Does HDR Really Matter?

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Name: Sander Phipps
Title: Senior Product Manager, Professional Display
Company: Sony Electronics

High dynamic range, or HDR, is a hot topic in the professional production and consumer TV markets. Many even consider HDR as more essential to the viewing experience than 4K.

But what is HDR, and does it matter to the AV and systems integrator market? What do integrators need to know about HDR, so they can advise end users?

HDR is an expansion of the difference between black and white light outputs that we see from a monitor or TV, replicating the most realistic and natural viewing experience: that of human perception. In simpler terms, HDR creates an image that can most accurately show the deepest of blacks and the brightest exposure—and every level in between—all within the same image.

Professional camera technologies that are HDR capable, like Sony’s F55 or F65 cameras, have been around for a while, and now there are HDR-capable production reference monitors and the newest HD and 4K TVs for the home that all support HDR. It’s easy to see how HDR plays a role in broadcast, where the ultimate goal of all the HDR work being done on the professional production side is to give consumers the best possible viewing experience. Does that translate to the AV market? Like any implementation of a new technology, it depends on the application, the environment, and the desired outcome. In the case of HDR, it’s a matter of what type of viewing experience you want to present.

It also comes down to the level of image quality expected by audiences—whether it’s a church congregation, stadium crowd, classroom, or corporate meeting. With more consumers enjoying higher-resolution content in their homes, they now expect that same level of quality when they are away from home, be it in a hotel, a movie theater, or the ballpark. Ten years ago, HD was “the next leap.” Now, HD is on all our phones; it’s the minimal expected baseline.

Understanding this expectation will help integrators spec’ing a new AV project determine the type of technical capabilities needed, and that includes HDR. In a classroom or corporate environment, for example, where information is simply being presented, or for basic wayfinding displays, HDR is not a factor. However, for more-involved applications where the goal is to grab the viewer’s attention and keep him or her engaged, HDR is emerging as more of a consideration.

For example, in stadiums and arenas, new AV projects are often green lit solely for the purpose of enhancing the fan experience and creating enjoyable and fully immersive entertainment for them. HD and 4K cameras and large-screen displays are installed in suites and concourse areas as part of video production systems designed to develop a wide array of content. They have to account for playback on LED screens, video features, podcasts for the team website, interviews with players and coaches, original programming, highlight videos, specials, PSAs, and promotional spots.

Theme parks that use simulation rides and other high-impact attractions driven by large-venue projectors are also a common project for systems integrators. These are immersive viewing environments where the audience is engaged up close with large-format visuals. In this type of application, HDR would be a factor.

In the faith segment, many ministries are expanding their use of audio and video production—ranging from services in the sanctuary to live events, such as youth rallies or weekly indoor or outdoor services. The content created by these ministries also needs to have a longer life beyond the initial service, through broadcasts, web streams, and DVD distribution. For integrators working in the faith market, the need for HDR can vary. Ministries that need to broadcast and deliver to the home may require HDR-capable studio cameras and reference monitors, but for other AV applications within the ministry, the capabilities of current business projectors are more than up to the task and deliver high production values.

In each of these examples, and in many more common to an AV system integrator, content has to deliver the highest level of production values for an audience. Now that HDR is so integral to the viewing experience, it needs to be at least a consideration.

One issue to keep in mind is that HDR produces a higher-bandwidth signal, so it may be more of a challenge to distribute. The entire backend infrastructure—AV switcher and D/As or cabling—needs to be high-bandwidth, too. But, as in the broadcast and production industry, where more efficient distribution pipelines are successfully being developed, the AV market will also keep pace.

Commercial AV products are also evolving to meet this trend. Projectors for large-venue viewing already support HDR, as are professional displays, which are often based on TVs sold for the home. Newer technologies are a constant in this industry, and HDR is just one of the newest that integrators and AV professionals need to understand and consider.

Sander Phipps is senior product manager for Sony’s professional display systems.

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