The process of selecting standards and specifications for next-generation 4K Ultra HDTVs supporting picture quality advances, including wide color gamut (WCG) and high dynamic range (HDR), continues within multi-industry organizations including the Ultra HD Alliance and the Consumer Electronics Association.

For an update on how things are progressing and how quickly HDR content can be produced after decisions are reached, we caught up with Mark Turner, Technicolor business development VP.

Read more of our interview with Mark Turner of Technicolor after the jump:

Experts believe that HDR and WCG will deliver picture quality enhancements that will present a visible difference comparable to the transition from analog to high-definition television. Among other things, HDR will  bring out details in areas of high brightness and dark blacks to make 4K Ultra HD images look more like the natural world, while WCG will increase color accuracy, particularly in shades of green, blue-green, yellow-green and reds.

Two of the biggest contributors to the HDR standards-setting process and the developers of various tools that will be used to encode HDR content are Dolby Labs and Technicolor, both members of the UHD Alliance. Dolby has announced plans for a system with the option of using dual layers of metadata to support both new HDR-enabled TVs and legacy sets that aren’t equipped to display it. Content owners would also have the option of using a single layer with HDR support alone.

Dolby is contributing to the next-generation standards for creating, encoding and displaying HDR data, and it is working individually with companies including Vizio and Warner Bros. to deliver its approach on its own.

Technicolor is looking for a more “open solution,”  Turner said, adding that his company’s driving belief is that “no one company can build the infrastructure for future storytelling experiences alone.”

The following is our interview with Turner:

Q:   Which HDR format(s) does Technicolor support for industry adoption through the UHD Alliance and elsewhere?

We support an open HDR standard that complies with the UHD Alliance specification and can be used on any display. This should include SMPTE 2086 metadata to allow the receiving device to understand and adjust the content according to the mastering display. We don’t believe our content-owning customers are best served by creating proprietary HDR grades that only work within certain closed ecosystems.

Q:   We’ve heard that once an HDR format specification is selected for broad-based distribution, Technicolor will have tools available for postproduction, encoding etc. Can you explain what these tools are, how they will work and how quickly they can be brought up to speed to begin content production?

A: Technicolor offers solutions for every segment of the HDR content creation and delivery ecosystem, including HDR grading services, modems optimized for streaming complex content and HDR set-top boxes. This is a part of our ongoing commitment to enable HDR across all aspects of content creation and distribution.

In April we announced an expansion to Technicolor’s color grading service offering, which now includes native HDR grading for movies, TV shows and commercials. HDR color grading services are available at our Hollywood location (that is from RAW or ungraded assets) and we have already started delivering to studio and TV clients. We will be rolling out globally later this year.

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We also announced an Intelligent Tone Management plugin for major color grading platforms for content that is not traditionally created at Technicolor facilities. This plugin is on track to be broadly available later this summer across multiple popular color grading platforms including Autodesk’s Lustre and an OpenFX version for Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve. The Intelligent Tone Management plugin speeds the work of colorists by automatically moving Standard Dynamic Range content into an HDR space and auto keying the image into highlights, mid tones and shadows to allow an unparalleled level of control to create an HDR ‘look’. The new Technicolor Intelligent Tone Management plugin will accelerate the creation of HDR content by giving broadcasters and content owners new options to efficiently produce HDR content in real time.

To make HDR content delivery a reality for network service providers, we are also developing the world’s first UHD, High-Frame-Rate (p60), HDR set-top box. Designed on an open standard that ensures the creative vision behind every piece of content is seamlessly delivered to the consumer as intended, the Technicolor 4Kp60 optimizes and simplifies the operator transition to UHD. The box decodes both HDR and Standard Dynamic Range (SDR) versions of the same content using Technicolor’s backwards-compatible, single-stream HEVC solution for HDR delivery and integrates seamlessly with content graded to the open standards of the UHD Alliance. With this solution, operators will be able to deploy a single set-top box that will accommodate both current SDR customers and continue to support them through the transition to next generation video technologies.

With the understanding that delivery of HDR content also requires increased bandwidth, we have developed the DOCSIS 3.1 MediaAccess TC4400 cable device. Currently in lab testing with major cable providers, the device is one of the first products to utilize DOCSIS 3.1 technology to enable downstream speeds of up to 5 Gbit/s and upstream speeds of up to 1 Gbit/s while conserving bandwidth and maintaining energy efficiency.

Q: Can you say how many different HDR encode tools (software/hardware) are out there now and will likely be used for HDR content production?

A: Many HDR production tools, such as editing and color-grading systems, can already be used to manipulate HDR images without modification. The challenges tend to be around the supply of HDR professional monitors that allow creatives to see the whole dynamic range that they’re working on. With regard to encoders for delivery, HEVC encoders must be able to support HDR EOTFs (Electro-Optical Tranfer Function, used to turn digital code into visible light), 10 bits, UHD resolution, a Rec. 2020 color space, and SMPTE 2086 metadata. We’re working with some of the largest encoding partners to optimize their products to be able to offer a better HDR signal and also integrate an SDR grade.

Q: Will these systems also work with wide color gamut material? How is that going to be added to the file?

Utilizing wide color gamut is mainly a case of using a display in production that allows a creative artist to see a broader range of color. Currently we’re grading HDR content in a DCI-P3 color space (with a D65 white point instead of cinema’s D55 white point) and that is contained within a Rec. 2020 container. As there are no production monitors that can effectively create all of the Rec. 2020 color space and we can’t grade to a percentage of a specification, we are using P3 for which we can be assured we’re getting 100 percent of the coverage on our pro-monitors.

Q: What’s Technicolor’s position on backward compatibility with standard dynamic range products and is a single-layer approach better than a dual-layer to accomplish this?

A: Direct backwards compatibility is a key feature for pay-TV operators, broadcasters and even OTT providers who want to use only one file that can deliver both HDR and SDR. The word direct is key because the SDR content must be viewable by currently deployed HEVC decoders without modification.

Technicolor successfully demonstrated a single-layer solution (which requires only one MPEG HEVC encoder and decoder on the device) with Sinclair broadcasting. That system was designed for the new ATSC 3.0 standard for U.S. and Korean broadcast systems and delivered 1080p HDR and SDR in a single stream (plus an enhancement layer that added in 4K resolution for those consumers/devices that could decode it). SDR devices receive the HD resolution content they receive today and HDR devices receive the HDR signal, all within one HEVC-compliant stream. Our Connected Home division is also testing a set-top box that offers the same functionality with pay-TV operators.

Q: How many HDR formats do you ultimately expect to be approved for broad-based use and with which delivery methods (streaming, UHD Blu-ray etc)?

A: We expect availability of UHD Blu-ray discs later this year as well as OTT services offering HDR content on streaming and download. M-GO, which is a joint venture between Technicolor and Dreamworks Animation, has already announced an HDR OTT (over-the-top) service will be coming in 2015. We expect the first pay-TV operators to deploy non-linear HDR services by the fall in various markets with a broader rollout and linear channels next year. In late 2016 and 2017 the broadcast systems should also start deploying HDR services, all of which will likely be based on MPEG HEVC 10-bit delivery.

Q: Will streaming or UHD Blu-ray make for better HDR delivery platforms?

A: We believe there’s room for all players. Blu-ray discs are designed to offer the highest bitrate and therefore quality and we expect UHD Blu-ray to be no different. Alternatively, OTT and pay-TV services have more bandwidth constraints but balance that with larger libraries of content and instant accessibility on multiple devices

Q: How many camera stops do you expect the final home-delivered HDR solutions to support? Are there any particular camera solutions Technicolor endorses for HDR capture?

A: We don’t endorse any particular camera system for HDR but we do recommend cinematographers capture 14 stops or more of dynamic range so that HDR grading for the home can be delivered in the region of 8-10 f stops (which is significantly better than the 5-6 f stops we’re seeing today).

By Greg Tarr

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