HDR: The new kid on the block

At this year’s IBC, there was a lot of focus on high dynamic range (HDR) and how it’s being adopted by the industry, which is a topic that we touched on in our IBC blog last month. HDR technology, which shows a greater range of brightness levels, i.e. blacks in a picture become darker and highlights much brighter, presents a more immersive viewing experience for consumers.

So how has this advancement happened? The TV industry has a lot of legacy technology that dates to the time of Scottish inventor & engineer John Logie Baird’s initial TV inventions in the 1920s. Over the last 50 or 60 years every technological step that the television industry has taken has had to accommodate all the stuff that’s happened previously. When television went from black and white to colour, the industry had to create a receiver that allowed those colour pictures to be displayed correctly on black and white TVs. Now we have digital cameras that have similar technology to film cameras with a large dynamic range, and HDR TV screens that can match those cameras accommodating these technological advances.

But HDR isn’t the only star in this new television constellation. Increased bit depth – from 8-bit to 10-bit – means many more colours can be displayed and higher frame rates – from 50-60 fps to 120 fps delivers an enhanced viewing experience. Another element of the TV evolution is Ultra High Definition (UHD) (4K & 8K), which has four/eight times the level of pixels and as such four/eight times the level of detail. In the Future Zone at IBC this year, NHK showed its impressive 8K UHD OLED sheet-style TV display, which can be installed in the living room. Although UHD and HDR tend to be sold in tandem and certainly complement each other, they are very different technologies. UHD increases the number of pixels in a picture and HDR increases the clarity of those pixels. The difference with HDR is the clarity can clearly be seen regardless of screen size, whether you’re on a mobile phone or looking at a TV or cinema screen. But for UHD to be truly effective, you need a big screen.

The technology for HDR and UHD in the home is readily available, but the challenge the industry now faces is content and delivery. Broadcasters are making some UHD HDR programmes but the availability of that content is limited. Right now, you’re still just watching HD, or even SD. In years to come that will change, and it’s likely this content will be much more accessible. But will we still consume it in the same way? It seems that only time will tell.

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