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HDR: Next big thing in TV technology

But a potential format war between HDR10 and Dolby Vision is brewing in the market

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Gulf News

Dubai: High dynamic range (HDR) is the biggest TV buzzword this year compared to ultra high-definition (UHD) or 4K TVs for the last couple of years.

People have heard many technologies in TV industry such as LCD, LED, Full HD, UHD, Super UHD and OLED (organic light-emitting diode). HDR is the newest technology.

Many of you will know that HDR is already used in still photography and in high-end smartphones. HDR cameras use multiple exposures to create the effect in bid to bring vivid colours and brightness.

All HDR screens will be 4K but not all 4K TVs are HDR ready. HDR TVs need to have a screen that’s compatible with 4K HDR to work. So, viewers can see the difference between the whitest whites and the blackest blacks on the screen. HDR TV sets produce images what the human eye can detect in real life with a wider range of colours and a higher contrast ratio.

A consortium of TV industry players — UHD Alliance — defined a standard for HDR TVs at this year’s Las Vegas Consumer Electronics show — Ultra HD Premium. Major brands like LG, Sony, Samsung and Panasonic have adopted this standard.

The Ultra HD Premium seal can only be displayed on TVs with a minimum resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels, HDR, peak luminance, black levels, wide colour gamut and audio quality, among other criteria.

The UHD Alliance has introduced two standards: More than 1,000 nits peak brightness and less than 0.05 nits black level for LCDs and more than 540 nits brightness and less than 0.0005 nits black level for OLEDs.

Content providers

A group of 13 companies led by Samsung Electronics and The 20th Century Fox founded the Alliance in 2015. It now consists of companies across various fields of the UHD ecosystem including content production, distribution, and projection.

Currently, 40 companies including Hollywood studios, content providers such as Netflix, Amazon, DirecTV and Sky, TV manufacturers such as Samsung, LG, Sony, Hisense, Panasonic and TCL, and image technology companies such as Dolby, DTS and THX are participating in the Alliance.

Research firm IHS expects global shipments of HDR TV sets to reach 4.2 million units this year, and up to 35.6 million in 2020.

The market is currently offering two formats for HDR content.

On one hand, the more common and open format, known as HDR10, has been embraced by the UHD Alliance. On the other hand, Dolby Vision requires owning a TV that allows decoding content mastered for that format.

Dolby purchased BrightSide Technologies and developed the first HDR display prototype. Dolby officially unveiled Dolby Vision at CES 2014.

So, there’s a potential format war brewing in the industry.

Samsung and Panasonic are pushing with HDR10, also known as HDR1000. Sony is also supporting HDR10, but has opted not to use the Ultra HD Premium logo.

Incompatible display

The term HDR1000 means it delivers 1000-nit range of luminance (equivalent to the light of 1,000 candles) while Dolby Vision delivers 100 nits. LG is supporting both the formats while Vizio supports Dolby Vision and the upcoming Philips and TCL TVs will also support the format.

So far, Dolby Vision content is only available in streamed form through the Netflix and Vudu apps.

Standard HD TVs offer 100 nits.

HDR uses 10 bits per colour (red, green, and blue) while Dolby uses 12 bits per colour. This will create problems for viewers to stream one format on an incompatible display but experts said that movies will eventually be available in both formats.

HDR10 is built around “one size fits all” approach which means the same metadata is sent only once at the beginning of the video while Dolby Digital uses dynamic metadata so that the colours and brightness levels can be adjusted per frame-by-frame.

Dolby Vision can also be custom-tweaked to each display too, which means that viewers can really optimise for different technologies.

Samsung and Sony claim that 1,000 nits offer a better HDR image than the 100 nits.

“HDR10 is a standardised method of content production, transmission, and TV decoding, based on open standard that is accessible by anyone. The UHD Alliance set the Premium UHD Standard based on HDR10, and it is the standard that streaming service providers as well as Hollywood studios use as the default setting when applying the HDR technology,” Sangin Ha, Head of the Visual Display Group at Samsung Gulf Electronics, told Gulf News.

Moreover, he said that having good compression efficiency will also increase the general efficiency of the system operation in HDR10.

Rapid development

Ha said that content providers including Hollywood studios create their premium HDR content with the peak luminance greater than 1000 nits.

“We believe that HDR10 is the only premium standard applicable to devices as well as content. HDR is a technology designed to overcome the limits of the conventional content production methods, and displays in terms of the capacity to express details in bright and dark areas of the screen. It has contributed greatly to the rapid development of brightness, colours, and contrast ratio that a TV can display,” he said.

Mathew Mathai, general manager for Marketing Communications at Sony Electronics, said that Sony BRAVIA X94 and X93D TV models achieve more than 1000 nits in peak brightness.

“We believe HDR compatible TVs will further boost the growth of 4K TVs. We are focusing on 4K TV sales, HDR compatible TV sales will increase accordingly,” he said.

As per research firm’s GfK January-February 2016 statistics, 6.8 per cent of the 4K segment globally (in sales value percentage) is HDR. In Europe it is 15.8 per cent and in the Middle East and Africa, HDR is 9.7 per cent of the total 4K market.

According to GfK, the global 4K TV market tripled in unit sales in the last two years. In MEA as well, 4K is expected to drive the television business. Sales grew from 200,000 units to one million between 2014 and 2015, and are expected to cross three million in 2017.

In value terms, the growth expected is about 650 per cent from 400 million to over $3 billion (Dh11 billion).

“We believe HDR is the next big revolution in television technology and HDR compatible TVs will further boost the growth of 4K TVs,” Mathai said.

According to the NPD Display Search 2014 Global TV Replacement Study, picture quality is the most important feature for consumers in making an upcoming replacement TV purchase, with the highest importance index of 148.

Viewership experiences

Mathai said that all innovations in picture quality have seen success and revolutionised the television industry — when colour replaced black and white, high definition gradually took over from standard definition and 4K became the new standard in TV technology.

J.D. Lee, General Manager for the TV department at LG Electronics Gulf, said that LG considers 4K HDR TVs as the biggest trend for 2016 together with OLED TV, bringing leaps in image quality and enhanced viewership experiences.

Keeping in mind high consumer demand, he said that LG strives to deliver the most realistic picture quality (HDR) as evidenced in the LG OLED TVs and perceives HDR to be the next “go to” technology in home entertainment.

“LG uses multi HDR, which supports Dolby Vision and HDR10, unlike other competitors. This definitely gives LG an edge. Dolby Vision is now available through LG’s 4K OLED TVs and Super UHD TVs. HDR is not calculated using the number of nits a TV can display and HDR does not need 1000 nits. In fact, Dolby cinema grades HDR for 100 nits at pure white,” he said.

However, he said that some contending TV manufacturers are claiming 1000nits, which in reality is just the peak brightness level. Technically, the 1000 nits peak brightness is only possible for 30 seconds on static contents. But in reality, TV consumption is about watching moving (dynamic) contents. Hence, LG focuses more so on delivering ideal picture quality to customers with the help of Dolby.

Selling points

The new technology will cost more and most shoppers are unaware of the new technology. A regular 65-inch HD TV costs around Dh3,000 while a similar 4K TV costs Dh9,000 and a HDR costs Dh15,000.

Experts indicate that for the foreseeable future, HDR will be one of the key selling points for better quality 4K Ultra HDTV sets.

“HDR will be important as we go forward. 4K alone is not enough to boost TV sales. Even though the shift from Full HD to 4K makes a difference, shift to HDR makes it even more emotional impact,” said Sweta Dash, Founder and President of market research consulting firm Dash-Insights.

It is difficult to say whether HDR10 or Dolby Vision will gain importance, she said. Even though UHD Alliance has adopted HDR10, she said that it is an open platform while Dolby is more of a proprietary end-to-end solution which requires a licensing fee and with a certain set of hardware and software to follow.

“Dolby adds even more capabilities to the standard HDR format,” she said.

“HDR10 appears to have more momentum right now. The format enjoys more industry support, and it requires no licensing fee. From my understanding, some experts prefer Dolby Vision because it’s a closed system that ensures more precision and reliability. Some people will buy Dolby for high-end TVs as it uses 12 bits per colour which means better colour clarity,” she said.