Trends to watch at NAB 2017

Trends to watch at NAB 2017

Next week is the annual National Association of Broadcasters show, or NAB, in Las Vegas, Nevada. NAB is primarily an industry conference, and isn’t generally focused on consumer products, but we go to NAB because it often gives us a window into the future. Tools and technologies created for Hollywood or the broadcast industry have a funny way of tricking down to everyman products over the next few years, and that’s usually a good thing (3D television being a notable exception, in my opinion).

So, let’s take a look at a few of the product categories we’ll be watching at NAB next week that have the potential to impact us not-named-Spielberg types in the coming years.

Tools for Emerging Filmmakers

The filmmaking industry has changed a lot in the past few years: technology has become better, costs have come down, and tools suitable for serious content creation are now accessible to anyone with a dream of producing films and the passion to make it happen. This transformation has ushered in an explosion of what are often referred to as ’emerging filmmakers.’

These are people who often started making films with DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, but have grown their skills or businesses to the point where they need better, dedicated tools. They include independent filmmakers, small businesses working for commercial clients, or any number of other filmmaking roles. Some things they have in common are that they care about creating high quality content, have high expectations for production value, and they don’t have upwards of $20,000 to buy a single cinema lens.

This category has grown large enough that we’re seeing more companies which have historically catered to the high end cinema market now looking to meet emerging filmmakers’ needs. Whether it’s to drive revenue or create brand loyalists, we’re seeing more tools designed and priced for these users. By way of example, in the past year we’ve seen cinema lenses such as Cookes and Fujinons with sub-$5,000 price points. We expect to see even more products aimed at emerging filmmakers at NAB. 

Virtual Reality (VR)

Virtual reality is a technology that everyone, from manufacturers to content creators, seems to want to succeed, but which hasn’t quite managed to do so. There’s clearly a lot of unrealized promise, and even Hollywood executives will tell you they’re spending a lot of money trying to figure out how to make it work. Will this be the year VR makes the leap?

NAB will once again feature a dedicated Virtual and Augmented Reality Pavillion where the VR community can show off its latest technology. And there are clearly a lot of businesses betting big money on it, ranging from consumer-focused companies like Yi Technologies, which plans to announce VR capture devices at the show, to the likes of 360 Designs, whose Flying EYE drone system will livestream 360º 6K content from miles away for a cool $75,000. 

The big question is whether any of the VR products or technologies we see at NAB this year will be enough to get significant traction in the market, or collectively move the needle toward wider adoption of VR by consumers, but the industry isn’t giving up on this one yet.

8K Technology

We actually saw 8K display technology for the first time at NAB a couple years ago. And yes, it’s good bleeping amazing. Last year, Canon had an 8K reference display in its booth with a magnifying glass next to it, teasing you to try to see the pixels. After all, with 8K you’re collecting about the same number of pixels as a Nikon D810. In bursts of 24 or 30 frames. Every second. Think of the memory cards you’re going to need… but I digress…

What does 8K mean for photographers, videographers, and emerging filmmakers? Right now, not a lot. In fact, it’s unlikely we’ll even see 8K TVs being widely marketed to consumers for a number of years. But on the content creation side, there’s a lot to be said for 8K. With 4K quickly moving in the direction of becoming a standard for viewing content, 8K will give content creators the same advantages that 4K acquisition has for creating 1080p content. Right now we’re still talking about very expensive, high end pro cinema and broadcast equipment, but what we see at NAB is often a preview to what we’ll see in less expensive gear a few years down the road.

And 8K technology may come faster than we expect. We’ve seen 4K gain fairly wide adoption very quickly, and most of the industry seems hell-bent on a collision course between full 8K broadcast and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (having already demonstrated it at London 2012 and run test broadcasts from Rio 2016). Some of this 8K goodness (or massive data storage overhead, if you’re the glass-half-empty type) may start filtering its way into our cameras in the next few years.

HDR Video

HDR video is pretty much what it sounds like: high dynamic range video that lets us see brighter brights, darker darks, and more shades in between. It’s like HDR photos, but with motion, and done well it can look pretty amazing. From a consumer perspective, most talk about HDR video these days relates to TVs, but the market is still sorting itself out. As the old adage goes, ‘The great thing about standards is that we have so many to choose from.’ Between HDR10, Dolby Vision, and Hybrid Log-Gamma, there’s plenty of room for the marketers to fight it out and educate consumers on the jargon.

But what we’re most interested in is content creation, or HDR video capture. Admittedly, there’s not a lot here for the enthusiast or prosumer at the moment. But… (and you know there’s always a ‘but’) Panasonic has already told us to expect Hybrid Log-Gamma to be included in the mother of all firmware updates – or, as we affectionately know it, MOAFU (really rolls off your tongue, doesn’t it) – that’s coming for the Panasonic GH5 in summer 2017. We look forward to testing it. Once we figure out how to test it.

Drones

Love ’em or hate ’em, people are going to use drones for all kinds of things. (At least until Skynet, and we all know how that ends.) Of course, what we care about at DPReview is aerial imaging, whether it’s still photography or video. The drone industry has exploded in the past few years, with tools ranging from octocopters that nonchalantly ferry around RED and Arri cameras to consumer products you can buy off the shelf and use to make your own movies.

As with other video categories, what started out as technology available only to well-funded production studios has quickly started to filter down to the emerging filmmaker or prosumer level. In fact, less than six months ago DJI introduced the Inspire 2 drone and Zenmuse X5S camera. That combo uses a Micro Four Thirds camera to shoot 5.2K CinemaDNG Raw video with a bit rate of 4.2Gbps. All for the price of a Canon 1D X II. This is Hollywood-level stuff. They even got cinematographer Claudio Miranda, ASC (Life of Pi) to make a film with it, though he had to carry it around in his hands for some shots.

Why do I bring up a product that was announced a few months ago? First, because it’s an indication of where the technology is going, and competitors will need to find a way to respond. We’ll be watching to see if that happens at NAB. And second, because for the love of God, DJI, can you please put this combination of tech into a regular camera? I don’t care if it’s a Micro Four Thirds camera the size of a Canon 1D X II, I will write you a check tomorrow.

Such is my plea.

Live Streaming

It used to be that we recorded home movies which we then forced our friends and family to watch over Thanksgiving. Later came the internet, so we could just send aunt Mabel a Vimeo link, or start a YouTube channel about cats with millions of followers.

Today that’s no longer adequate. Things must be on the internet, and they must be on now! Whether it’s Vloggers broadcasting live from a tradeshow floor using their iPhones, or sites like DPReview doing live webcasts from a studio, live streaming has gained a lot of momentum, and viewers are demanding higher quality live streams as time goes on.

We’ve already seen products to meet this need at a consumer level, whether it’s a DJI Osmo that uses your phone to broadcast on Facebook Live, or the Blackmagic Web Presenter, which allows you to turn virtually any high quality camera into a streaming broadcast camera. We’ll be on the watch for other products and technologies that will fuel our live streaming future. Though we can’t promise to stream them to you live.

On HDR Displays and Grading

Today, Samsung and Amazon announced yet another HDR standard for televisions. In case you’re not familiar with the idea of a High Dynamic Range display, it’s—get this—brighter than a normal display. That’s it. This groundbreaking idea apparently needed about four competing standards, one from Dolby, the sound company. Now there’s a fifth.

I couldn’t resist chiming in on Twitter.

To be clear, that’s me HDR-ifiying the shot. There is an actual “HDR” edition of Sicario on 4k Blu-ray, but from the looks of it, it has the same intentionally compressed dynamic range as the HD version these stills were pulled from.

That’s a good thing. That’s the filmmaker’s intent.

Update 2017-04-21: Be sure to read all the way to the end for more on this. Seriously, you don’t want to miss it.

Notes on this Rant

To be clear, I created a straw man by taking a beautiful movie, Sicario, and coarsely applying the only area of “improvement” that HDR allows: brighter highlights. This was only possible because Sicario doesn’t even use the entire dynamic range of HD video. The filmmaker’s intended look fits entirely within the low-dynamic-range container of HD Rec709. It’s a low-contrast, low-saturation film. The “HDR” 4k version is no different, and seemingly enjoys only the benefit of enhanced color fidelity and resolution in the 4k Blu-ray edition. Those are real benefits. And there are movies with bright, poppy colors that would happily occupy the greater dynamic range of an HDR TV. And working to that standard, a filmmaker would, of course, still be welcome to opt out of the brighter highlights, and choose their own dynamic range “box” to work within.

But…

…in practice, that won’t be the case. Because even without HDR, TVs already ruin movies by trying to make them look “better.” HDR is just another axis for your relatives’ TV to be set up wrong. And just like modern TVs try to “fix” 24p with motion smoothing, you can bet they’ll also offer all kinds of delightful modes to “HDR-ify” your LDR content. And if you think that will look better than my coarse examples above, you haven’t seen how bad TVs already are.

HDR has the potential to be a useful tool. But TV manufacturers will absolutely screw it up.

Follow Up 2017-04-21: All the Ways I’m Wrong

There’s been a lot of great response to this post, and some thoughtful disagreements. I opened the door for the disagreements by structuring my argument rather sloppily; conflating two different ideas.

Argument 1: I’m not personally Interested in the Creative Potential of HDR for Cinematic Images

I can’t be “wrong” about this one, because it’s my opinion, but of course you are welcome to disagree.

When I took the intentionally, creatively LDR images from Sicario and brightened up their highlights, I wasn’t saying that your HDR TV will do this to Sicario. Nor was I saying that an mastered-to-HDR-standards version of Sicario would look like that.

What I was saying is the good old Prolost argument that less is more with cinema. Sicario is widely regarded as a very beautiful film. It intentionally uses a very low dynamic range, less than even Rec709 allows. The only way the HDR-ness of HDR can “improve” that is if some idiot tried to brighten up the highlights. What I was trying to show is that the flagship feature of HDR has nothing to offer Sicario.

But I mixed that argument in with my distrust of consumer television manufacturers, which opened my up to rebuttals like this:

He’s right, there’s nothing about the HDR standards themselves that should mess up our movies.

Chris in the comments below said “There is beautiful potential for artistic expression in HDR.” I’m sure that’s true. But this is just another case where I don’t think the way movies look is broken. I like rolled-off highlights and constrained palettes. I imagine Kylo Ren’s lightsaber could look amazing in HDR, but I’d probably prefer the way if would look if it was shot on a vintage roll of Kodak 5218. If your idea of a pretty movie is more along the lines of Pacific Rim than Arrival, you’re going to love HDR.

So on argument 1: I’m not wrong, but neither are your disagreements.

Argument 2: HDR is Another Axis for Consumer Televisions to Ruin Our Viewing Experience

I kinda started my argument with the creative, “Sicario is pretty and doesn’t need HDR so why would anyone ever” point and then concluded with the “Samsung will just screw this all up anyway” point. Which is not how you’re supposed to write convincing arguments. Oops.

But I remain concerned that HDR will simply mean that TV manufacturers will forget all about making blacks blacker and colors more accurate and simply try to blind us with how bright, sharp, blue, and smooth their images can be.

Rod Bogart, one of the smartest imaging nerds I know (we met at ILM, he’s now at HBO, and his actual initials are RGB), replied:

A number of other people chimed in here as well to point out that since HDR comes with metadata that tells the TV what it is, there’s a greater chance that the TV can show it correctly.

In the marketing site for LG’s flagship OLED HDR TV, the actually state that “With[…] Dolby Vision, you can be sure that your entertainment is viewed the way it was meant to be seen.”

Screenshot 2017-04-21 09.07.25.png

I want to believe. But I’ve been hurt so badly.

Before five competing standards of HDR, there was only one HD color standard in the US: Rec709. Just one. A really easy one. A 27-year-old one. And no consumer TV shows it correctly by default. They all try to make it brighter, sharper, bluer, and more saturated.

Guess what HDR-capable panels let them do? That’s right, make images even brighter, even bluer, even more saturated.

There’s also another danger, which is that studios could get in$pired to sell us HDR retransfers of library titles. I hadn’t mentioned it, but Todd Vaziri (another ILMer) picked up on it:

The temptation will be there to contravene the original filmmaker’s intention for the look of an important film, just to demonstrate the value of new TVs and new opportunities to buy a movie you’ve already bought three times.

The good news is that that for all the brighter-is-better LCD panels out there, there are also these amazing new OLED panels, which are being used more and more for professional grading and really do look great. They are HDR-capable, but they are also very accurate and have great contrast. Prices are coming down too.

The other good news is that the folks transferring Sicario to HDR 4k seemed perfectly happy to ignore the opportunity to create poppy, bright highlights where there were none before.

So if HDR gets anywhere close to helping home viewers see what filmmakers intended, I’ll be delighted. But you’ll have to forgive my skepticism, as history indicates quite the opposite. I just spent a week traveling, and every hotel TV I saw was showing letterboxed SD channels stretched to fill a 16:9 frame. We can’t even get the simple stuff right, and five competing HDR standards are anything but simple.

So on argument 2: Too early to tell if I’m right or wrong. History is on my side. But I hope I’m wrong. I may need to buy a new TV someday.

On HDR Displays and Grading

Today, Samsung and Amazon announced yet another HDR standard for televisions. In case you’re not familiar with the idea of a High Dynamic Range display, it’s—get this—brighter than a normal display. That’s it. This groundbreaking idea apparently needed about four competing standards, one from Dolby, the sound company. Now there’s a fifth.

I couldn’t resist chiming in on Twitter.

To be clear, that’s me HDR-ifiying the shot. There is an actual “HDR” edition of Sicario on 4k Blu-ray, but from the looks of it, it has the same intentionally compressed dynamic range as the HD version these stills were pulled from.

That’s a good thing. That’s the filmmaker’s intent.

Update 2017-04-21: Be sure to read all the way to the end for more on this. Seriously, you don’t want to miss it.

Notes on this Rant

To be clear, I created a straw man by taking a beautiful movie, Sicario, and coarsely applying the only area of “improvement” that HDR allows: brighter highlights. This was only possible because Sicario doesn’t even use the entire dynamic range of HD video. The filmmaker’s intended look fits entirely within the low-dynamic-range container of HD Rec709. It’s a low-contrast, low-saturation film. The “HDR” 4k version is no different, and seemingly enjoys only the benefit of enhanced color fidelity and resolution in the 4k Blu-ray edition. Those are real benefits. And there are movies with bright, poppy colors that would happily occupy the greater dynamic range of an HDR TV. And working to that standard, a filmmaker would, of course, still be welcome to opt out of the brighter highlights, and choose their own dynamic range “box” to work within.

But…

…in practice, that won’t be the case. Because even without HDR, TVs already ruin movies by trying to make them look “better.” HDR is just another axis for your relatives’ TV to be set up wrong. And just like modern TVs try to “fix” 24p with motion smoothing, you can bet they’ll also offer all kinds of delightful modes to “HDR-ify” your LDR content. And if you think that will look better than my coarse examples above, you haven’t seen how bad TVs already are.

HDR has the potential to be a useful tool. But TV manufacturers will absolutely screw it up.

Follow Up 2017-04-21: All the Ways I’m Wrong

There’s been a lot of great response to this post, and some thoughtful disagreements. I opened the door for the disagreements by structuring my argument rather sloppily; conflating two different ideas.

Argument 1: I’m not personally Interested in the Creative Potential of HDR for Cinematic Images

I can’t be “wrong” about this one, because it’s my opinion, but of course you are welcome to disagree.

When I took the intentionally, creatively LDR images from Sicario and brightened up their highlights, I wasn’t saying that your HDR TV will do this to Sicario. Nor was I saying that an mastered-to-HDR-standards version of Sicario would look like that.

What I was saying is the good old Prolost argument that less is more with cinema. Sicario is widely regarded as a very beautiful film. It intentionally uses a very low dynamic range, less than even Rec709 allows. The only way the HDR-ness of HDR can “improve” that is if some idiot tried to brighten up the highlights. What I was trying to show is that the flagship feature of HDR has nothing to offer Sicario.

But I mixed that argument in with my distrust of consumer television manufacturers, which opened my up to rebuttals like this:

He’s right, there’s nothing about the HDR standards themselves that should mess up our movies.

Chris in the comments below said “There is beautiful potential for artistic expression in HDR.” I’m sure that’s true. But this is just another case where I don’t think the way movies look is broken. I like rolled-off highlights and constrained palettes. I imagine Kylo Ren’s lightsaber could look amazing in HDR, but I’d probably prefer the way if would look if it was shot on a vintage roll of Kodak 5218. If your idea of a pretty movie is more along the lines of Pacific Rim than Arrival, you’re going to love HDR.

So on argument 1: I’m not wrong, but neither are your disagreements.

Argument 2: HDR is Another Axis for Consumer Televisions to Ruin Our Viewing Experience

I kinda started my argument with the creative, “Sicario is pretty and doesn’t need HDR so why would anyone ever” point and then concluded with the “Samsung will just screw this all up anyway” point. Which is not how you’re supposed to write convincing arguments. Oops.

But I remain concerned that HDR will simply mean that TV manufacturers will forget all about making blacks blacker and colors more accurate and simply try to blind us with how bright, sharp, blue, and smooth their images can be.

Rod Bogart, one of the smartest imaging nerds I know (we met at ILM, he’s now at HBO, and his actual initials are RGB), replied:

A number of other people chimed in here as well to point out that since HDR comes with metadata that tells the TV what it is, there’s a greater chance that the TV can show it correctly.

In the marketing site for LG’s flagship OLED HDR TV, the actually state that “With[…] Dolby Vision, you can be sure that your entertainment is viewed the way it was meant to be seen.”

Screenshot 2017-04-21 09.07.25.png

I want to believe. But I’ve been hurt so badly.

Before five competing standards of HDR, there was only one HD color standard in the US: Rec709. Just one. A really easy one. A 27-year-old one. And no consumer TV shows it correctly by default. They all try to make it brighter, sharper, bluer, and more saturated.

Guess what HDR-capable panels let them do? That’s right, make images even brighter, even bluer, even more saturated.

There’s also another danger, which is that studios could get in$pired to sell us HDR retransfers of library titles. I hadn’t mentioned it, but Todd Vaziri (another ILMer) picked up on it:

The temptation will be there to contravene the original filmmaker’s intention for the look of an important film, just to demonstrate the value of new TVs and new opportunities to buy a movie you’ve already bought three times.

The good news is that that for all the brighter-is-better LCD panels out there, there are also these amazing new OLED panels, which are being used more and more for professional grading and really do look great. They are HDR-capable, but they are also very accurate and have great contrast. Prices are coming down too.

The other good news is that the folks transferring Sicario to HDR 4k seemed perfectly happy to ignore the opportunity to create poppy, bright highlights where there were none before.

So if HDR gets anywhere close to helping home viewers see what filmmakers intended, I’ll be delighted. But you’ll have to forgive my skepticism, as history indicates quite the opposite. I just spent a week traveling, and every hotel TV I saw was showing letterboxed SD channels stretched to fill a 16:9 frame. We can’t even get the simple stuff right, and five competing HDR standards are anything but simple.

So on argument 2: Too early to tell if I’m right or wrong. History is on my side. But I hope I’m wrong. I may need to buy a new TV someday.

On HDR Displays and Grading

Today, Samsung and Amazon announced yet another HDR standard for televisions. In case you’re not familiar with the idea of a High Dynamic Range display, it’s—get this—brighter than a normal display. That’s it. This groundbreaking idea apparently needed about four competing standards, one from Dolby, the sound company. Now there’s a fifth.

I couldn’t resist chiming in on Twitter.

To be clear, that’s me HDR-ifiying the shot. There is an actual “HDR” edition of Sicario on 4k Blu-ray, but from the looks of it, it has the same intentionally compressed dynamic range as the HD version these stills were pulled from.

That’s a good thing. That’s the filmmaker’s intent.

Update 2017-04-21: Be sure to read all the way to the end for more on this. Seriously, you don’t want to miss it.

Notes on this Rant

To be clear, I created a straw man by taking a beautiful movie, Sicario, and coarsely applying the only area of “improvement” that HDR allows: brighter highlights. This was only possible because Sicario doesn’t even use the entire dynamic range of HD video. The filmmaker’s intended look fits entirely within the low-dynamic-range container of HD Rec709. It’s a low-contrast, low-saturation film. The “HDR” 4k version is no different, and seemingly enjoys only the benefit of enhanced color fidelity and resolution in the 4k Blu-ray edition. Those are real benefits. And there are movies with bright, poppy colors that would happily occupy the greater dynamic range of an HDR TV. And working to that standard, a filmmaker would, of course, still be welcome to opt out of the brighter highlights, and choose their own dynamic range “box” to work within.

But…

…in practice, that won’t be the case. Because even without HDR, TVs already ruin movies by trying to make them look “better.” HDR is just another axis for your relatives’ TV to be set up wrong. And just like modern TVs try to “fix” 24p with motion smoothing, you can bet they’ll also offer all kinds of delightful modes to “HDR-ify” your LDR content. And if you think that will look better than my coarse examples above, you haven’t seen how bad TVs already are.

HDR has the potential to be a useful tool. But TV manufacturers will absolutely screw it up.

Follow Up 2017-04-21: All the Ways I’m Wrong

There’s been a lot of great response to this post, and some thoughtful disagreements. I opened the door for the disagreements by structuring my argument rather sloppily; conflating two different ideas.

Argument 1: I’m not personally Interested in the Creative Potential of HDR for Cinematic Images

I can’t be “wrong” about this one, because it’s my opinion, but of course you are welcome to disagree.

When I took the intentionally, creatively LDR images from Sicario and brightened up their highlights, I wasn’t saying that your HDR TV will do this to Sicario. Nor was I saying that an mastered-to-HDR-standards version of Sicario would look like that.

What I was saying is the good old Prolost argument that less is more with cinema. Sicario is widely regarded as a very beautiful film. It intentionally uses a very low dynamic range, less than even Rec709 allows. The only way the HDR-ness of HDR can “improve” that is if some idiot tried to brighten up the highlights. What I was trying to show is that the flagship feature of HDR has nothing to offer Sicario.

But I mixed that argument in with my distrust of consumer television manufacturers, which opened my up to rebuttals like this:

He’s right, there’s nothing about the HDR standards themselves that should mess up our movies.

Chris in the comments below said “There is beautiful potential for artistic expression in HDR.” I’m sure that’s true. But this is just another case where I don’t think the way movies look is broken. I like rolled-off highlights and constrained palettes. I imagine Kylo Ren’s lightsaber could look amazing in HDR, but I’d probably prefer the way if would look if it was shot on a vintage roll of Kodak 5218. If your idea of a pretty movie is more along the lines of Pacific Rim than Arrival, you’re going to love HDR.

So on argument 1: I’m not wrong, but neither are your disagreements.

Argument 2: HDR is Another Axis for Consumer Televisions to Ruin Our Viewing Experience

I kinda started my argument with the creative, “Sicario is pretty and doesn’t need HDR so why would anyone ever” point and then concluded with the “Samsung will just screw this all up anyway” point. Which is not how you’re supposed to write convincing arguments. Oops.

But I remain concerned that HDR will simply mean that TV manufacturers will forget all about making blacks blacker and colors more accurate and simply try to blind us with how bright, sharp, blue, and smooth their images can be.

Rod Bogart, one of the smartest imaging nerds I know (we met at ILM, he’s now at HBO, and his actual initials are RGB), replied:

A number of other people chimed in here as well to point out that since HDR comes with metadata that tells the TV what it is, there’s a greater chance that the TV can show it correctly.

In the marketing site for LG’s flagship OLED HDR TV, the actually state that “With[…] Dolby Vision, you can be sure that your entertainment is viewed the way it was meant to be seen.”

Screenshot 2017-04-21 09.07.25.png

I want to believe. But I’ve been hurt so badly.

Before five competing standards of HDR, there was only one HD color standard in the US: Rec709. Just one. A really easy one. A 27-year-old one. And no consumer TV shows it correctly by default. They all try to make it brighter, sharper, bluer, and more saturated.

Guess what HDR-capable panels let them do? That’s right, make images even brighter, even bluer, even more saturated.

There’s also another danger, which is that studios could get in$pired to sell us HDR retransfers of library titles. I hadn’t mentioned it, but Todd Vaziri (another ILMer) picked up on it:

The temptation will be there to contravene the original filmmaker’s intention for the look of an important film, just to demonstrate the value of new TVs and new opportunities to buy a movie you’ve already bought three times.

The good news is that that for all the brighter-is-better LCD panels out there, there are also these amazing new OLED panels, which are being used more and more for professional grading and really do look great. They are HDR-capable, but they are also very accurate and have great contrast. Prices are coming down too.

The other good news is that the folks transferring Sicario to HDR 4k seemed perfectly happy to ignore the opportunity to create poppy, bright highlights where there were none before.

So if HDR gets anywhere close to helping home viewers see what filmmakers intended, I’ll be delighted. But you’ll have to forgive my skepticism, as history indicates quite the opposite. I just spent a week traveling, and every hotel TV I saw was showing letterboxed SD channels stretched to fill a 16:9 frame. We can’t even get the simple stuff right, and five competing HDR standards are anything but simple.

So on argument 2: Too early to tell if I’m right or wrong. History is on my side. But I hope I’m wrong. I may need to buy a new TV someday.

On HDR Displays and Grading

Today, Samsung and Amazon announced yet another HDR standard for televisions. In case you’re not familiar with the idea of a High Dynamic Range display, it’s—get this—brighter than a normal display. That’s it. This groundbreaking idea apparently needed about four competing standards, one from Dolby, the sound company. Now there’s a fifth.

I couldn’t resist chiming in on Twitter.

To be clear, that’s me HDR-ifiying the shot. There is an actual “HDR” edition of Sicario on 4k Blu-ray, but from the looks of it, it has the same intentionally compressed dynamic range as the HD version these stills were pulled from.

That’s a good thing. That’s the filmmaker’s intent.

Update 2017-04-21: Be sure to read all the way to the end for more on this. Seriously, you don’t want to miss it.

Notes on this Rant

To be clear, I created a straw man by taking a beautiful movie, Sicario, and coarsely applying the only area of “improvement” that HDR allows: brighter highlights. This was only possible because Sicario doesn’t even use the entire dynamic range of HD video. The filmmaker’s intended look fits entirely within the low-dynamic-range container of HD Rec709. It’s a low-contrast, low-saturation film. The “HDR” 4k version is no different, and seemingly enjoys only the benefit of enhanced color fidelity and resolution in the 4k Blu-ray edition. Those are real benefits. And there are movies with bright, poppy colors that would happily occupy the greater dynamic range of an HDR TV. And working to that standard, a filmmaker would, of course, still be welcome to opt out of the brighter highlights, and choose their own dynamic range “box” to work within.

But…

…in practice, that won’t be the case. Because even without HDR, TVs already ruin movies by trying to make them look “better.” HDR is just another axis for your relatives’ TV to be set up wrong. And just like modern TVs try to “fix” 24p with motion smoothing, you can bet they’ll also offer all kinds of delightful modes to “HDR-ify” your LDR content. And if you think that will look better than my coarse examples above, you haven’t seen how bad TVs already are.

HDR has the potential to be a useful tool. But TV manufacturers will absolutely screw it up.

Follow Up 2017-04-21: All the Ways I’m Wrong

There’s been a lot of great response to this post, and some thoughtful disagreements. I opened the door for the disagreements by structuring my argument rather sloppily; conflating two different ideas.

Argument 1: I’m not personally Interested in the Creative Potential of HDR for Cinematic Images

I can’t be “wrong” about this one, because it’s my opinion, but of course you are welcome to disagree.

When I took the intentionally, creatively LDR images from Sicario and brightened up their highlights, I wasn’t saying that your HDR TV will do this to Sicario. Nor was I saying that an mastered-to-HDR-standards version of Sicario would look like that.

What I was saying is the good old Prolost argument that less is more with cinema. Sicario is widely regarded as a very beautiful film. It intentionally uses a very low dynamic range, less than even Rec709 allows. The only way the HDR-ness of HDR can “improve” that is if some idiot tried to brighten up the highlights. What I was trying to show is that the flagship feature of HDR has nothing to offer Sicario.

But I mixed that argument in with my distrust of consumer television manufacturers, which opened my up to rebuttals like this:

He’s right, there’s nothing about the HDR standards themselves that should mess up our movies.

Chris in the comments below said “There is beautiful potential for artistic expression in HDR.” I’m sure that’s true. But this is just another case where I don’t think the way movies look is broken. I like rolled-off highlights and constrained palettes. I imagine Kylo Ren’s lightsaber could look amazing in HDR, but I’d probably prefer the way if would look if it was shot on a vintage roll of Kodak 5218. If your idea of a pretty movie is more along the lines of Pacific Rim than Arrival, you’re going to love HDR.

So on argument 1: I’m not wrong, but neither are your disagreements.

Argument 2: HDR is Another Axis for Consumer Televisions to Ruin Our Viewing Experience

I kinda started my argument with the creative, “Sicario is pretty and doesn’t need HDR so why would anyone ever” point and then concluded with the “Samsung will just screw this all up anyway” point. Which is not how you’re supposed to write convincing arguments. Oops.

But I remain concerned that HDR will simply mean that TV manufacturers will forget all about making blacks blacker and colors more accurate and simply try to blind us with how bright, sharp, blue, and smooth their images can be.

Rod Bogart, one of the smartest imaging nerds I know (we met at ILM, he’s now at HBO, and his actual initials are RGB), replied:

A number of other people chimed in here as well to point out that since HDR comes with metadata that tells the TV what it is, there’s a greater chance that the TV can show it correctly.

In the marketing site for LG’s flagship OLED HDR TV, the actually state that “With[…] Dolby Vision, you can be sure that your entertainment is viewed the way it was meant to be seen.”

Screenshot 2017-04-21 09.07.25.png

I want to believe. But I’ve been hurt so badly.

Before five competing standards of HDR, there was only one HD color standard in the US: Rec709. Just one. A really easy one. A 27-year-old one. And no consumer TV shows it correctly by default. They all try to make it brighter, sharper, bluer, and more saturated.

Guess what HDR-capable panels let them do? That’s right, make images even brighter, even bluer, even more saturated.

There’s also another danger, which is that studios could get in$pired to sell us HDR retransfers of library titles. I hadn’t mentioned it, but Todd Vaziri (another ILMer) picked up on it:

The temptation will be there to contravene the original filmmaker’s intention for the look of an important film, just to demonstrate the value of new TVs and new opportunities to buy a movie you’ve already bought three times.

The good news is that that for all the brighter-is-better LCD panels out there, there are also these amazing new OLED panels, which are being used more and more for professional grading and really do look great. They are HDR-capable, but they are also very accurate and have great contrast. Prices are coming down too.

The other good news is that the folks transferring Sicario to HDR 4k seemed perfectly happy to ignore the opportunity to create poppy, bright highlights where there were none before.

So if HDR gets anywhere close to helping home viewers see what filmmakers intended, I’ll be delighted. But you’ll have to forgive my skepticism, as history indicates quite the opposite. I just spent a week traveling, and every hotel TV I saw was showing letterboxed SD channels stretched to fill a 16:9 frame. We can’t even get the simple stuff right, and five competing HDR standards are anything but simple.

So on argument 2: Too early to tell if I’m right or wrong. History is on my side. But I hope I’m wrong. I may need to buy a new TV someday.

On HDR Displays and Grading

Today, Samsung and Amazon announced yet another HDR standard for televisions. In case you’re not familiar with the idea of a High Dynamic Range display, it’s—get this—brighter than a normal display. That’s it. This groundbreaking idea apparently needed about four competing standards, one from Dolby, the sound company. Now there’s a fifth.

I couldn’t resist chiming in on Twitter.

To be clear, that’s me HDR-ifiying the shot. There is an actual “HDR” edition of Sicario on 4k Blu-ray, but from the looks of it, it has the same intentionally compressed dynamic range as the HD version these stills were pulled from.

That’s a good thing. That’s the filmmaker’s intent.

Update 2017-04-21: Be sure to read all the way to the end for more on this. Seriously, you don’t want to miss it.

Notes on this Rant

To be clear, I created a straw man by taking a beautiful movie, Sicario, and coarsely applying the only area of “improvement” that HDR allows: brighter highlights. This was only possible because Sicario doesn’t even use the entire dynamic range of HD video. The filmmaker’s intended look fits entirely within the low-dynamic-range container of HD Rec709. It’s a low-contrast, low-saturation film. The “HDR” 4k version is no different, and seemingly enjoys only the benefit of enhanced color fidelity and resolution in the 4k Blu-ray edition. Those are real benefits. And there are movies with bright, poppy colors that would happily occupy the greater dynamic range of an HDR TV. And working to that standard, a filmmaker would, of course, still be welcome to opt out of the brighter highlights, and choose their own dynamic range “box” to work within.

But…

…in practice, that won’t be the case. Because even without HDR, TVs already ruin movies by trying to make them look “better.” HDR is just another axis for your relatives’ TV to be set up wrong. And just like modern TVs try to “fix” 24p with motion smoothing, you can bet they’ll also offer all kinds of delightful modes to “HDR-ify” your LDR content. And if you think that will look better than my coarse examples above, you haven’t seen how bad TVs already are.

HDR has the potential to be a useful tool. But TV manufacturers will absolutely screw it up.

Follow Up 2017-04-21: All the Ways I’m Wrong

There’s been a lot of great response to this post, and some thoughtful disagreements. I opened the door for the disagreements by structuring my argument rather sloppily; conflating two different ideas.

Argument 1: I’m not personally Interested in the Creative Potential of HDR for Cinematic Images

I can’t be “wrong” about this one, because it’s my opinion, but of course you are welcome to disagree.

When I took the intentionally, creatively LDR images from Sicario and brightened up their highlights, I wasn’t saying that your HDR TV will do this to Sicario. Nor was I saying that an mastered-to-HDR-standards version of Sicario would look like that.

What I was saying is the good old Prolost argument that less is more with cinema. Sicario is widely regarded as a very beautiful film. It intentionally uses a very low dynamic range, less than even Rec709 allows. The only way the HDR-ness of HDR can “improve” that is if some idiot tried to brighten up the highlights. What I was trying to show is that the flagship feature of HDR has nothing to offer Sicario.

But I mixed that argument in with my distrust of consumer television manufacturers, which opened my up to rebuttals like this:

He’s right, there’s nothing about the HDR standards themselves that should mess up our movies.

Chris in the comments below said “There is beautiful potential for artistic expression in HDR.” I’m sure that’s true. But this is just another case where I don’t think the way movies look is broken. I like rolled-off highlights and constrained palettes. I imagine Kylo Ren’s lightsaber could look amazing in HDR, but I’d probably prefer the way if would look if it was shot on a vintage roll of Kodak 5218. If your idea of a pretty movie is more along the lines of Pacific Rim than Arrival, you’re going to love HDR.

So on argument 1: I’m not wrong, but neither are your disagreements.

Argument 2: HDR is Another Axis for Consumer Televisions to Ruin Our Viewing Experience

I kinda started my argument with the creative, “Sicario is pretty and doesn’t need HDR so why would anyone ever” point and then concluded with the “Samsung will just screw this all up anyway” point. Which is not how you’re supposed to write convincing arguments. Oops.

But I remain concerned that HDR will simply mean that TV manufacturers will forget all about making blacks blacker and colors more accurate and simply try to blind us with how bright, sharp, blue, and smooth their images can be.

Rod Bogart, one of the smartest imaging nerds I know (we met at ILM, he’s now at HBO, and his actual initials are RGB), replied:

A number of other people chimed in here as well to point out that since HDR comes with metadata that tells the TV what it is, there’s a greater chance that the TV can show it correctly.

In the marketing site for LG’s flagship OLED HDR TV, the actually state that “With[…] Dolby Vision, you can be sure that your entertainment is viewed the way it was meant to be seen.”

Screenshot 2017-04-21 09.07.25.png

I want to believe. But I’ve been hurt so badly.

Before five competing standards of HDR, there was only one HD color standard in the US: Rec709. Just one. A really easy one. A 27-year-old one. And no consumer TV shows it correctly by default. They all try to make it brighter, sharper, bluer, and more saturated.

Guess what HDR-capable panels let them do? That’s right, make images even brighter, even bluer, even more saturated.

There’s also another danger, which is that studios could get in$pired to sell us HDR retransfers of library titles. I hadn’t mentioned it, but Todd Vaziri (another ILMer) picked up on it:

The temptation will be there to contravene the original filmmaker’s intention for the look of an important film, just to demonstrate the value of new TVs and new opportunities to buy a movie you’ve already bought three times.

The good news is that that for all the brighter-is-better LCD panels out there, there are also these amazing new OLED panels, which are being used more and more for professional grading and really do look great. They are HDR-capable, but they are also very accurate and have great contrast. Prices are coming down too.

The other good news is that the folks transferring Sicario to HDR 4k seemed perfectly happy to ignore the opportunity to create poppy, bright highlights where there were none before.

So if HDR gets anywhere close to helping home viewers see what filmmakers intended, I’ll be delighted. But you’ll have to forgive my skepticism, as history indicates quite the opposite. I just spent a week traveling, and every hotel TV I saw was showing letterboxed SD channels stretched to fill a 16:9 frame. We can’t even get the simple stuff right, and five competing HDR standards are anything but simple.

So on argument 2: Too early to tell if I’m right or wrong. History is on my side. But I hope I’m wrong. I may need to buy a new TV someday.

On HDR Displays and Grading

Today, Samsung and Amazon announced yet another HDR standard for televisions. In case you’re not familiar with the idea of a High Dynamic Range display, it’s—get this—brighter than a normal display. That’s it. This groundbreaking idea apparently needed about four competing standards, one from Dolby, the sound company. Now there’s a fifth.

I couldn’t resist chiming in on Twitter.

To be clear, that’s me HDR-ifiying the shot. There is an actual “HDR” edition of Sicario on 4k Blu-ray, but from the looks of it, it has the same intentionally compressed dynamic range as the HD version these stills were pulled from.

That’s a good thing. That’s the filmmaker’s intent.

Notes on this Rant

To be clear, I created a straw man by taking a beautiful movie, Sicario, and coarsely applying the only area of “improvement” that HDR allows: brighter highlights. This was only possible because Sicario doesn’t even use the entire dynamic range of HD video. The filmmaker’s intended look fits entirely within the low-dynamic-range container of HD Rec709. It’s a low-contrast, low-saturation film. The “HDR” 4k version is no different, and seemingly enjoys only the benefit of enhanced color fidelity and resolution in the 4k Blu-ray edition. Those are real benefits. And there are movies with bright, poppy colors that would happily occupy the greater dynamic range of an HDR TV. And working to that standard, a filmmaker would, of course, still be welcome to opt out of the brighter highlights, and choose their own dynamic range “box” to work within.

But…

…in practice, that won’t be the case. Because even without HDR, TVs already ruin movies by trying to make them look “better.” HDR is just another axis for your relatives’ TV to be set up wrong. And just like modern TVs try to “fix” 24p with motion smoothing, you can bet they’ll also offer all kinds of delightful modes to “HDR-ify” your LDR content. And if you think that will look better than my coarse examples above, you haven’t seen how bad TVs already are.

HDR has the potential to be a useful tool. But TV manufacturers will absolutely screw it up.

On HDR Displays and Grading

Today, Samsung and Amazon announced yet another HDR standard for televisions. In case you’re not familiar with the idea of a High Dynamic Range display, it’s—get this—brighter than a normal display. That’s it. This groundbreaking idea apparently needed about four competing standards, one from Dolby, the sound company. Now there’s a fifth.

I couldn’t resist chiming in on Twitter.

To be clear, that’s me HDR-ifiying the shot. There is an actual “HDR” edition of Sicario on 4k Blu-ray, but from the looks of it, it has the same intentionally compressed dynamic range as the HD version these stills were pulled from.

That’s a good thing. That’s the filmmaker’s intent.

Update 2017-04-21: Be sure to read all the way to the end for more on this. Seriously, you don’t want to miss it.

Notes on this Rant

To be clear, I created a straw man by taking a beautiful movie, Sicario, and coarsely applying the only area of “improvement” that HDR allows: brighter highlights. This was only possible because Sicario doesn’t even use the entire dynamic range of HD video. The filmmaker’s intended look fits entirely within the low-dynamic-range container of HD Rec709. It’s a low-contrast, low-saturation film. The “HDR” 4k version is no different, and seemingly enjoys only the benefit of enhanced color fidelity and resolution in the 4k Blu-ray edition. Those are real benefits. And there are movies with bright, poppy colors that would happily occupy the greater dynamic range of an HDR TV. And working to that standard, a filmmaker would, of course, still be welcome to opt out of the brighter highlights, and choose their own dynamic range “box” to work within.

But…

…in practice, that won’t be the case. Because even without HDR, TVs already ruin movies by trying to make them look “better.” HDR is just another axis for your relatives’ TV to be set up wrong. And just like modern TVs try to “fix” 24p with motion smoothing, you can bet they’ll also offer all kinds of delightful modes to “HDR-ify” your LDR content. And if you think that will look better than my coarse examples above, you haven’t seen how bad TVs already are.

HDR has the potential to be a useful tool. But TV manufacturers will absolutely screw it up.

Follow Up 2017-04-21: All the Ways I’m Wrong

There’s been a lot of great response to this post, and some thoughtful disagreements. I opened the door for the disagreements by structuring my argument rather sloppily; conflating two different ideas.

Argument 1: I’m not personally Interested in the Creative Potential of HDR for Cinematic Images

I can’t be “wrong” about this one, because it’s my opinion, but of course you are welcome to disagree.

When I took the intentionally, creatively LDR images from Sicario and brightened up their highlights, I wasn’t saying that your HDR TV will do this to Sicario. Nor was I saying that an mastered-to-HDR-standards version of Sicario would look like that.

What I was saying is the good old Prolost argument that less is more with cinema. Sicario is widely regarded as a very beautiful film. It intentionally uses a very low dynamic range, less than even Rec709 allows. The only way the HDR-ness of HDR can “improve” that is if some idiot tried to brighten up the highlights. What I was trying to show is that the flagship feature of HDR has nothing to offer Sicario.

But I mixed that argument in with my distrust of consumer television manufacturers, which opened my up to rebuttals like this:

He’s right, there’s nothing about the HDR standards themselves that should mess up our movies.

Chris in the comments below said “There is beautiful potential for artistic expression in HDR.” I’m sure that’s true. But this is just another case where I don’t think the way movies look is broken. I like rolled-off highlights and constrained palettes. I imagine Kylo Ren’s lightsaber could look amazing in HDR, but I’d probably prefer the way if would look if it was shot on a vintage roll of Kodak 5218. If your idea of a pretty movie is more along the lines of Pacific Rim than Arrival, you’re going to love HDR.

So on argument 1: I’m not wrong, but neither are your disagreements.

Argument 2: HDR is Another Axis for Consumer Televisions to Ruin Our Viewing Experience

I kinda started my argument with the creative, “Sicario is pretty and doesn’t need HDR so why would anyone ever” point and then concluded with the “Samsung will just screw this all up anyway” point. Which is not how you’re supposed to write convincing arguments. Oops.

But I remain concerned that HDR will simply mean that TV manufacturers will forget all about making blacks blacker and colors more accurate and simply try to blind us with how bright, sharp, blue, and smooth their images can be.

Rod Bogart, one of the smartest imaging nerds I know (we met at ILM, he’s now at HBO, and his actual initials are RGB), replied:

A number of other people chimed in here as well to point out that since HDR comes with metadata that tells the TV what it is, there’s a greater chance that the TV can show it correctly.

In the marketing site for LG’s flagship OLED HDR TV, the actually state that “With[…] Dolby Vision, you can be sure that your entertainment is viewed the way it was meant to be seen.”

Screenshot 2017-04-21 09.07.25.png

I want to believe. But I’ve been hurt so badly.

Before five competing standards of HDR, there was only one HD color standard in the US: Rec709. Just one. A really easy one. A 27-year-old one. And no consumer TV shows it correctly by default. They all try to make it brighter, sharper, bluer, and more saturated.

Guess what HDR-capable panels let them do? That’s right, make images even brighter, even bluer, even more saturated.

There’s also another danger, which is that studios could get in$pired to sell us HDR retransfers of library titles. I hadn’t mentioned it, but Todd Vaziri (another ILMer) picked up on it:

The temptation will be there to contravene the original filmmaker’s intention for the look of an important film, just to demonstrate the value of new TVs and new opportunities to buy a movie you’ve already bought three times.

The good news is that that for all the brighter-is-better LCD panels out there, there are also these amazing new OLED panels, which are being used more and more for professional grading and really do look great. They are HDR-capable, but they are also very accurate and have great contrast. Prices are coming down too.

The other good news is that the folks transferring Sicario to HDR 4k seemed perfectly happy to ignore the opportunity to create poppy, bright highlights where there were none before.

So if HDR gets anywhere close to helping home viewers see what filmmakers intended, I’ll be delighted. But you’ll have to forgive my skepticism, as history indicates quite the opposite. I just spent a week traveling, and every hotel TV I saw was showing letterboxed SD channels stretched to fill a 16:9 frame. We can’t even get the simple stuff right, and five competing HDR standards are anything but simple.

So on argument 2: Too early to tell if I’m right or wrong. History is on my side. But I hope I’m wrong. I may need to buy a new TV someday.

On HDR Displays and Grading

Today, Samsung and Amazon announced yet another HDR standard for televisions. In case you’re not familiar with the idea of a High Dynamic Range display, it’s—get this—brighter than a normal display. That’s it. This groundbreaking idea apparently needed about four competing standards, one from Dolby, the sound company. Now there’s a fifth.

I couldn’t resist chiming in on Twitter.

To be clear, that’s me HDR-ifiying the shot. There is an actual “HDR” edition of Sicario on 4k Blu-ray, but from the looks of it, it has the same intentionally compressed dynamic range as the HD version these stills were pulled from.

That’s a good thing. That’s the filmmaker’s intent.

Notes on this Rant

To be clear, I created a straw man by taking a beautiful movie, Sicario, and coarsely applying the only area of “improvement” that HDR allows: brighter highlights. This was only possible because Sicario doesn’t even use the entire dynamic range of HD video. The filmmaker’s intended look fits entirely within the low-dynamic-range container of HD Rec709. It’s a low-contrast, low-saturation film. The “HDR” 4k version is no different, and seemingly enjoys only the benefit of enhanced color fidelity and resolution in the 4k Blu-ray edition. Those are real benefits. And there are movies with bright, poppy colors that would happily occupy the greater dynamic range of an HDR TV. And working to that standard, a filmmaker would, of course, still be welcome to opt out of the brighter highlights, and choose their own dynamic range “box” to work within.

But…

…in practice, that won’t be the case. Because even without HDR, TVs already ruin movies by trying to make them look “better.” HDR is just another axis for your relatives’ TV to be set up wrong. And just like modern TVs try to “fix” 24p with motion smoothing, you can bet they’ll also offer all kinds of delightful modes to “HDR-ify” your LDR content. And if you think that will look better than my coarse examples above, you haven’t seen how bad TVs already are.

HDR has the potential to be a useful tool. But TV manufacturers will absolutely screw it up.

On HDR Displays and Grading

Today, Samsung and Amazon announced yet another HDR standard for televisions. In case you’re not familiar with the idea of a High Dynamic Range display, it’s—get this—brighter than a normal display. That’s it. This groundbreaking idea apparently needed about four competing standards, one from Dolby, the sound company. Now there’s a fifth.

I couldn’t resist chiming in on Twitter.

To be clear, that’s me HDR-ifiying the shot. There is an actual “HDR” edition of Sicario on 4k Blu-ray, but from the looks of it, it has the same intentionally compressed dynamic range as the HD version these stills were pulled from.

That’s a good thing. That’s the filmmaker’s intent.

Update 2017-04-21: Be sure to read all the way to the end for more on this. Seriously, you don’t want to miss it.

Notes on this Rant

To be clear, I created a straw man by taking a beautiful movie, Sicario, and coarsely applying the only area of “improvement” that HDR allows: brighter highlights. This was only possible because Sicario doesn’t even use the entire dynamic range of HD video. The filmmaker’s intended look fits entirely within the low-dynamic-range container of HD Rec709. It’s a low-contrast, low-saturation film. The “HDR” 4k version is no different, and seemingly enjoys only the benefit of enhanced color fidelity and resolution in the 4k Blu-ray edition. Those are real benefits. And there are movies with bright, poppy colors that would happily occupy the greater dynamic range of an HDR TV. And working to that standard, a filmmaker would, of course, still be welcome to opt out of the brighter highlights, and choose their own dynamic range “box” to work within.

But…

…in practice, that won’t be the case. Because even without HDR, TVs already ruin movies by trying to make them look “better.” HDR is just another axis for your relatives’ TV to be set up wrong. And just like modern TVs try to “fix” 24p with motion smoothing, you can bet they’ll also offer all kinds of delightful modes to “HDR-ify” your LDR content. And if you think that will look better than my coarse examples above, you haven’t seen how bad TVs already are.

HDR has the potential to be a useful tool. But TV manufacturers will absolutely screw it up.

Follow Up 2017-04-21: All the Ways I’m Wrong

There’s been a lot of great response to this post, and some thoughtful disagreements. I opened the door for the disagreements by structuring my argument rather sloppily; conflating two different ideas.

Argument 1: I’m not personally Interested in the Creative Potential of HDR for Cinematic Images

I can’t be “wrong” about this one, because it’s my opinion, but of course you are welcome to disagree.

When I took the intentionally, creatively LDR images from Sicario and brightened up their highlights, I wasn’t saying that your HDR TV will do this to Sicario. Nor was I saying that an mastered-to-HDR-standards version of Sicario would look like that.

What I was saying is the good old Prolost argument that less is more with cinema. Sicario is widely regarded as a very beautiful film. It intentionally uses a very low dynamic range, less than even Rec709 allows. The only way the HDR-ness of HDR can “improve” that is if some idiot tried to brighten up the highlights. What I was trying to show is that the flagship feature of HDR has nothing to offer Sicario.

But I mixed that argument in with my distrust of consumer television manufacturers, which opened my up to rebuttals like this:

He’s right, there’s nothing about the HDR standards themselves that should mess up our movies.

Chris in the comments below said “There is beautiful potential for artistic expression in HDR.” I’m sure that’s true. But this is just another case where I don’t think the way movies look is broken. I like rolled-off highlights and constrained palettes. I imagine Kylo Ren’s lightsaber could look amazing in HDR, but I’d probably prefer the way if would look if it was shot on a vintage roll of Kodak 5218. If your idea of a pretty movie is more along the lines of Pacific Rim than Arrival, you’re going to love HDR.

So on argument 1: I’m not wrong, but neither are your disagreements.

Argument 2: HDR is Another Axis for Consumer Televisions to Ruin Our Viewing Experience

I kinda started my argument with the creative, “Sicario is pretty and doesn’t need HDR so why would anyone ever” point and then concluded with the “Samsung will just screw this all up anyway” point. Which is not how you’re supposed to write convincing arguments. Oops.

But I remain concerned that HDR will simply mean that TV manufacturers will forget all about making blacks blacker and colors more accurate and simply try to blind us with how bright, sharp, blue, and smooth their images can be.

Rod Bogart, one of the smartest imaging nerds I know (we met at ILM, he’s now at HBO, and his actual initials are RGB), replied:

A number of other people chimed in here as well to point out that since HDR comes with metadata that tells the TV what it is, there’s a greater chance that the TV can show it correctly.

In the marketing site for LG’s flagship OLED HDR TV, the actually state that “With[…] Dolby Vision, you can be sure that your entertainment is viewed the way it was meant to be seen.”

Screenshot 2017-04-21 09.07.25.png

I want to believe. But I’ve been hurt so badly.

Before five competing standards of HDR, there was only one HD color standard in the US: Rec709. Just one. A really easy one. A 27-year-old one. And no consumer TV shows it correctly by default. They all try to make it brighter, sharper, bluer, and more saturated.

Guess what HDR-capable panels let them do? That’s right, make images even brighter, even bluer, even more saturated.

There’s also another danger, which is that studios could get in$pired to sell us HDR retransfers of library titles. I hadn’t mentioned it, but Todd Vaziri (another ILMer) picked up on it:

The temptation will be there to contravene the original filmmaker’s intention for the look of an important film, just to demonstrate the value of new TVs and new opportunities to buy a movie you’ve already bought three times.

The good news is that that for all the brighter-is-better LCD panels out there, there are also these amazing new OLED panels, which are being used more and more for professional grading and really do look great. They are HDR-capable, but they are also very accurate and have great contrast. Prices are coming down too.

The other good news is that the folks transferring Sicario to HDR 4k seemed perfectly happy to ignore the opportunity to create poppy, bright highlights where there were none before.

So if HDR gets anywhere close to helping home viewers see what filmmakers intended, I’ll be delighted. But you’ll have to forgive my skepticism, as history indicates quite the opposite. I just spent a week traveling, and every hotel TV I saw was showing letterboxed SD channels stretched to fill a 16:9 frame. We can’t even get the simple stuff right, and five competing HDR standards are anything but simple.

So on argument 2: Too early to tell if I’m right or wrong. History is on my side. But I hope I’m wrong. I may need to buy a new TV someday.