Where are we with mass market HDR?

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The short answer is not where we should be. But we got sent an article by Technicolor and MediaTek that hints at what might be needed to mash the HDR accelerator pedal to the floor.

The article was called ‘The Growing Role of System-on-Chip Manufacturers in Bringing HDR TVs to Market’ and has got a fair amount of decent insight in it which is why we’re cherry picking some of the best bits. For those in a hurry, it has two main conclusions:

For the mass adoption of HDR to take place, consumer electronics, content creation, production and broadcasting all need to be aligned and in sync.

SoC (System on a Chip) manufacturers are going to play a critical role in this task — along with broadcasters and device manufacturers — in ensuring that viewers receive the experience intended by the production teams.

The article was co-authored by MediaTek, a company that currently sells TV SoCs to 95% of all retail TV brands, and Technicolor, whose Advanced HDR by Technicolor, a suite of HDR production, distribution and display solutions that is supported in the ATSC 3.0 standard, is being rolled out across the US. 

ATSC 3.0 means that HDR is slowly starting to ramp up. In April 2021, the first affiliate NBC station to broadcast in HDR — a Sinclair Broadcast Group affiliate in Las Vegas — went live. Sinclair has since expanded HDR broadcasts to 28 stations across the US, with plans to double the number of HDR-capable stations by the end of 2022.

Advanced HDR by Technicolor

Advanced HDR by Technicolor is interesting. It’s a collaboration between Philips, InterDigital and Technicolor and composed of two key elements:

The Intelligent Tone Management (ITM) tool, which provides a dynamic, tunable, real-time solution to up-convert SDR content to HDR with full freedom and flexibility to manage contrast, brightness and color saturation.

Single-layer HDR (SL-HDR), a dynamic and tunable real-time tool that implements the ETSI SL-HDR standards to generate and deliver a single, consistent, high-quality broadcast stream. SL-HDR1 transforms HDR input streams into SDR-plus-metadata streams.

In other words, it both neatly  provides HDR content from an SDR signal, and ensures backward compatibility to allow SDR-based viewers to still watch HDR content. 

“Sinclair is one of the most active and assertive players to bring Advanced HDR by Technicolor to market. By embracing Advanced HDR by Technicolor, Sinclair is implementing a strategy across the country that provides a path to an HDR future while supporting the current embedded presence of SDR-only capable TVs that are still in the market,” says Tony Bozzini, head of business development for Advanced HDR by Technicolor.

Do you like tennis?

This being the US and Sinclair being a TV company, the chosen medium to sell HDR to the public is live sport.

Live outdoor sporting events represent an excellent opportunity to show just what HDR can do and Sinclair plans to switch the Bally Sports Network and the Tennis Channel to the Technicolor system.

“There are practical reasons for this decision,” says the article. “One of the most frustrating aspects of broadcasting live outdoor events is that lighting shifts over the course of the day, casting shadows that create challenges for conventional SDR technology to clearly capture the action on the field.

“Adaptive solutions embedded in Advanced HDR by Technicolor optimize images in real time. It automatically adjusts and corrects large shifts in lighting over the course of outdoor broadcasts. The adaptive features also remove limitations imposed by static converters that restrict the creative options available to video engineers.

“Sinclair has incorporated Advanced HDR by Technicolor into production-truck equipment offered by companies like Cobalt Digital, which leverages ML to automatically sense light quality changes to then deliver a single seamless and consistent stream of SDR and HDR images.”

But key to the whole thing is having the chipsets primed and in the consumer sets, which is where MediaTek comes in

“It is an exciting time because SoC manufacturers are in a critical position to bridge the gap between broadcasters and device manufacturers in ensuring that viewers receive the experience intended by the production teams,” says Alfred Chan, vice president of TV BU, Smart Home Business Group at MediaTek.

“MediaTek is working to ensure that the Advanced HDR by Technicolor solution is properly incorporated into our chipsets so that images are properly displayed on TVs. This requires a huge amount of coordination. The good news is that the ecosystem is working very closely together, and these efforts are paying off. We are bringing HDR to market at an increasingly rapid pace.”

If so, it would not be before time.

Tags: Technology