Colorfront, FilmLight Will Also Support HDR in Post Tools; Technicolor Advances Rival Technology

4K was the buzzword at NAB, but even as the industry marched toward ever-higher resolution for acquisition, Dolby Laboratories was making inroads with another approach to the pixel problem — images with higher dynamic range, rather than simply higher resolution.

In the weeks leading up the show, FilmLight announced that it was integrating the new Dolby Vision platform for high-dynamic-range (HDR) imaging into its Baselight color-grading system. At NAB, Colorfront said its new Colorfront Engine for on-set dailies and transcoding would allow mastering for HDR-capable displays, including those that support Dolby Vision encoding. And this week, SGO announced that its Mistika system will support Dolby Vision in v8.2, which is due to ship this fall.

“Dolby Vision delivers vivid imagery,” said SGO Director of Global Sales and Operations Geoff Mills in a prepared statement, “and we’re absolutely thrilled to be one of the first in our industry to make this technology a reality.”

Basically, Dolby Vision is a technology for encoding pictures with dramatically increased brightness, contrast, and color gamut. It involves some special sauce on the mastering side, allowing colorists to dial in looks with much greater brightness and dynamic range, as well as on the display side, where special hardware (such as an LED backlighting system incorporating local dimming) will be required to reproduce the full range of information encoded in the image. It can be used to enhance image quality at both HD and UHD resolution.

“Our goal was to give creative teams the freedom to use the full gamut of colors, peak brightness and local contrast with the confidence that those will be reproduced faithfully on televisions that feature Dolby Vision,” said Dolby Senior Director of Broadcast Imaging Roland Vlaicu in a statement released at the time of the FilmLight announcement. “That’s why we designed it as an end-to-end solution, from content creation to distribution and playback.”

Dolby demonstrated a prototype display in New York earlier this year, and the results were impressive. The screen was not especially large, but the contrast of the image seemed to have been dramatically enhanced, with deep blacks and lots of visible detail in the low end of the image. Meanwhile, hot spots in the image seemed incredibly bright, almost like a light bulb had been turned on behind the screen. The demo room wasn’t set up for critical viewing, but the image clearly leaped beyond what’s possible with current LCD displays.

Dolby handed out copies of the Oscar-winning musical Chicago on Blu-ray Disc to press, saying the new transfer had been mastered using Dolby Vision tools in the color suite, but without a Dolby Vision-compliant BD player for playback or a Dolby Vision-capable TV for display, it was unclear what Dolby Vision was supposed to bring to the table.

That’s not to say that Dolby has the only HDR technology. Technicolor has been showing its own HDR demos this year, using technology developed as part of a research program with partners including AccepTV, Binocle 3D, DxO Labs, and Polymorph Software. Technicolor says it has captured original content with more than 20 stops of dynamic range (according to one report, this was achieved by using two Sony F65s, each capturing a different 10-stop range of exposure on an HDR camera rig built by Binocle), is developing extensions to existing codecs that will allow HDR delivery to consumers, and is working on a system that uses inverse tone-mapping for “dynamic range expansion” — kind of the HDR equivalent of a 2D-to-3D conversion — allowing legacy content to be viewed in an HDR mode on capable displays. Technicolor sees H.265/HEVC technology, which is rated as approximately 50 percent more efficient than its H.264/AVC predecessor, as essential for carrying the increased data required for HDR imaging.

Both companies are obviously angling to get a foothold for HDR before UHD TVs become commonplace, in order to have a better chance at seeing the technology built into new sets as well as considered for inclusion in standards for UHD encoding and broadcasting. Dolby may have the upper hand, as Sharp, TCL and Vizio are said to be readying Dolby Vision-ready TVs for release by the end of the year.

Dolby Vision: