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The HDR Challenge

This current generational upgrade for TV is happening in two waves, the first we've already seen (increased resolution – 4K UHD); the second is the inclusion of High Dynamic Range (HDR) and Wider Colour Gamut (WCG), posing a different challenge for the industry. 

It's clear that there is now little doubt that Ultra High Definition (UHD) will replace HD, this type of generational upgrade is of the kind we are very used to. So far, 45 million UHD TVs have been shipped globally and by 2020 UHD TVs are to account for over 50% of total TV shipments, but it could be higher. 

The initial move to UHD came at the time when TV panel makers were seeing tight profit margins for HD. So, when the first 4K UHD TV's began to be sold in the market in 2013, almost three full years before Ultra HD Blu-ray launched, it meant that the next generation of TV technology was already experiencing a two stage implementation. Meanwhile, industry standards bodies were working on ratifying specifications for improving both colour and dynamic range of content (WCG and HDR respectively). Put simply, this allows screens to show brighter brights, darker darks, and a broader array of colours than currently can be displayed. 

Until recently, implementation of HDR was confusing due to the number of different (and half complementary, half competing) methods, with 3 key solutions emerging:

  1. HDR10/PQ – This is the format which will primarily be adopted for pre-recorded films and TV series and is already part of the UHD Blu-ray specification. It is license and royalty free and currently supporting this solution is Samsung, LG, Philips, Sony, Panasonic and others.
  2. Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) will primarily be adopted for live broadcasts. Its main advantage is that its fully backwards compatible with standard dynamic range TV's as well as being license and royalty free.
  3. Dolby Vision works by adding another layer of detail onto the HDR10 format, providing greater quality. However, it needs a license and therefore demands a royalty, as well as requiring higher processor power.

There is also a notable HDR specification from Technicolor/Philips and while it does have merit, it has not yet gained the equivalent support from the industry. 

So the challenge for the industry is how to explain this all to consumers, because while resolution does improve viewing experience, well executed HDR and WGC make a much more notable impact. Together, these three can provide an optimum UHD experience. 

At a retail level this is a challenge, as although 72% of US consumers (some of the most tech savvy in the world) are aware of 4K UHD, just 44% are aware of HDR, according to Futuresource's recent Living with Digital consumer survey. Therefore, retail needs to inform consumers that if they want to see a significant upgrade with their new TV, they need to purchase one which includes at least HDR specifications 1 and or 2. 

It also poses a challenge for digital video, for a number of years paid-for services have only offered the option of SD or HD, but that choice could expand significantly to include, UHD with or without HDR (in up to 3 different specifications), and potentially could have a HD with HDR option too in order to improve the picture but not be as data heavy as UHD. Either way, it's not a clean solution and likely to cause further confusion amongst consumers. 

UHD Blu-ray has an opportunity to take advantage of this confusion as the entire eco-system works well. Consumers will still need a HDR10 compatible TV to get the full effect, but all other parts of the chain (including production, discs and players) are controlled by the single UHD Blu-ray specification. 56% of Living with Digital's EU5 and US respondents who've tried UHD Blu-ray have reported themselves 'Extremely Satisfied'.

About the author

Tristan Veale

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Here at Futuresource Consulting we deliver specialist research and consulting services, providing market forecasts and intelligence reports. Since the 1980s we have supported a range of industry sectors, which has grown to include: CE, Broadcast, Entertainment Content, EdTech and many more.