to explain to a consumer because they don’t know what they’ve been missing. The exact red of a London phone booth or green of a freeway sign in Los Angeles are both examples of colors that do not currently exist in the display color space. That means that whenever they are represented on TVs, consumers are actually not seeing them as they are in real life. A wider color gamut will render colors more accurately and allow consumers to enjoy content as the creator intended, which has always been one of Technicolor’s central goals.
HD Guru: Why is adding HDR important, and how is this best accomplished though both hardware and software?
Mark Turner: While increasing brightness plays a role in adding detail, at Technicolor, we believe that enhancing dark shadow images is equally important. HDR technology allows us to both raise the ceiling and drop the floor, to the point where dark blacks and gray gradients reveal incredible detail that the consumer has never before been able to see. Expanding the dynamic range also has a side benefit of increasing the available saturation of any particular color, so even without expanding the color gamut, HDR can create richer colors in addition to higher contrast.
Color is really a volume with luminance on the y axis. As you raise the luminance, the pyramid of colors increases and more colors can be accurately reflected before they get to higher brightness levels, at which point where they wash out and become de-saturated. This is why blue skies in TV shows are normally closer to white/grey because there is insufficient blue in the REC-709 color volume at the highest brightness levels (100-nits in the “Standard Dynamic Range” world).
For HDR to be truly effective you can’t just provide HDR hardware because the creative needs to ‘re-imagine’ the content with that extra contrast and colors. HDR content therefore needs to be specifically graded for HDR devices and that is why the UHD Alliance is so important – so the content industry can agree on a new interoperable format, with CE manufacturers in the room, so that consumers can be assured their content will always play.
HD Guru: One of the issues for content distributors has concerned the need for approvals from directors and studios on settings for HDR and colors before a title is mastered and encoded. Will the UHD Alliance offer a quick way of achieving this?
Mark Turner: While HDR re-grading (as it is a different ‘look’) does normally require a new approval pass, we don’t expect this to be a major issue. At Technicolor, most creatives we work with are very excited about the potential for these new technologies.
HD Guru: Will the Alliance deal with TV power consumption levels and the need have the new picture quality criteria meet maximum power usage standards set by the government? Will any government agency have a seat in these meetings:
HD Guru: The Alliance views power consumption as an important consideration for next-generation home entertainment technologies. Specifications up for discussion within the Alliance meetings are confidential.
HD Guru: How will you approach sound in setting next generation standards?
Mark Turner: At Technicolor we believe audio, and especially 3D audio such as under the open standard MPEG-H, is an important component of the next-generation home entertainment experience so should be a component of the UHD Alliance quality mix.
HD Guru: What role will the UHD Alliance have in testing and approval to assure products bearing its logo will fit within the levels of acceptable performance?
Mark Turner: The UHD Alliance will establish a minimum level of viable specifications that will promise consumers a level of quality and use a peer-review process to establish standardized formats. Exactly how those standards will be administered needs to be decided by the Alliance members.
HD Guru: Will the UHD Alliance have any involvement in patent pools and technology licensing? If so, can you explain?
Mark Turner: At launch the Alliance specified embracing standards that are open and allow flexibility in the market, but it’s too early to tell exactly which open standards will be selected by the Alliance. A royalty model will ensure no one particular company owns part of the ecosystem and that the standards remain open and accessible for all players.
by Greg Tarr
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