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HDR - It's Coming! BSC Expo 2018 Seminar

I recently attended the British Society for Cinematography Expo in London (BSC Expo 2018) and, amongst many things, sat in on an excellent seminar about HDR. Here's my take on if (and when) I need to offer HDR to my corporate clients around Cambridge, UK.

Although they did not know it, whilst I was having a coffee and snack at the BSC Expo in Battersea, two of the presenters of the 'HDR, the good, the bad and the beautiful' seminar came and sat at the table I was on. They then discussed in some detail how they were going to handle the afternoon presentation and some of the display/technical issues they were having in being able to try and successfully show HDR content to the audience. It was interesting eavesdropping! This was because of a technical miss-understanding about the seminar hall's main screen - which they had discovered was incapable of displaying HDR. Luckily, one of the manufacturers at the BSC Expo had loaned them a HDR TV screen at the last minute!

The packed hour long seminar was a very good technical grounding for me in what HDR (High Dynamic Range) is - and what it is not. There were several panel members: a Colourist, some good DoPs (who recently started shooting HDR content for Netflix, the BBC etc.) as well as a representative from Dolby Vision. It was clear to me that HDR is definitely here to stay even though there are still some technical delivery/format issues and a lot of confusion about the main competing systems. Here to stay because a lot of cameras available now can capture HDR footage and because all the HDR displays that are rapidly appearing will (or should) recognise a flag in the media's metadata which will automatically switch the display to HDR output. If it's not a HDR capable display, or a HDR display with SDR (Standard Dynamic Range) content selected, then the media will just playback what we're currently used to - i.e. it'll just look, well, normal!

It seems that as more and more HDR displays appear over the next few years this automatic display "switching" will be a key thing that helps instant adoption - since no end user/viewer input will be required. You won't even need to press any button on the remote/device. You just need a HDR screen and the rest happens 'as if by magic', assuming what you've selected to play is available in HDR. What's more, the HDR content will be played back exactly as the Director intended (no massaging/tinkering of the video by the display device itself - all of that is bypassed). This is ideal!!!

The bulk of the panel discussion covered the issues in learning how best to capture, monitor, edit and grade HDR content (interesting deep technical and unexpected stylistic aspects were discussed) and then how to deliver it. HDR is not necessarily 4K either, something that TV manufacturers don't tell you/I did not realised before! I'll state it again. What was clear was that HDR is coming and it's here to stay - unlike the last episode of the TV industry trying to shift lots of flat panels - the dreaded 3D. Now, where did I leave those funny 3D glasses…

What was also clear to me is that now, as the technology is still evolving, is way too soon for me to start to worry about offering it to my corporate clients! For a start I'd have to buy an expensive HDR display and monitoring equipment plus learn a (even more) time consuming shooting/monitoring/editing/grading workflow (= higher cost to the clients). Also, some of my (especially big) clients are still struggling with streaming, network delivery and/or display issues with anything I deliver to them in 4K - so HDR would probably be a step to far in that mix!

But HDR is coming, and once a few things are worked out it really will be beautiful. Netflix and Amazon in particular are pushing it big time. For sure, the demo material that was shown was truly stunning, even though it was just in Full HD and just on a large TV panel (it was a huge hall, but I was sat near the front). Jaw dropping stuff!

I'll be keeping an eye on HDR, especially now that I understand it a lot better!