In the emerging high dynamic range (HDR) technology market, just a handful of players are dictating which standards are being used and how HDR will be delivered to consumers.
Technicolor is among those companies. And while the Paris-based media and entertainment technology firm let loose a bevy of HDR news at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the April NAB Show may be an even bigger stage for a technology that both content owners and CE companies are latching on to.
Mark Turner, VP of partnership relations and business development for Technicolor, checked in with B&C to offer the latest on standards for the technology, and the hurdles facing pay TV operators when it comes to delivering HDR.
It’s been a few months since Technicolor shared a slew of HDR news at CES. Before NAB next month, is there anything in the way of an update on Technicolor’s HDR work?
The next big news beat is NAB. At CES we crammed in a lot in a short amount of time, with movement on the silicon side, with a bunch of different partners for our HDR delivery system. We also announced that we’re an upscaler, a real-time standard dynamic range to HDR upscaling solution for silicon, which we showed before at IBC in broadcast workflows, as well as NAB last year as a plug-in for color grading equipment and creating shows. The CES announcement was about putting that all together in the set-top box or the TV itself. We also had an announcement with LG around HDR displays across the chain, from post-production through to delivery.
At NAB we’re going to go back and tell the proof points, when the technology will be available.
One thing you didn’t mention there was the partnership with Philips, where your two companies are pooling your resources on HDR. How’s that going so far, and what have you guys taken away from it?
We announced we were going to start working together at CES, and NAB will be the next drumbeat, where we’ll talk about what it means, what features and delivery systems we’ll have.
One of the trends and complications is right now there is a whole heap of different standards going in slightly different directions, with the broadcasting world going one way, and the studios going their own with implementing and creating content. If you’re a pay TV operator, you’re going to have to be able to deliver all of this content, and you can’t have a different network for each one. A lot of what we’re working on now is how to have one network capable of delivering all this HDR content, whether it’s a live event or a show from the BBC created with HDR.
Bringing simplicity to real-world situations is what we’re striving to achieve here.
Along those lines, on the standards front we last heard Technicolor was working with the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) to make some HDR standards headway. What’s the latest there?
MPEG is a complicated, political game, and I don’t expect we’ll see a new HDR standard out of them any time soon. They have a compression scheme, HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) that can push HDR content through, but it may not be optimized, and doesn’t have things like backwards compatibility, which the pay TV world needs. But you can compress it and shove it through, and I think that’s good enough for MPEG now.
We always assume standardizing it would be good for the industry, but if there’s no standard, we’ll carry on doing what we’re doing right now, deploy the hardware solution on devices, providing the encoding solution, and push on without a standard.
Standards aside, we’re seeing pretty good uptake on HDR from both hardware and content companies. Is this headed in the direction showing that HDR is something consumers want?
What I’m most pleased with is the content industry embracing it. The CE industry is always going to embrace it, because it’s something new. And the good thing about HDR is it’s incremental. What we never saw on the 4K side was the creative part of the business getting really fired up and excited about it. HDR is a new creative medium, and we’re seeing people excited about it, with the larger shows with bigger budgets creating in HDR, putting it in the vault that way, even if the networks aren’t prepared for it.
We’ve moved on from just the big budget movies and broadcast shows and now we’re working on the smaller shows. We want HDR on everything, a comedy program, reality shows, the news, and especially live sports, something that really drives uptake.
The real-time HDR delivery is a lot harder than creating shows in a color-grading suite when you have time and budget. You’ll see at NAB, we’ll be focusing our energy on that being the next big thing to fix.
So what hurdles are standing between pay TV operators and HDR delivery?
Pay TV operators right now are challenged by OTT, and that’s their big competition. OTT providers are nimble, largely software based, without dedicated hardware like set-top boxes to roll out, they don’t have big legacy networks. They’ve put HDR out in a matter of months. We have a huge customer base with cable and satellite operators around the world for our connected home division, who buy set tops from us.
We’re working with them on how to take a network that’s fractional — with just some HDR content for the big shows — and deliver that to customers who just bought an HDR TV, who tend to be more affluent, buying the big sports and movie packages, the ones you want to keep the most satisfied. That’s what we’re talking now, how to deploy it. And I think this year we’ll see HDR services in either closed testing or consumer betas that are full on pay TV in HDR. And that’s way ahead of where we are with 4K.
For more on Technicolor’s HDR push, check out Broadcasting & Cable’s recent report on HDR here.