May 26, 2017

Technicolor’s Kirk Barker Discusses How Operators in APAC Region Can Harness HDR to Enhance TV Viewing Experiences

  • The APAC region has been home to a series of HDR trials that are exploring the impact that this technology can have on the television viewing experience.
  • Unlike some other image enhancing technologies -- where operators have to make significant capital improvement investments -- HDR is a technology that has demonstrable value to customers and can be deployed by APAC operators at a reasonable cost.
  • The 2018 Olympic Games in South Korea could showcase next generation of HDR capabilities.

The Asia-Pacific (APAC) region has its sights on High Dynamic Range (HDR), an imaging technique that manages luminescence to provide richer contrasts, deeper shadows and brighter highlights.

As HDR technologies continue to evolve, Technicolor has been conducting HDR tests that span the entire content production and distribution chain while supporting Standard Dynamic Range (SDR) and multiple HDR technologies.

We had an opportunity to talk with Kirk Barker, Technicolor’s Senior Vice President of Engineering and Product Management, about HDR in the APAC region, and how Technicolor is working with a variety of players to accelerate its adoption in the region.


HDR has made a lot of progress in the last 18 months or so. Can you explain why HDR represents a strategic opportunity for broadcasters and service providers in the Asia-Pacific region?

Barker: HDR is one of those technologies that comes along infrequently that everybody agrees makes a difference. Lots of times you have technologies that people look at and say, “It’s a little bit better, but I’m not really convinced.”

HDR is one of those areas in which the benefits of the technology are immediately appreciated -- whether they’re a goldeneye [an expert on imaging] or someone who is casually watching a sports game on a Sunday.

Additionally, it really offers a unique benefit on cost and the ease of providing an enhanced service to consumers.

Technicolor has been working with a number of different partners, particularly in South Korea, on rolling out HDR technologies. What’s exciting is that with some of our solutions we can roll out an upconverted HDR version of either a movie or episodic content at a very small incremental increase to the overall cost of production.

So, unlike some of the other technologies -- where you have to throw out everything that is currently in place, causing huge capital improvement investments -- here’s a technology that has demonstrable value to customers and can be provided at a reasonable cost. It can really put network service providers (NSPs) who deploy HDR in a position to make a difference.

The other advantage for Asia Pacific is that many countries have relatively high internet speeds. This allows us to deploy HDR technology very quickly without changing out the broadcast infrastructure, utilizing internet protocol (IP) and over-the-top (OTT) services to provide an HDR version of content with even a greater speed to market.


You’ve mentioned HDR in the context of broadcasting and NSP’s and OTT. Can you talk a little bit about how some of the new standards in broadcasting are integrating these different mediums and how HDR can seamlessly operate in this hybrid environment?

Barker: One of the things to realize about the HDR standardization is it is not completed at this point. There are still a number of different proposals on the table. A number of different EOTFs (electro-optical transfer functions) are being used by different vendors, including:

  • Hybrid Log Gamma,
  • PQ EOTF,
  • S-log3 from Sony
  • and Others

There are also a few alternatives to consider when it comes to distribution.

The nice thing about the Advanced HDR by Technicolor solution is that it is EOTF-independent.

We can make a promise to our partners who deploy systems that our technology will convert any format, giving NSPs future sustainability, and future capabilities.

Advanced HDR by Technicolor can adapt to EOTFs that may change, as well as to content production processes as they change.

We believe we have a unique solution that can give them the ability to move today but with the insurance that they don’t have to throw out systems in two years or three years as the standard evolves.

To give you a sense of the current state of production, right now most work is pretty much being done with 1,000 nit content.

Now to define that, 1,000 nits is a measure of peak brightness in content. Traditional content is graded at 100 nits.

Current HDR production will handle 10 times that brightness, so that’s a huge improvement.

But the thing to understand is that the production side is continuing to grow. We believe we will be seeing 1,500 nit content and 2,000 nit content and more in the near future. The PQ standard itself allows for a peak lumens of up to 10,000 nits.


As we look at the Asia-Pacific region, is it accurate to note that there is still a large embedded base of technologies that can only accept standard dynamic range (SDR)? And what about the other flavors of HDR in the region?

Barker: When we look at broadcast production, we’ve done a lot of work in the United States -- with Time Warner Sports for instance -- but also with South Korean customers.

There was a recent announcement of a HDR trial that we did with SK Broadband in January. But it is important to realize that most of the paid product – the content that generates revenue -- is still in SDR.

So that paid product that you’re distributing has to be tremendously good. So, as a result, we’ve been working very hard with our partners to create conversion technology that can produce HDR, but then actually render out -- during the production chain in real time -- an SDR grade that’s better than what you’re seeing today.

Some of the solutions that are coming out will give you a slightly compromised SDR, and the problem with that type of solution is that SDR is what most people are actually paying for; most people tare SDR customers today.

So, we have to introduce the HDR grade, but at no point do we have to diminish -- nor should we do anything that diminishes – the SDR grade.

Some of hybrid solutions that are out there do diminish the SDR grade, and we think that’s the wrong approach.

If we can’t do a production in which that SDR grade is as good or better then NSPs need to reconsider the methodology.

The Technicolor SDR grade is judged by most people to be superior to the SDR grade they would get anyway.

The reason for that is that you have the extra detail in the shot. So, you have an HDR capture type of situation in which you provide the SDR grade with more details than they would have had originally.

That means that on the production side, artistic decisions can be made that couldn’t have been made before.


If we look at the market holistically, from the folks that are creating or capturing content, to those that are distributing it, to the devices that are presenting this content to consumers, in the Asia-Pacific region, what kind of dialogue needs to take place?

Barker: I believe you could break the problem down into a couple of different categories. You have the consumer electronics side of things, where of course Asia is super strong. The leading TV manufacturers all hail from Asia or do significant development and production in Asia.

We believe it’s very important to create the best possible content, or best possible displays in the TV -- that’s why we’ve teamed with partners like LG where we’ve helped with their color calibration and really created some technology that can give them the best possible display.

The distribution can be done in a way, as I mentioned earlier, that provides both high-quality SDR signals and high-quality HDR signals. And we can do this in a compression-efficient manner that is distributed in a way that can be supported from an operational perspective. And that’s where we’re working with partners like SK Broadband, and others in the APAC region.

Finally, on the production side, it is fine that you can display great content and can distribute great content, but you actually have to create great content.

In those situations, it is important to work with partners on the production trucks and on the grading of content to make sure that we really get that part right as well.

If we’re not able to produce a really stunning sports game in HDR, then it won’t matter that you have these great TVs. So, we’re working on all three aspects, and we have partners in each of those aspects.

It is entirely possible that some of the work for the Olympic Games in South Korea may be one of the showcases for HDR. To follow up on some of the work that we did in HDR last year with Rio.


So, what is your call-to-action to the technology and artistic communities in the Asia-Pacific region?

Barker: I believe my call-to-action would be: let’s get this thing done. At this point we’ve been doing a lot of trials, a lot of testing; we think we have the workflows worked out. It’s time to make this real and to really get it out into consumers’ hands.

There are no major blockers. We now have TVs that are in the marketplace that can do in excess of 1,000 nits. We’ve got distribution technologies that are cost efficient and are able to be done in a way that can support existing infrastructures.

And we have production tools and the capabilities to do even live production – in addition to off-line workflows.

So, my challenge here is, “It’s time.” We’ve been selling HDR TVs for two years. Let’s get HDR production live. Let’s have HDR channels out there. There’s no reason this should drag out for three or four years. We have everything we need to make it real today.