CES thoughts on HDR


While OLED was, of course, the big story of CES this year, and it seems to me that there are still lots of questions to be answered about the ability of LG and Samsung to deliver high volumes of these new TVs. But my first thoughts were about the content shown on the sets.

The black levels visible on the OLED TVs at CES were great, but to some extent, the high dynamic range of the displays showed that the content is really not as good as the displays now. I have had the advantage of seeing the Dolby ‘High Dynamic Range’ content that was shown at IBC and I was blown away by the quality of the imagery which had been specially created to demonstrate the capabilities of Dolby’s displays. (We assume that Dolby would like to get HDR content captured, stored and broadcast and get licence fees for the use of ip in this process, as it has done with audio).

This brings me to a point that I have been making for a little while. For sixty years or so, since the development of colour television, the TV industry has been basically limited by the display. Back in the late 1980s, European broadcasters had developed an analogue HD TV system that was pretty well ready to start to roll out. The images could be captured, stored and transmitted. However, when the images were displayed on CRT TVs, there was relatively little visual difference between the HD versions and the standard definition (SD) images. Part of this was because SD CRTs are such great displays for analogue video content and part of it was that CRTs simply were not large enough. There was also a big cost differential between HD and SD CRT TVs. As a result, broadcasters concluded that the time was not right to switch – for consumers the quality advantages did not outweigh the cost disadvantages.

In essence, the experience that the broadcasters were able to deliver to viewers was limited by the display. That has no longer been the case now, for several years. The best TVs – with wide gamut OLEDs just the latest manifestation of this class (PDPs and LED-backlit LCDs can also be fantastic) – are now capable of higher visual quality than broadcasters currently deliver. Even Blu-ray is based on the Rec.709 gamut (the gamut of a CRT) and can provide little more in visual quality than the best HDTV.

This new situation should be a major challenge for broadcasters. For those 60 years, apart from competition from packaged media which suffers from disadvantages of cost and inconvenience, the broadcasters have had an effective monopoly of content. However, that period is over and the internet broadcasters, YouTube, Netflix and the rest, are around to offer an alternative way to deliver content.

To date, most of what is available over the internet is of significantly lower visual quality than the products put out by broadcasters, but there is the potential for this to change. There is a real opportunity for someone to start to providing really high quality content based on HDR and wide gamut technology. Of course, this needs standards, but pretty soon, users will start to have the new displays and this will reveal the limits of the content, so the opportunity is also a potential challenge for broadcasters. Can they be the ones that drive the next wave of content quality – or will someone do this over the internet? I really don’t see packaged media having the momentum and power to do it.