Are You Ready for Your HDR Delivery?
The deeper blacks, brighter whites, and extended color space of HDR are motivating TV content providers in a way that data-heavier 4K UHD alone did not manage. But are you – and your TV – ready?
It wasn't so long ago that the video display industry was buzzing about the high clarity visual experience of 4K resolutions being rolled out everywhere, while even further excitement was mounting about an 8K future. But these days, the hottest trend in the TV world is that True 4K itself is getting an upgrade in terms of contrast and color depth with the increasing popularity of High Dynamic Range (HDR) technology. But what is HDR, and why should you be getting ready for it?
Black is the New Black
Contrast is very important to the human eye, but TV screens and other displays have always had problems with blacks and with details in shadows. HDR looks to solve these problems. The technology allows for significantly more realistically contrasted visuals and is a dramatic leap forward for 4K in the home. So much so that any content that isn't HDR is now referred to as SDR (Standard Dynamic Range).
While the higher resolution of a 4K Ultra HD TV gives you more pixels than previous standards, an HDR TV can do so much more with those same pixels. HDR is generally more focused on lowlights than highlights, but both have a much more increased range of depth with an HDR TV. HDR brings out color detail in low-light areas so that shadow details aren't crushed, while also not clipping the highlights. Put even more simply, HDR makes the darks deeper and the lights brighter, with extra color shades created in post-production that optimize the contrast ratio of the display while also increasing the amount of detail in an extended color space. This adds both noticeable punch and extra vibrancy.
HDR technology is giving displays an upgrade in terms of contrast and color depth, delivering a much wider range of color and contrast to produce more vivid video than SDR.
Static HDR and Dynamic HDR
But there's more. SDR is vastly improved upon by HDR, but there are actually two kinds of HDR – Static HDR and Dynamic HDR – and these offer different levels of visual improvement. While both HDR standards will allow movies to take advantage of HDR's expanded contrast ranges, brightness levels, and heightened levels of detail, only the dynamic version can have this perfected scene-by-scene or even frame-by-frame. In this way, dynamic HDR ensures every moment of a video is displayed at its ideal visual brilliance, which is important in terms of being able to bring a director's "vision" to your TV with dramatic changes in contrast becoming part of how content is conceived and filmed. With Static HDR, on the other hand, there is only one HDR look for content, because static metadata necessitates a compromise that applies to all the scenes. Notwithstanding, static HDR is still HDR, and still constitutes a big leap forward from SDR.
On the left you can see how static HDR applies the same heightened settings to every frame; on the right is a representation of how dynamic HDR can apply different levels of contrast and brightness on a frame-by-frame basis.
HDR Formats and the Battle for Dominance
There are currently three main HDR formats, with varying amounts of industry support and content available for each, and two further formats that are up-and-coming.
The most popular format is HDR10, which is an open standard created by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) in 2015. It is the de facto standard, since it's free to use, is available everywhere, and all HDR TV's can decode it. HDR10 has been adopted by most streaming services and is the baseline HDR technology for 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. Plus, Dell, LG, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, and Vizio all manufacture TVs/monitors with HDR10. But while it is the furthest ahead in terms of available content and consumer products, the main issue with the format is that it only supports static HDR. Neither is it SDR TV backward compatible, which limits its practical appeal to broadcasters.
Dolby has its own version of HDR, called Dolby Vision, and this steps up from HDR10 by offering dynamic HDR. It is supported by streaming services such as Netflix and iTunes. This format has been gaining popularity since Dolby Vision TVs were first released in 2017. This is a proprietary technology, but while companies have to pay Dolby to use it, Dolby in turn provides resources and tools to adopters, so that Dolby Vision content is optimized on their brand of TV. In terms of content, there is support from Sony, Universal, Paramount, and Time Warner, among others.
Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG)
Another HDR format is Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG). This was created by Britain's BBC and Japan's NHK. While this format's picture quality is not considered to be quite as good as some of the other HDR formats, the one advantage is that it is the only major format that is backwards-compatible with SDR TVs. This is because instead of using metadata, HLG uses the same gamma curve as an SDR signal, but then adds a logarithmic curve with extra brightness over the top of the signal. The fact that it does not use metadata means that it is possible to produce HLG HDR using the same workflow as for conventional TV, making it much more suitable for broadcasting. In terms of the battle for dominance, it is clear that having one format that works on both older TVs and newer TVs is going to be a benefit for broadcasters, because the majority of home users will still continue to view content on non-HDR TVs for many years. The format is supported by BBC iPlayer, DirecTV, Freeview Play, and YouTube.
This image shows the SDR gamma curve and the overlaid logarithmic HLG curve. An SDR TV will interpret this signal as standard, but an HLG-enabled TV will show the higher linear light value as extra brightness on the screen.
In addition to these three formats, another newer one is HDR10+. This was announced by Samsung and Amazon in 2017 and is an open standard. The main advantage of HDR10+ is it features dynamic metadata, which means there is no compromise when viewing the darkest or the brightest scenes. In addition, HDR10+ is backward-compatible with devices that use HDR10 encoders. While this Samsung format is ostensibly royalty-free, some industry insiders have expressed concerns, but despite this, support seems to growing. Samsung, Panasonic, and 20th Century Fox are part of an HDR10+ Alliance, while HDR10+ content is offered by Amazon Video. Warner Bros and Panasonic Ultra HD Blu-ray players also support the HDR10+ standard.
Finally, SL-HDR1 is another HDR standard that was jointly developed as a proprietary technology by STMicroelectronics, Philips International B.V., and Technicolor R&D France. Its main advantage is that it uses both static and dynamic metadata and is fully backwards-compatible with SDR TVs and networks, giving it an edge with broadcasters. This means that a reconstructed HDR signal from a SDR video stream can be delivered using existing distribution networks and services.
BBC / NHK
ST / Phillips / Technicolor
Main Improvement over SDR
Expands entire dynamic range
Increases dynamic range; emphasizes brighter highlights
Expands entire dynamic range
Static & Dynamic
SDR Backwards Compatible
Comparison table for the main current HDR formats.
ATEN Ensures Quality HDR Delivery
While the industry is excited about HDR content and HDR displays, how do you make sure that your HDR content gets to your HDR display? What kind of infrastructure do you need to achieve this? This is where ATEN comes in.
* ATEN’s True 4K Series with HDR supports all the popular HDR formats on the market
To make sure it delivers the best quality HDR video signals, ATEN fully tested its True 4K Series with HDR to verify with absolute certainty that all products support the bandwidth required for HDR content as well as comprehensive EDID settings to ensure output capability. All products are also guaranteed to transmit complete InfoFrame Metadata, something that is especially important to enjoy the full visual benefits of dynamic HDR.
ATEN's True 4K Series with HDR supports all the popular HDR formats on the market, including HDR10, Dolby Vision, and Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG), and both static and dynamic HDR. ATEN's products support up to 18Gbps bandwidth and HDCP2.2 to deliver high-performance signal extension, routing and distribution solutions for True 4K HDR video content. The series not only includes splitters and switches, but also matrix switches with a video wall processor, meaning that ATEN has a product for any of the various applications where you need the seamless delivery of HDR content at the best possible quality to wherever you require it.
Discover more about ATEN's True 4K Series with HDR here: https://www.aten.com/global/en/product-landing-page/true-4k-hdr/
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