The Dust Settles on IFA & IBC

Once again, I’m writing this editorial with a sense of relief. After twelve days at trade shows in the last seventeen, the words are very nearly finished and our IBC report will be published very close to on time. Our regular issues have also been published.

Last week, I talked of wanting to better understand the timings for HDR and the other “better pixels” aspects of UltraHD at IBC. I think I now have that better idea.

It’s clear that the online (broadcast) and offline (movies and OTT content) industries have very different points of view. I personally saw (and we reported on, in Display Monitor) the first appearance of HDR at CES in 2006, when we reported on a small start-up called Brightside who showed an HDR LCD at CES (Display Monitor Vol 13 #3). In February 2007, Dolby bought the company and technology (DM Vol 14 #9) and we first reported a talk by Dolby from the Meko DisplayForum conference in 2008. At that time, Dolby hoped to roll out “Dolby Contrast” from 2008 onwards and “Dolby Vision”, with high brightness of >= 1,500 cd/m², from 2009 onwards.

It has all taken a bit longer than hoped, and we’re not there yet. Offline content is the closest to being established in the market. There have now been two HDR Dolby Vision movies released, TomorrowLand and Inside Out. Check our IBC report for a sense of the impact on Hollywood of HDR and WCG. (Hollywood Excited by HDR & WCG and “The sparkle in actors’ eyes”) I am in no doubt that cinema is, absolutely, going to want to get its content made and out with these features.

My sense, after IFA and IBC, is still that Dolby is going to win the battle for the offline business. It has signed up big studios (and added Sony last week) and can offer an “end to end” solution. It already has a number of cinemas with Dolby Vision installed and has major set makers such as Vizio on board.

Because the Blu-ray community is rushing to get content and new players out by CES 2016, that Dolby is further ahead in marketing and promotion may make it the “de facto” standard for Blu-ray, even though there will be perfectly good technical alternatives from Technicolor and Philips, for example. High end and early adoptor consumers are bound to like to be able buy Blu-ray disks, players and TVs that all have the Dolby logo.

Broadcast is another issue entirely. Live broadcast relies very strongly on standards and common practices and workflows. What was clear from the IBC discussions that I had is that no broadcasters are supporting dual stream solutions, which split the broadcast stream into a base layer with a separate stream for HDR. So, the standard adopted has to supply a single, compatible stream, for existing and new sets.

Now, all the main HDR proposals have options for single streams (although they are not all backward compatible with existing sets and that is critical for broadcasters). However, live broadcast content producers are also very concerned about systems that use separate dynamic metadata to optimise the capture. They really don’t want to have change their workflows. Offline producers can do this (as Disney has demonstrated), but live broadcasting is another issue.

I have previously written about the potential appeal of the NHK/BBC hybrid log gamma technology. (BBC Approach to HDR Has Advantages for Broadcasters) Since then, the BBC approach has become the NHK/BBC approach. The BBC won the “best paper” award at IBC and was being strongly promoted and defended on the EBU booth. I still haven’t heard a really good argument against it.

Dolby, Philips and Technicolor all contend that using their systems actually improve the rendering of SDR content while the BBC claims that their’s doesn’t make it worse. Nothing I have seen at the last two shows has changed my view that there are likely to be two solutions – one for offline and one for online.

I’m not a gambler, but if I was, then my money would be on Dolby for Blu-ray and NHK/BBC for broadcasters (at least in Europe). It is, of course, possible that one of the other schemes will become popular in OTT content. However, the importance of cinema content for OTT may drive out other alternatives to Dolby.

Anyway, the DVB will create its commercial requirements by the end of February 2016, and technical requirements by the end of the year, with broadcasters getting going in 2017. The ITU, MPEG and SMPTE will also have an influence. There are still going to be a lot of arguments and discussions between now and then!