Technicolor Sees Adaptation, Distribution As Keys To HDR Success
Although it is one of the least talked about flavors of high dynanic range (HDR), “Advanced HDR by Technicolor” (and Philips) is gaining momentum as a broadcaster-friendly system that may ultimately help to bring live 4K UHD/HDR broadcasts into consumer living rooms.
On a recent visit to Hollywood, HD Guru and a group of television reviewers were brought by host LG Electronics to the offices of Technicolor for an in-depth discussion on the joint Technicolor and Philips Advanced HDR system which has been blessed along with HLG and Dolby Vision as candidates for use in the new ATSC 3.0 broadcast system going to trials this year.
During our visit, Kirk Barker, Technicolor senior VP of emerging products, discussed the recent advances of his company’s dynamic metadata-based HDR system and how it may soon fit into your television shopping considerations for 4K Ultra HD and HDR performance. Thus far, Advanced HDR by Technicolor is available in select LG 2017 and 2018 premium 4K TVs, and will be in select Philips-branded U.S. televisions in 2019.
But activity is moving swiftly, and the system may soon be a requirement for televisions with next-generation terrestrial broadcast tuners, so its support may well become an important factor in a few year’s time.
The following is an over view from Barker and a Q&A discussion that took place last week:
Kirk Barker (pictured at top), Technicolor: “Advanced HDR by Technicolor is a technology developed by the Technicolor Research Group in France over the past four years. Unlike Technicolor’s picture quality services that are applied both at the production end and in the picture settings of the television, Advanced HDR by Technicolor is a system, which is unlike competing HDR formats, like Dolby Vision or HDR10+.
“Advanced HDR by Technicolor is compatible with those other technologies, meaning it will interface with HDR10, HLG, etc. to give the best solution for two things to the customer: distribution and adaption.
Adapt For Success
“Dolby Vision as a base-level system has two Electro Optical Transfer Functions (EOTFs), which are Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) and Perceptual Quantization (PQ). PQ is the basis for HDR10 — these are the areas in which pictures are graded. These in essence give a different curve for HDR in order to represent more bits and more light in the image.
“In addition to those base-level systems is something called Advanced HDR. This employs another technology called dynamic metadata. On a frame-by-frame basis, this transmits some of the characteristics of the image out of band describing what that frame should really look like.
“The purpose of that is adapation. What that allows you to do — and it is true for HDR10+, Dolby Vision and the Technicolor system — is to take the reference HDR signal which is the image as it appears on a reference monitor in the production suite, and adapts it to the capabilities of the particular TV. A TV might be able to reach 600 nits of peak brightness instead of 1,000 nits, and the color gamut might not reach 90% of Rec. 2020 like the Sony X300 OLED reference monitor, but the system takes that reference signal and then adapts (tone maps) it in a good way to the local TV.
“So, Dolby Vision, HDR10+ and Advanced HDR by Technicolor are all trying to do the same thing — take the reference signal and adapt it to the display in the home. We just think we do it better than everyone else.
“The distribution part of the system deals with how you get the reference signal encoded and distributed across the network in a reasonable way so that everyone can see it.
“There are a couple of different ways of doing that. Our system works with a standard dynamic range (SDR) layer plus metadata or an HDR10 layer plus metadata. Either way, it gives you a lot of different options to do so in a way that is efficient for that particular broadcaster.
“In terms of how that is going to go from an adoption perspective, in ATSC 3.0 there are two systems with dynamic metadata currently in the January version of the standard — Advanced HDR by Technicolor and Dolby Vision. Samsung’s HDR10+ has not progressed to that point at this point in time.
Two Dynamic Range Flavors In One
“Dolby Vision works with the HDR10-base layer, which in that variant basically means that you start with an HDR10-based signal and adapt down. Ours starts with an SDR base layer and it allows you to adapt up. The benefit of that is that you don’t need to simulcast an SDR signal and a second HDR signal in order to deliver the broadcast to the widest possible audience, because not only do we allow the broadcaster to deliver and SDR based layer plus metadata, but also an HDR10-based layer plus metadata, the same as both Dolby Vision and HDR10+.
“With our system you can choose which ever way you want to do it. If you don’t want to simulcast two channels then you use SDR base-layer, if you don’t care about the native [SDR] signal then you transmit HDR10 base layer plus adaption. The same applies to HLG. If you want to broadcast an HLG signal it will come through our system fine, as well.
“So what we’ve produced is a system that will allow you to adapt from any of these EOTF-based systems and allow you to transmit in an efficient way that maintains the quality that you’ve come to expect from Technicolor. What is most important to us is when the signal gets to the living room TV screen that it really reflects that intent of what the artist produced in the film or video production.
License To Thrill
“We are now licensing our system to TV manufacturers, including LG, and to set-top box manufacturers. We also license it on the production side to manufacturers. On the production side we also have technologies that allow you to take normal SDR and upconvert it.
“LG was the first TV manufacturer to license our Advance HDR by Technicolor system. It also supports HLG, Dolby Vision, and HDR10, giving their sets the widest range of HDR profile support on the market today,” Barker concluded.
Q: With this wide range of SDR and HDR support options, is Advanced HDR by Technicolor then like a container?
A: “Yes. With the normal data that’s in the stream you have what’s called the BUI, which says it is SDR or HDR or whatever. Then in our metadata, itself, we have another flag of information that provides the instructions we need in order to convert from either color gamut or from SDR to HDR as part of it. So, yes, it’s a container, but it is also the particular technologies that describe the metadata.
“Think back to what Dolby Vision is doing. All of them, from the encode side, are trying to get the essence of the image conveyed into their metadata. That metadata has information that describes how to present different things about the picture. That on the encode side is what we do to move from SDR to HDR. I guarantee that when you take the reconstructed HDR image and compare that to the HDR that you have natively, you can’t tell the difference. That’s how good it is.”
Q: How does this system work with live on-the-fly broadcast content?
A: “Advanced HDR by Technicolor doesn’t have to be added in post production. It is something that tends to sit right beside the HEVC encoder, so it has a tremendous advantage there. But its strongest advantage is that it’s agnostic of other technologies. It will work with multiple things. When we recently did a Lakers game, we did one production in S-Log-3, one in PQ and one HLG. We don’t care. Our system will take that and translate it efficiently giving the operator options in terms of distribution. As a system we believe our’s is much more flexible than any one of the other independents alone. As for how it works with HLG, you can do more if you have dynamic information on top of the basic curve than you can with just the basic curve.”
Q: When are we going to actually see Advance HDR by Technicolor in use on broadcasts?
A: “We have relationships with a bunch of different providers, who I can’t discuss just yet. Part of it is dependent on how quickly ATSC 3.0 rolls out with the HDR stuff. So, the ATSC 3.0 trials that are slated for this year, they are going to start off without HDR, and will move in later this year with HDR. It probably won’t be until sometime next year when ATSC 3.0 really starts to roll out. Over-the-top (OTT) can happen earlier than that. The real issue is getting a lot more television manufacturers like LG to add it so we have a broader platform in terms of reception. For Netflix, Comcast, DirecTV or someone like that, if this isn’t happening on 30 platforms, it just doesn’t make sense.”
Q: Are there any limitations with HDMI for Advanced HDR by Technicolor?
A: “The short answer is yes [with HDMI 2.0a/b], and the long answer is it can be adapted with dynamic metadata. …There is a backdoor method in the Blu-ray spec. where you can still align out of the video frame. And when I say dynamic metadata, I mean all three HDR profiles: ours, Dolby Vision and HDR10+. The way Ultra HD Blu-ray players transmit Dolby Vision is that they still that lower bit. That same standard supports our version as well, through the earlier integration of Philips HDR into Advanced HDR by Technicolor, and HDR10+. In our system, you have the choice of either reconstructing the HDR within the set-top box or transmitting it over the HDMI to the TV. With our system you can terminate within the set-top box itself, so if you have a TV that doesn’t support one of those methods of metadata, it will terminate there and it looks just like HDR10 with static metadata going to the TV.”
Q: Where does the revenue come from for Advanced HDR
A: “The lion’s share comes from the TV and set-top box manufacturers. One of the things we’ve had to do to enable the industry is to do some conversion and up-conversion technology on the production side as well. On the CE side, the first you have to do is get into the SoC manufacturers and at this point we are in about a dozen different vendors and at least one of their SoCs, so the total number of SoCs is about 20 to 25 right now. We also have licensed our up-conversion technology to particular box manufacturers – Cobalt being an example of that — for the production van market for example where the will take an SDR signal and up-convert it or down convert it.
“The Dodgers broadcasters were super important because it was the first single-truck production, as far as we are aware of, that was able to do HDR and SDR. That’s huge, because in earlier trials with the Lakers and earlier Dodgers productions we had to use two trucks. In the Dodgers’ trial we did last July, we did everything in HDR, and converted from HDR to SDR for the main feed sent around the world. And preserving all the tones and everything in that process is pretty darned hard. But what that trial meant was that HDR production was now viable because you no longer have to have two trucks, doubling your investment and all of that. I think you will start to see HDR broadcast stuff coming very quickly now. So, all that you have to do now is add one or two boxes and a Sony X300 HDR production monitor,” said Barker.
By Greg Tarr
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