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One of the more interesting seminars at CE Week 2015 was moderated by video industry experts Joe Kane (CEO, Joe Kane Productions) and Robert Kisor (Entertainment Technology Consultant). Using one of the only commercially available television models capable of displaying High Dynamic Range (HDR) images (Samsung’s JS9500), Kane and Kisor demoed HDR and discussed its importance to the future of Ultra High Definition (UHD) video displays. The following is a summary of take-home messages from the event.




Pixels Are Nice, But They Aren’t the Leap
The dirtiest secret in the 4K realm is that additional pixels (in this case, millions of additional pixels) aren’t a standalone game changer. While I admit that’s a very broad statement, speaking in general terms: it’s true. The plain and simple fact is that absolute resolution is only truly impactful for eyes that are in close proximity to a display. As those eyes move away from a display, resolution fades and its impact becomes diminished. Of course, resolution does play a role for the largest of screens – I’d never argue that fact – but standard 1080p resolution remains more than adequate for typical screen sizes and seating distances. If you’re unconvinced, just refer to last year’s Value Electronics’ Flat Panel Shootout results (here’s a hint: two 1080p sets outshined UHD competition, proving that the mere presence of extra pixels doesn’t automatically elevate UHD televisions to picture-perfect status). On more than one occasion, Kane intimated that the industry still has a ways to go before UHD becomes a desirable consumer format. He (like many others) believes that HDR is the golden ticket. Unlike resolution, HDR’s impact isn’t beholden to a specified seating distance and doesn’t require perfect vision to appreciate, but it does radically change how content is captured, displayed, and viewed.


Your Blu-ray Collection Will Look Fine on a UHD Television
Let’s take a second to ignore HDR and focus on Blu-ray movie libraries. One of the bigger letdowns during the standard definition to high definition transition was the obsolescence of DVD movie libraries. I’ve never been a fan of watching upconverted DVDs on a 1080p display. Some can do it…I can’t. While it looks better than 480p on an old CRT, it doesn’t come close to High Definition quality. And once you’ve had a taste of HD, it’s nearly impossible to go back. That fact, and that fact alone, left me wondering if 1080p material would look middling on a UHD television. Thankfully, upconverted 1080p video looks fantastic. It more than passes my smell test and I’d be willing to bet a hefty wager that most eyes wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between 1080p and 4K source material on a UHD display (from normal seating distances). This, of course, will change over time, especially once UHD content is laced with HDR and a wider color gamut. Once that happens, comparative 1080p source material will have a muted and flatter appearance. But, rest assured, your Blu-ray library still has legs that will carry it deep into the future.


High Dynamic Range is More Than Just Brightness
Most of us think of HDR in terms of available brightness and significantly higher levels of contrast within the brightest and darkest areas of an image. Both Kane and Kisor stressed, however, that HDR also increases available colors, allowing richer shadings within colors, and color stability as an image’s brightness increases. The resulting combination creates vibrancy and a “pseudo-depth” that’s different than anything currently available in the television market. Kane demoed a set of original source material (sunsets over mountains, sunlight shinning between trees, etc.) shot with HDR. It was absolutely stunning to view. Shadow detail was profound (even hidden within the darkest of shadows), color gradations in the brightest areas of images were apparent, and the images had refreshingly discernable depth. Seeing that demo material was more than enough to pull me onto the bandwagon.


New HDR Source Material Will Look Better Than Remastered Versions of Older Films
Part of Kane and Kisor’s demo included a side-by-side comparison of the film Exodus: God and Kings. One version was remastered with HDR while the other was a standard 1080p feed. Without question, differences between the two films were evident. The standard 1080p version appeared to have muted colors, with an overall grayness to the image. The HDR version had noticeably added depth, shimmering colors within fine details (which were missing on the 1080p version), and richer detail contained within darker shadows. It really was a case of “muted” versus “pop.”

My immediate concern became the possibility of eye fatigue from prolonged viewing of the HDR version in a darkened room. I asked Kane about my suspicion and he confirmed that older material remastered with HDR might, in fact, have a certain harshness factor. He said that new material would be much easier on the eyes because directors will shoot with HDR in mind, which tells me that studios will go through a learning curve with HDR. The good news is that movie houses and content creators are said to be excited about the creative possibilities afforded by HDR (unlike their general reaction to UHD).

HDR source material will most likely begin to appear on Ultra HD Blu-ray. According to Kisor, streaming UHD content with HDR will require a 75mbps to 100mbps connection. He says that a 1080p image with HDR is a much more feasible way to feed HDR laced material into homes, but let’s be honest: the industry will probably use HDR as a way to force consumer integration into new and expensive product lines. After all, the dollar often speaks louder than common sense.


No Standard for HDR…Yet
Dolby Laboratories is currently the principal promoter of HDR with Dolby Vision. But, Dolby Vision is only one standard for delivering HDR and there’s guaranteed to be competition. Whatever the case, Kane says that it’s absolutely essential that prevailing HDR standards involve some sort of “container” system that can hold the absolute amount of information that’s captured by a camera. This serves two purposes. First, it will allow different kinds of display technologies (projectors, OLED TVs, and LCD TVs) to display HDR within their own capabilities. These different techs will have the ability to reach into the container and take the information they’re capable of displaying. Second, Kane says a container system will allow us to future proof video content. In the past, film masters have been dumbed-down to distribution quality. Kane refers to this as “baked content.” Baked content is forever crippled and diminished, making it nearly impossible to optimally integrate with future display technologies (as we are seeing with the transition to 4K and HDR).

One of the more interesting points from the above paragraph is the mention of HDR on both OLED, LCD and projector based systems. The prevailing media impression has been that HDR is only possible on the brightest of LCD televisions, with OLED potentially playing the odd man out due to its lower light output capabilities. This is a common misconception, says Kane. He contends that a universal “container” standard would allow various levels of HDR to be visible on both OLED and projector systems.

We’ll continue to monitor progress in the HDR arena. Because it’s a technology that is tightly tied to UHD’s selling success, progress towards its commercially reality should be relatively quick.


Image Credit: Home Theater Shack / Todd Anderson
 

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I think we are always "amped" about improved tech. It's just too expensive currently, now in a year or two I bet you will be seeing numerous posts/threads about peoples HDR displays! Cringing at the thought of a Laser/4K/HDR projector.
 

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I'm literally just now getting 1080P on a 135" for the first time in my life. Prior was 1080p on a 46" which is my next largest screen in the house.

1080p Bluray will last me at least another 5 years which will allow all of this new tech to evolve... and get standardized.... and become economical.

Till then -> bluray HD is perfect!
 

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I got Atmos and DTSX is on the way! All i want now is a display (or projector) with HDR! To say I'm excited about it is an understatement, can't wait and yes ! 1080p HDR is good enough:)
 

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Speaking of Atmos, is height speaker essential or floor standing speakers with upward throw be as good as the ceiling speakers? I am thinking of Onkyo Atmos TXNR 636 without the ceiling speakers and 5.1 configuration and HDR TV.
Any advice most welcome.
 

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Interesting you should ask... I'm in the process of writing an update article on this very topic... And hope to do a comparison of both deployment methods later this year.

At any rate, there isn't tons of info out there yet...but, my understanding is that (1) the Atmos modules don't perform nearly as well as in-ceiling channels channels and (2) you really need rear channels to make the atmos package sound good...

The article next week will have details from another outlets THX interview. Soon, however, I'll be able to run a full test in my own HT and will be able to report results.

I'll dive into this next week.
 

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Interesting you should ask... I'm in the process of writing an update article on this very topic... And hope to do a comparison of both deployment methods later this year.

At any rate, there isn't tons of info out there yet...but, my understanding is that (1) the Atmos modules don't perform nearly as well as in-ceiling channels channels and (2) you really need rear channels to make the atmos package sound good...

The article next week will have details from another outlets THX interview. Soon, however, I'll be able to run a full test in my own HT and will be able to report results.

I'll dive into this next week.
Thank you for the info. I look forward to your further write-up.
(1) When you say need rear channels to make the Atmos, does the 5.1 setup rear channels not represent the same thing?
(2) In the 70s, there was a drive to achieve "Ambiosonic" surround. Would this and Atmos have some common technology?
 

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This is all coming second hand, for now, but THX is saying that adding atmos ceiling channels to a 5.1 setup leaves a rear sound gap... That you really need a base 7.1 setup ( three front, two side, two rear).

I won't have my theater full 7.2.4 until the end of next month (for a review of Yamaha's new flagship Aventage AVR). But, once I do, I'll be able to demo test a variety of configurations... Of course I'll report on all of those results.
 

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Thank you for the info. I look forward to your further write-up.
(1) When you say need rear channels to make the Atmos, does the 5.1 setup rear channels not represent the same thing?
(2) In the 70s, there was a drive to achieve "Ambiosonic" surround. Would this and Atmos have some common technology?
Hey William, the article is up.

You can read it by clicking here.
 
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