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What filmmakers should know about HDR and Dolby Vision

Grading & Production

High Dynamic Range (HDR) is one of the most important technological trends in television, film and cinema. HDR ensures greater colour depth and brightness range in the recorded images. Thanks to HDR, image reproduction is even more realistic.

Alongside the increase in resolution, many consider the leap in quality from SDR (Standard Dynamic Range) to HDR to be one of the most significant improvements in the presentation of moving images in recent decades. This is why HDR is also one of the most frequently advertised features of new televisions. On the consumer side, various formats such as HDR10, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision are competing with each other.

The following article explains the technical features of HDR and Dolby Vision in particular, the advantages Dolby Vision offers and what else you should know as a film maker in this environment. Magenta TV from Wiesbaden is an expert in HDR post-production and your partner when it comes to editing, mastering and colour correction of HDR film material.

What is HDR?

The abbreviation HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. It is a technology that delivers high-contrast images, usually in conjunction with greater colour depth. The image representation approximates the visual capacity of the human eye and the actual brightness values in nature. Dark image elements actually appear black and bright elements are intensely bright. If you look at the brightness of the image display, the so-called luminance usually given in Nit (candela per square metre – cd/m²), this becomes particularly clear. Conventional television pictures are limited to a brightness of 100 nit. Some SDR televisions achieve up to 500 nit, but may display the 100 nit picture material with brightness distortions. Modern HDR televisions already achieve 1,000 nit and more. In the future, picture reproduction with up to 10,000 nit (PQ transfer characteristic) should be possible.

The displayable colour space will also increase. In theory, conventional SDR usually uses eight bits for up to 256 different shades of the primary colours red, green and blue. This results in 16.7 million displayable colours. With HDR formats such as HDR10 or Dolby Vision, the bit depth per channel is ten or 12 bits. With 10 bits, up to around 1 billion different colours would theoretically be possible, with 12 bits up to around 69 billion.

However, the display of colours is limited by another factor in video technology – the colour space. While the ITU-R BT.709 standard currently displays around 40% of the colours visible to the human eye, the ITU-R BT.2020 standard will display around 75% in the future.

Where and how can HDR currently be experienced?

HDR can already be experienced today. Numerous series and cinema films have been mastered in HDR. Provided you have an HDR-capable TV or monitor, these series and films can be streamed via streaming providers such as Netflix or Amazon Prime Video.

Blu-rays with HDR film material are also available, which can be played with a corresponding player and television. There are also the first Dolby cinemas that implement the Dolby Vision specifications in film playback. In the computer environment, modern game engines, graphics cards and monitors support High Dynamic Range.

What is HDR10?

One of the first and most frequently used HDR formats on the consumer side is HDR10. The abbreviation “HDR10” stands for High Dynamic Range with ten-bit colour depth. It is a static HDR format that delivers the metadata for the colour representation statically and only specifies once what contrast range a complete film should have. This means that individual images cannot be adjusted individually, but the basic data for the entire film remains the same. Although HDR10 delivers a better picture than SDR, it does not allow different metadata for individual scenes when playing back in a different contrast ratio. HDR10 is a licence-free standard.

What is Dolby Vision?

Dolby Vision is an HDR format developed by Dolby Laboratories that is the first to enable dynamic data delivery, which allows the brightness and colours of scenes and individual images to be adjusted individually. Individual contrast values can be determined for each film frame using mastering and colour correction / colour grading. This prevents dark scenes in a film with many bright scenes from falling off in the quality of the colour and contrast display.

The metadata for Dolby Vision is generated by colourists and editors as part of the mastering and colour correction / colour grading process. This allows the image to be delivered as it was originally intended by the film maker. The colour depth for DolbyVision is 12 bit.

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What is HDR10+?

HDR10+ is based on HDR10 but, like Dolby Vision, allows dynamic data delivery and therefore customisation of individual scenes for playback. HDR10+ was originally introduced by Samsung and Amazon in 2017. Other manufacturers such as Panasonic and film studios such as 20th Century Fox also support the format. As with HDR10, the colour depth of HDR10+ is ten bits.

What are the main differences
between Dolby Vision and HDR10+?

Although both HDR10+ and Dolby Vision are HDR formats with dynamic data delivery, Dolby Vision offers much more in terms of the workflow for filmmakers and the output result for consumers.

The technical parameters can be considered almost identical today, as today’s televisions with 1000 Nit are considered HDR-capable. The latest models achieve 2,000 to 4,000 nit and sometimes more. The possibilities of televisions in terms of colour depth are also limited. There are hardly any displays that display twelve-bit colour depth and support the modern BT.2020 colour space.

However, two aspects are already making a serious difference today and will continue to do so in the future. For filmmakers, DolbyVision has developed a workflow that provides HDR film material in the most efficient and best possible way for both SDR and HDR end devices with a specific nit number. On the consumer side and thus on the playback side, the hardware data of the display is synchronised and the most suitable trim including dynamic metadata is played.

Find out more about the Dolby Vision workflow here >>

Another difference between Dolby Vision and HDR10+ is the licence model. Dolby Vision is a Dolby Laboratories format and therefore requires a licence.

The competitive situation between HDR10+ and Dolby Vision

The two dynamic HDR formats Dolby Vision and HDR10+ are currently competing with each other on the market. Samsung introduced the HDR10+ format together with Amazon in 2017 in order to challenge Dolby Vision with a licence-free format. Other companies such as Panasonic and 20th Century Fox also support the HDR10+ format. Some television manufacturers such as Samsung and Panasonic initially focussed exclusively on HDR10+, while others such as LG and Sony opted for Dolby Vision.

Many manufacturers also have a dual approach and support both formats. Panasonic, for example, now also offers Dolby Vision. It is not yet clear whether one of the formats will prevail. Some experts assume that both formats will continue to exist in parallel, while others suspect that the Dolby Vision format is more likely to prevail. In the area of streaming providers, Dolby Vision has gained Netflix and Apple as allies. They are already streaming numerous series and formats in Dolby Vision.

More and more members of the HDR10+ alliance are now also including Dolby Vision in their portfolio and relying on multi-HDR. Even 20th Century Fox, one of the founding members of HDR10+, is now launching its first films on the market in the form of 4K Blu-ray in Dolby Vision. This could be a sign that the HDR10+ alliance is crumbling.

What are the requirements for HDR on a domestic television?

Similar to the introduction of the high-resolution film and television formats HD and Ultra HD, HDR requires the adaptation of technology from film production and distribution technology to playback and display devices. Televisions must be HDR-compatible and capable of reproducing the moving image in the respective HDR format.

Naturally, the film and television studios must produce the content in High Dynamic Range. Ultra HD Blu-ray can store the additional data required for HDR and play it back via a Blu-ray player. HDMI, which supports both HDR10+ and Dolby Vision as HDMI 2.0, handles the connection between the playback device and the display device.

If HDR is to be received via conventional television channels, the transmission and reception technology also needs to be adapted accordingly. Streaming providers must make the HDR content available via their streaming platforms.

What are the challenges of HDR in linear live TV?

High Dynamic Range poses particular challenges for linear live TV, as the HDR signal has to be delivered in real time. Unlike film productions, it cannot be edited in advance for TV broadcast and adjusted in terms of colour and contrast.

A live production may have to provide content in HD-SDR, HD-HDR, 4K-SDR and 4K-HDR at the same time. The corresponding 4K HDR production techniques must be integrated into the production environment by the production companies, which leads to additional costs.

Solutions now exist to produce 4K HDR, 4K SDR, HD SDR and HD HDR content simultaneously in a single work process. One solution for HDR in live TV is HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma) developed by the BBC (UK) and NHK (Japan). HLG is already set to be used for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo and will bring live images in up to 8K HDR to TV sets.

The standard is not fully backwards compatible as the colour space has to be converted. SDR and HDR devices receive the same 10-bit signals, but they interpret them differently.

The advantage of this technology is that it saves bandwidth and expensive satellite capacity. The disadvantage lies in the unpredictability of playback. The creative intentions of the film makers are probably not reproduced correctly.

It is important to know that HLG is a standard for the broadcast sector and does not yet compete with HDR10+ or Dolby Vision in this environment. HDR10+ and Dolby Vision are still reserved for streaming services and Blu-ray technology. The majority of UHD TVs are already HLG-capable. In general, it can be assumed that most HDR-compatible TVs produced after 2017 will be suitable for HLG. It is not yet clear when and how Dolby Vision and HDR10+ will come to linear TV.

What advantages does HDR offer filmmakers?

For directors and producers, HDR offers the great advantage that moving images become even more realistic and offer significantly greater dynamics in brightness and colour representation. The result is a vivid film experience with great colour depth and a high contrast ratio. The colourist can rework each individual scene as he or she imagines the image and communicate this to the display device via the metadata. On the consumer side, the viewer receives the best possible image for their end device. More about HDR in post-production >>

What are the advantages for film-makers of choosing Dolby Vision as the HDR format?

Directors & producers who rely on Dolby Vision for High Dynamic Range have powerful creative options in addition to the colour depth of twelve bits and luminance of up to 10,000 nit.

Films can be colour graded frame by frame and scene by scene to match the producer’s ideas and the dramaturgy of the film. Even if today’s display devices such as televisions are not yet capable of displaying 10,000 nits and a colour depth of 12 bits, with Dolby Vision filmmakers are opting for a future-proof HDR format.

In addition to the HDR master, the Dolby Vision workflow can also be used to create the SDR master efficiently and with creative control.

On the consumer side, the broad support of Dolby Vision offers the advantage of an equally high-quality film experience on different platforms and end devices. More and more device manufacturers are opting for Dolby Vision and numerous streaming services as well as TV and film production companies are choosing Dolby Vision.


Conclusion

It is undisputed that High Dynamic Range will revolutionise picture quality and the film experience in the TV and film sector. In terms of dynamic formats, licence-free HDR10+ and Dolby Vision, developed by Dolby Laboratories, are currently competing with each other. Numerous devices such as televisions and Blu-ray players support HDR. Content with HDR and Dolby Vision can already be enjoyed today via various streaming services or Blu-ray. There are some signs that Dolby Vision will be able to assert itself against the competing format. It opens up enormous creative possibilities for film-makers. With Dolby Vision, film-makers are opting for a powerful and future-proof format.

  • High Dynamic Range will revolutionise picture quality and the film experience in the TV and film sector

  • In terms of dynamic formats, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision are currently competing with each other

  • Content with HDR and Dolby Vision can already be streamed today or enjoyed on Blu-ray.

  • There are some signs that Dolby Vision will be able to prevail over the competing format.

  • It opens up enormous creative possibilities for directors, producers and film studios.

  • With Dolby Vision, film-makers are opting for a powerful and future-proof format.


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Dolby Vision Workflow

As the first Dolby Vision-certified post-production company in Germany, Magenta TV in Wiesbaden offers you an efficient and future-proof workflow for providing film productions in the best possible quality according to the ideas of producers and directors.

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