September 13, 2016

Technicolor Helps Cable Operators Meet the Challenges of Delivering HDR Content to the Home

  • High Dynamic Range (HDR) is a technology with which cable operators are starting to actively experiment, in preparation of imminent deployment.
  • Since multiple HDR formats have been introduced, there are many questions to be resolved. However, it appears that cable operators must prepare to deliver content in multiple HDR formats as well as Standard Dynamic Range (SDR) for the foreseeable future.
  • Technicolor technology is helping cable operators manage this complexity by enabling them deliver any HDR format and SDR with a single stream solution that can up-convert SDR content and deliver content to any device over any format.

High dynamic range video content is noticeably superior to standard dynamic range and is sure to be popular with consumers.  However, cable operators face a number of challenges to deliver this improved visual experience effectively and economically to subscribers.

Josh Limor, Vice President of Technology and Ecosystem Development at Technicolor, explains some of those challenges and how Technicolor is helping cable operators prepare to meet them.


Q: Josh, tell me about where HDR is in the cable community. At which stage of the game are we at with HDR in cable?


Limor: HDR is at a very early stage. Many cable providers are starting to do evaluations, testing different HDR formats, finding out what it means for their infrastructure and what it means for their consumers.

But they are rapidly moving through this early phase and are starting to put HDR into consumers’ hands to help them figure out what it will mean and how the community will react to it.


Q: What are some of the issues around those questions people are wrestling with?


Limor: It is definitely early days, not just for HDR testing, but also for the definition of HDR within standards bodies. The entire community is working together to define open standards for HDR so everyone can interoperate.

For instance, there are certain considerations on the infrastructure side. How much of it has to change? Do I have to change the cameras that I just bought? Do I have to change my entire infrastructure? Maybe nothing has to change. But cable companies need to figure out how to incorporate technology that helps them transition quickly and allow their customers to take advantage of HDR almost immediately and be sure they can roll it out to a wider audience as quickly as possible.


Q: So, [there are] a lot of issues, a lot of questions on the minds of cable executives. Is HDR considered a strategic issue for the industry and specifically for cable providers?


Limor: That question has come up a few times with different technologies such as when the industry was trying to determine whether or not to transition to UHD from HD resolution.

One thing that has become clear with high dynamic range is that everyone sees a benefit to it. So it is not a question of: “Do we transition?” the question is: “When do we transition?” The customer is going to want HDR because there is a clear advantage in having HDR images, but it does mean that cable operators will have to deal with a mixed format world.

For instance, TV operators and cable providers will have to deal with supporting both standard dynamic range and the various high dynamic range formats. They will have to make sure those can all co-exist, and be compatible with the various different types of displays in the customers’ possession. They will have to determine how to present content to the consumer in a way that enables the consumer to enjoy the content without the process being prohibitively expensive.


Q: You have referred to what some have called “the format wars.” What does that mean in terms of delivering HDR to consumers?


Limor: It makes life very challenging. The reality is that for years, for decades, we have had standard dynamic range: just one format for delivery of content to the home.

Now we talk about different open standards for different types of content.  You might have commercials intercut with a program that is in a different version of HDR, for instance. It raises such questions as:

  • How does the TV deal with the challenge of switching between those different formats?
  • How can a broadcaster or distributor of content ensure they will always have a piece of content presented correctly on any screen, on any device?

Technicolor has been instrumental in designing a solution that has been standardized through ETSI. It allows for any format of content to be created with any PQ curve that is being discussed.  It can ensure that content will be preserved and presented correctly on any back end device; including devices that only support SDR devices.


Q: Can you give me one or two examples of what cable providers are testing or fielding in the marketplace.


Limor: This summer, Time Warner Cable (TWC) worked with Technicolor to deliver the first ever baseball game in HDR. What was interesting about this project was that a key requirement was to produce the HDR broadcast without making any changes to the production workflow.  TWC did not want to change to HDR cameras, because they are very costly. They did not want to move to interstitials in HDR because those don’t exist yet.

But they did want to put HDR out over the wire, through their infrastructure and be able to send content to consumer devices that could decode HDR transmissions appropriately.

We worked with Time Warner Cable Sports Network to take their entire standard dynamic range production using the Technicolor HDR Intelligent Tone Management solution up-convert content from SDR to HDR. Then we took that high dynamic range version of the content and we sent it through the Technicolor HDR distribution solution.

That process made it possible to distribute content through a single stream to all subscribers, so that it could be seen on both SDR and HDR devices simultaneously without any issues.

We took that content from the stadium through El Segundo in Los Angeles, where their main headquarters are, down to Colorado, then back to Los Angeles for distribution. We even took that content for distribution across the entire United States: it was also distributed in New York.

So for the first time ever, a real production in SDR was up-converted and distributed as HDR. That’s not to say that TWC won’t need to move to HDR cameras eventually, but the goal was to see if the ecosystem could exist and if it could, prove it could deliver high quality HDR and SDR content.


Q: Interesting. What where the key lessons learned? Is the technology ready for prime time in your view, given how this trial performed?


Limor: Absolutely. This is only one of many deployments we have done. NBC Sports announced that they used the same Technicolor technology to do HDR production of sports content from the Rio Olympics this summer.

All the content generated from Olympics sports was captured in standard dynamic range. There was no HDR content. There was HDR content only of the opening ceremony. NBC leveraged technology from Technicolor to create HDR content that was distributed on Samsung HDR devices through their Xfinity app.


Q: So where do we go from here?


Limor: Technicolor is the second largest provider of set-top boxes in the world through our Connected Home division; and we are the largest provider of gateways.

Our Technology Licensing business exists to help bridge the gap between our content creation business and our Connected Home business. We are working with the content providers to ensure they can take high quality content and present it in high quality.

We want to make sure that ecosystem can exist so more rich content can be created and delivered to homes were people can experience and enjoy it without having to pay attention to the technical challenges, where those are taken care of so they can focus on enjoying their entertainment.