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What is, 'High Dynamic Range'? An Industry Principal, explains: Part 2

Industry leading light, Bill Baggelaar generously shares revealing and comprehensive insights into HDR - and what it means for the future of Broadcast Media. Read further to find out exactly what's in store - in his in-depth, Cine Alta Magazine interview, with Peter Crithary. Part 2, of 2.

“The Blacklist” in HDR: The increased contrast in HDR lets you create more saturated colors. This can translate into more realistic looking blue skies and many other everyday scenes. The increased contrast also provides more apparent resolution. This is supposed to be late on a wintery day with harsh shadows from the Sun going down.

“The Blacklist” in SDR: This is the original image, which feels a bit brighter and flatter, overall. “We’ve made suggestions on what we think high dynamic range should be, which is 1000 nits at minimum, along with contrast ratio and minimum peak brightness...

Q: There is one technique combining multiple exposures, and is used by a particular camera company, and is used also by DSLR manufacturers — is that technique really high dynamic range?

BILL BAGGELAAR: As far as taking multiple exposures goes, that can work in some situations, but the current systems have issues with moving camera or moving subject. There are several tests underway to help move that technology along. The technique itself works well on still images.

Q: Isn’t that compensating for the fact that the stills cameras are not processing what the sensor is capable of doing?

BILL BAGGELAAR: Sure, because if it were practical, you would have a 16-bit sensor and capture 16-bit RAW stills in order to preserve the dynamic range of the scene. Multiple simultaneous exposures allow you to elicit a higher dynamic range image in a single combined final image. But even that technique is limited by the SDR display technologies that we currently have. I can squash more shadow or highlight information into an SDR image on an SDR display, but that does not provide the same depth and detail than an HDR image will evoke on an actual HDR display.

Q: And what about in the theater?

BILL BAGGELAAR: In the theater, solutions are coming out that will basically give you, probably 14 to 16 stops of dynamic range, which is pretty incredible. But the good thing is if we’re starting on cinema content and if we’re starting from a theatrical grade in HDR, it certainly makes it easier to get HDR content into the downstream consumer distribution channels.

Q: Has that happened yet?

BILL BAGGELAAR: No. Those systems are just becoming available for the marketplace. They’re still small in number so we have not targeted one yet. But I would imagine that it will happen soon. And that’s why I believe our content is well suited to take advantage of the technologies, when the time is right.

“Annie” in HDR: Again, the increased contrast adds to a sense of realism and immersion for the viewer. Retaining sky and cloud detail information while also keeping the shadow details has long been a desire for many creative professionals.

“Annie” in SDR: Original image, shadow information is lifted to avoid losing all of the city details and at the same time, the highlight information is clipped due to the limitations of conventional displays

“Amazing Spiderman 2” in HDR: Shadow detail from the Times Square surrounding environment is able to be kept while also retaining the highlight and saturation from the bright signs and lights. Harsh shadows exist and it adds to the viewers experience by keeping some sense of realism in a very “unreal” scene.

“Amazing Spiderman 2” in SDR: Original SDR image – much flatter overall. The overall balance of highlights to shadow are thrown off in a scene like this in order to allow a viewer to see more of the details on a conventional SDR display.

Q: You’ve done these high dynamic range tests with imagery across the board? You’ve tested all of the high end digital motion picture cameras?

BILL BAGGELAAR: No. We haven’t tested all of them, but we’ve certainly dealt with all of the major cameras that are being used, ARRI, RED, and Sony. And while we have used all of the major cameras for producing our content, we haven’t specifically done HDR testing on all of them. We’ve dealt with them enough to know what their dynamic range capabilities are because we’re starting — when we’re doing a DI, TV or camera tests in general, we are starting from a RAW source to begin with, so we know all of the information that the camera is able to give us as our starting point.

Q: So to conclude I think it sounds like the best results you’re going to get will really be determined in the DI process at the end of the day.

BILL BAGGELAAR: Again, you have to start with the capture, but the ability to take advantage of what you’ve captured is huge. The DI or TV finishing workflows that maintain the highest quality throughout are going to provide the best results. High quality (floating point) color processing, along with 16-bit EXR VFX workflows will retain as much dynamic range that was in the original capture for use down the road. Being able to maintain all of the color information, resolution and dynamic range is why we have been leading the 4K/UHD revolution in the first place. We want Sony content available to be repurposed down the road and not locking ourselves only into the delivery mechanism of today. We actually have an archive that can go back and be repurposed into making these other versions that we can foresee. But Grover Crisp and our asset management group has been doing that for a long time now with our restoration and remastering efforts in both 2K/HD and 4K/UHD. is definitely going to be a learning process for people to understand how to light for HDR.

Q: What monitors are you using for grading, because obviously the DI suite needs to have the monitoring capable to see what you’re doing to achieve the best results. What are you using to be monitoring the high dynamic range?

BILL BAGGELAAR: For high dynamic range testing today we are working in SMPTE PQ and in ACES color (Academy Color Encoding Space) on a Baselight system. We have a process where we use a Dolby PRM 4200 working at 600 nits. We don’t actually clip any of the luminance values; we keep all of the dynamic range, resolution and color in an ACES EXR file. Then we can check the content on scopes and 1000 nit Sony consumer displays. If we need to do a trim pass on a brighter HDR display like a 4000 nit Dolby Pulsar or a 5000 nit Sim 2, we can do that as well. So our workflow is very scalable, very flexible and that way we don’t lock ourselves into only targeting one particular thing. The upcoming 1000 nit Sony BVM-X300 is also an exciting prospect.

Q: Working in PQ — Perceptually Quantized — can you explain?

BILL BAGGELAAR: SMPTE PQ is a significant development that gives us a luminance curve that actually lends itself to these higher dynamic range displays. Gamma encoding doesn’t hold up at these very bright levels we are discussing. We are working in PQ to make sure that we are not artificially limiting the luminance of the actual content that we are creating for our masters and our archive.

Q: Conclusions?

BILL BAGGELAAR: For demonstration at CES this year, we have created some HDR clips from The Amazing Spiderman 2, Annie and The Blacklist. All have been regraded in HDR from the original 16-bit P3 theatrical master renders and rendered out in PQ Rec. 2020. Across the board, the content is stunning. I think there’s a renewed vigor in watching it. It’s really compelling to watch the content in high dynamic range. I think it really draws people in and you can watch and experience the movie not just all over again, but experience it in new ways. You can see things that you were never able to see before, things that were kind of hidden and you didn’t really notice. You also get a sense of immersion that I think goes beyond what we’ve been able to show with current display technology. So I think HDR has a really bright future.

Q: That’s a great way to finish it, thank you very much.

To read further about Sony S-Gamut click here.

Go back to Part 1 of this article

Read the related BVM-X300 Technology Briefing

Learn more about Sony’s HDR and OLED technologies

*It maybe hard to see the effects described, without an actual HDR display

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