As our industry continues to evolve and I learn more about HDR, I am often left with more questions than answers. The good news is that the content just keeps getting better and better. I recently picked up the UHD Bluray of one of my all time favorites, “The Matrix”. The contrast between the dark black scenes and bright green highlights featured throughout the film is a lot of fun. Seeing good skin tones and deep saturated colors in dark scenes continues to put a smile on my face...we have never seen this until now and it is rather addicting! I can only hope that older movies continue to get the attention and treatment that “The Matrix” got when it was transferred to UHD. The fine people at High Def Digest gave the disc a great review...check it out!
I’ve owned multiple smartphones, and since 2012 and they have all had OLED screens. Seeing my own photos on the smartphone’s OLED screen was nothing more than a giant tease...infinite contrast and deeply saturated colors are just not possible with LCD technology. I lusted for that kind of image quality on something bigger than a 6” screen. My Panasonic VT30 plasma did a pretty good job, but nothing like the smartphone. Needless to say I had been ready for an OLED TV for quite a while, and in November of 2017 I decided to take the plunge. My Panasonic plasma lives on, but when looking at it side by side with the OLED there is no comparison!
As a calibrator it is my job to evaluate any new TV with a very critical eye. With new models I have to be careful of new features and any changes to the picture menu. One model year a TV manufacturer may call a setting one name, then change the name in the next model year. One example is Sony, who after years of using one menu and naming convention confused a lot of us by switching the name of the backlight control to “Brightness”. Previously The “Brightness” control adjusted the black levels, but they added a “Black Level” control for guess what...Black Level! It seems backwards compared to how they had always done it, but I actually applaud Sony because the names of those settings are now technically correct.
As I was exploring the 2017 LG OLED for the first time, I saw some very familiar things such as the ISF Expert picture modes. LG and the ISF have partnered for years, so this was no big surprise. I didn’t see too many things out of the ordinary, however one thing that did catch my eye was a brand new picture mode called “Technicolor”. Hmmmmmm…….
I am certainly no stranger to Technicolor. I mean, they are sorta the pioneers of color in film. So when I saw a “Technicolor” picture mode in the TV I was certainly intrigued, but where did it come from and why was it in my TV?
It turns out the Technicolor has been working on their own HDR format (Advanced HDR by Technicolor), and starting with 2017 models (some after a FW update) the mode that bears the name has been available as a picture mode. This is now the fourth HDR format that the LG OLED supports (HDR, Dolby Vision, HLG, and Technicolor). One major benefit of Advanced HDR by Technicolor is open source licensing, which means there are no licensing fees for content creators and manufacturers if they choose to use the technology. Another benefit is the tech behind it seems simpler compared to other HDR formats. The content is captured at the camera in 10bit HDR, then encoded to 8bit SDR. The signal travels downstream with some metadata hitchhiking along. Once the signal gets to its final destination it is unpacked and turned back into 10bit HDR. The cool part is that this will be backwards compatible with non-HDR displays. SDR displays will simply ignore the metadata and show the SDR signal.
There is a little more to it, our friend Geoffrey Morrison at CNET has broken it down in this great article.
Without getting too deep into the technicals, there are 3 different types of Advanced HDR by Technicolor. I know what you are thinking… and don’t worry! You won’t have to manually switch modes based on which type of Technicolor HDR that the content was made in. Thanks to metadata the TV will automatically show the content in the correct “version” of Advanced HDR by Technicolor.
Let’s take a look at the 3 types of Advanced HDR by Technicolor and some details:
SL(Single Layer)-HDR1 - SL-HDR1 will most likely be used by broadcasters. Like HLG, SL-HDR1 is backwards compatible with SDR. It has already been approved for ATSC 3.0.
SL-HDR2 - an HDR10 base signal with dynamic metadata added. Comparable to HDR10+ and Dolby Vision. Not backwards compatible with SDR.
SL-HDR3 - an HLG base signal with metadata added. This may be an improvement to HLG as the added metadata gives more control to the content creators. There isn’t a lot of info around SL-HDR3 yet so stay tuned!
There is one more thing that Technicolor is working on called Intelligent Tone Management (ITM). Coincidentally during the morning that I wrote this article, some breaking news came in from Cobalt Digital (broadcast equipment manufacturer), Technicolor, and AT&T. Direct TV will be using ITM when they broadcast MLB Network Showcase games! The article doesn’t specify when this will launch, but my guess is that we will see it sooner than later.
ITM is a technology that will allow any content that was mastered in SDR to be shown in HDR. I know what you are thinking…”oh no it’s upscaled!”, which is what I thought at first. We’ve been burned too many times on bad upscaling and most of us try to avoid it, BUT Technicolor seems to have the process worked out to where upscaled SDR content with ITM doesn’t look overdone or cheesy. I myself am looking forward to seeing MLB baseball in HDR!
Nothing beats REAL HDR right now, but I am not totally opposed to upscaled HDR. In fact I do enjoy some content with the HDR Effect on on my LG OLED (effect set to Medium, then some tweaks to the user settings). Space shows that rely heavily on CGI such as “How the Universe Works” works well when upscaled to HDR. The deep blacks of space, vibrant colors of planets and nebulas, and bright stars in the background really pop! I am curious to see a side by side comparison of ITM vs HDR Effect. Will there be a visible difference? If so, does one have better image fidelity than the other? We’ll see...
Another HDR format that has recently made headlines is HDR10+. Developed as a competitor to Dolby Vision, HDR10+ remains open source. The biggest benefit is that HDR10+ adds Dynamic Metadata to the signal. This gives content creators more control over how the image looks. HDR10+ was originally developed by Samsung, but also has the backing of Amazon, Panasonic, and 20th Century Fox. The latest news is that as of June 20th, HDR10+ will start a certification program that should attract more manufacturers and content creators. They also got a shiny new logo!
So who will win the HDR “war”? Will it be HDR10 since it was the first? HLG or Technicolor because of their ability to be backwards compatible with SDR displays? Dolby Vision because of the name and technology? I honestly don’t think any of them will “win”, rather I am happy living in a world where they all co-exist. AVRs have supported multiple audio formats for YEARS, so why can’t a TV support multiple HDR formats? They all have unique advantages so why not like them all? There is a lot more to learn and a lot more to see, so stay tuned!