July 20, 2016

Setting the Mark for Next Generation Single Stream HDR Distribution Through Cable Providers

In May, Technicolor was selected as the 2016 winner of Best New Cable Product category by Light Reading for its high dynamic range distribution solution, Advanced HDR by Technicolor. The Future Trust caught up with Josh Limor, Vice President of Technology and Ecosystem Development at Technicolor, to learn how this award-winning technology works and how it will help deliver more vivid, immersive experiences today and in the future.

TFT: Tell us more about Advanced HDR by Technicolor and why it was recognized by Light Reading, and what does this solution offer?

Limor: HDR has become a really hot topic in the industry, and everyone is focused on what needs to happen to start moving into a world where we distribute high dynamic range content. They want to know:

  • How do I do it efficiently? and
  • How do I transition from what I am doing today into a world where I can distribute both high dynamic range and standard dynamic range to the appropriate customers?

Light Reading gave us this award, recognizing that our solution is one of the leading pieces of the puzzle—the piece that allows cable operators, whether they have SDR content or HDR content, to start distributing that content efficiently to both HDR and SDR customers.


TFT: One of the things that received a lot of attention by the judges of this award is the fact that Advanced HDR by Technicolor is a single-stream solution and is backwards compatible. Can you describe these features, and the efficiencies these introduce for cable providers?

Limor: Advanced HDR by Technicolor is a combination of technologies that allows for HDR content to be distributed in a backwards-compatible fashion. One signal can hit the home, and that signal will be compatible with today’s SDR devices.  So if the consumer hasn’t yet moved to a high dynamic range display, they can still receive a signal can be decoded by their devices, just as it is today, and they will be able to enjoy the content.

However, also embedded in that same signal is the meta data for the high dynamic range content.  This means that that standard dynamic range video is able to essentially be rehydrated—leveraging that meta data—to deliver the original HDR production and display it for those that have HDR capable devices in their homes.[subscribe_reminder]


TFT: Why did Technicolor decide to support a single-stream solution, instead of a two-stream solution?


Limor: There were discussions early on about a dual-layer solution – or two-stream solution – as a way to add more bits to a stream. But honestly, that has proved impractical. If you were to deliver two steams, or pursue a dual-layer approach, you have to try and synch that up on the back end. You end up needing two decoders, which means two different chipsets have to be installed on devices. These things make it completely impractical. So the industry started migrating to a single-layer approach that allows for a single 10-bit stream to be sent to the home. What Technicolor offers is an additional advantage – a single-layer approach that is not just single-layer HDR, but also a single layer that includes SDR and HDR in one.

We are all familiar with what has happened during the transition to high-definition TVs. Everyone’s cable provider has a standard-definition channel and a high-definition channel.  Often it is difficult to figure out if you are watching the right channel for your TV set. Advanced HDR by Technicolor helps to solve those types of problems as we transition to HDR by allowing one stream to hit the consumers and have it automatically display appropriately for their devices.


TFT: When the cable industry deployed 4K technology, there was a lot of consumer frustration with the lack of 4K content that could be delivered to people’s homes. How is the industry working with companies like Technicolor to keep that from happening again with HDR?


Limor: One key, integral part of the distribution solution from Technicolor is that we can deliver both SDR content or HDR content in a single stream.  But we have also developed the ability to up-convert standard dynamic range content to HDR over the same single stream. We’ve developed technology for doing up-conversions in devices that accurately represents the original intent of content creators. We worked with Hollywood colorists to be able to define an up-conversion technology and come up with algorithmically-based solution that can actually take the content and represent it appropriately.

This is different from alternative approaches in the market.  A lot of people have talked about the necessity for up conversion, and a lot of people are trying to do linear, scale up conversion.  But what ends up happening is that while the end result makes everything brighter, it doesn’t really represent the image the way it was supposed to be.

Now, regarding the problem with 4K, and the fact that there was little or no content when devices were first offered to consumers, the ability to do up conversion combined with the ability to distribute a single stream that’s compatible with all of today’s devices, allows the ecosystem to start moving forward, which is something that was vastly missing in the 4K ecosystem.


TFT: How is Advanced HDR by Technicolor being received by the cable community?


Limor: The cable community is looking for a way to efficiently start migrating to new technology. What we’ve developed has been received with some skepticism simply because initially when you hear that you can possibly do this people are nervous. T

However, once we go through the testing and evaluations and we actually show them their own content going through these solutions, it’s then met with open arms. It’s met with the idea that now, there’s actually something that works, that can actually distribute content and represent everything appropriately to the end consumer. I can equalize and normalize the experience for the end consumer and make sure my customers aren’t going to call me because there are fluctuations in programming.

One big concern is that if I am doing a linear channel as a cable provider, I am not going to fill that with all HDR content all the time. So I need the ability to make sure that no matter what happens, if I have an HDR consumer, that consumer is always receiving HDR content. There cannot be fluctuations of brightness on the display, there can’t be concerns about the signal that is reaching them, and they should always receive high-quality programming.

Similarly, on the SDR side, if I want to send out one channel I have to make sure that same channel hits the SDR customer and is an equalized, normalized experience. Our technology is that great equalizer. It is able to take any content, any form of HDR or SDR content, and make sure that it is hitting the consumer, no matter what their devices are on the back-end.


TFT: So what is your expectation for adoption of this technology in the cable community?


Limor: We are involved in several tests now with different providers. We cannot yet go into details, but the reality is everyone is very interested in HDR and are working on how to deploy the next-generation technology. They are working on how soon can they deploy it and how they can deploy it efficiently without any problems or gaps in quality or viewing experience. We’ve been involved in many discussions, and because of what we’ve learned in working with everyone in the community to help solve issues before they become problems, our technology is starting to dominate the conversation and now we are helping to design products, for example set-top boxes, that can meet the next-generation demands.


TFT: Do you expect this to become something that will be used widely in the industry in the next 12-18 months?

Limor: Definitely within the next 12-18 months, maybe even sooner. You are already seeing announcements out from, for instance, Comcast and NBC doing the Olympics with HDR, and they need certain technology to help make sure they can do an all-HDR production. But they also need to be able to deliver that content as standard dynamic range. Even if you are going to do an all HDR production, the majority of people out there still need to receive something in standard dynamic range. So we are working with the cable community, and with additional companies and partners, to be able to make sure that the industry can efficiently transition to high dynamic range. I think you’ll start seeing a lot of implementations very soon.