There's a new horse in the HDR race - HDR10+. So what difference does the 'plus' make, and how does the new contender compare with Dolby Vision?
'HIgh Dynamic Range' is the technology used to allow both higher brightness and smaller graduations in brightness beyond those that have long been "locked" into our television screens by broadcast standards. Even as televisions got better than the standards allowed, all movie releases and TV shows were kept within the traditional limits, so they would play fine with all TVs, old and new.
The emergence of 4K and Ultra High Definition brought the chance to change things, and High Dynamic Range was written into the new standards. We started hearing about the higher 'nit' levels that LCD televisions could achieve for the heights of HDR, but also the better low-level brightness gradations that OLED televisions could achieve.
Below is our "ladder of light" showing the dynamic range of current screen technologies. Remember it's not just about how high up the ladder you go, but how long your arrow actually extends, both top and bottom.
Before anyone shouts "it's not just about brightness", as was a common misconception about HDR early on, we should note that HDR also plays to colour range as well. Those graduations of brightness are available to each colour pixel, and the number of possible colour combinations is thus multiplied to allow a vastly wider colour range.
HDR10 versus Dolby Vision
As is traditional in home entertainment, there was more than one standard available. The one "written into" the standards for Ultra High Definition and UHD Blu-ray in particular was HDR10, impressively described as open-platform, and we believed it to be license-free, although new developments are bringing that into question.
But Dolby also has its own system, Dolby Vision, and despite it being a licensed system outside the basic standard, it would be foolish to dismiss this, given Dolby's record in embedding its technologies right across the entire audio & AV industries in the past.
Besides, Dolby Vision has a clear advantage over HDR10 - dynamic metadata. With HDR10, the content maker must select an operating dynamic range that covers the entire movie, and this enlarged dynamic range is then applied (using a perceptual transfer function) to each and any television on which is is played, "mapped", or downsampled if you like, to the TV's particular abilities.
But making one choice for an entire movie was clearly a limited system. Scenes vary dramatically in their delivery of light and shade. So Dolby Vision used a higher bit-rate system to allow 'dynamic metadata'. Diferent choices could be made for each and every scene, tweaked to get the best out of each shot. This was such a clear advantage in addition to the cachet of the Dolby name that we've been very supportive of the Dolby Vision concept (see our interview with Dolby's Pat Griffis here). LG has led the brands taking up Dolby Vision.
HDR10+ - it's all in the +
Given how vocal Dolby has been in its criticism of HDR10's limitation, we are now amused to find the supporters of HDR10 now saying exactly the same thing. Why? Because 20th Century Fox, Panasonic and Samsung have announced at IFA 2017 in Berlin a new partnership to create HDR10+. And this includes, surprise surprise, dynamic metadata. This from an IFA 2017 Panasonic press release:
"HDR10+ provides unprecedented picture quality on all displays with brightness, color, and contrast automatically optimized for each scene. In previous iterations, static tone mapping applied a fixed enhancement across an entire piece of content. With HDR10+ dynamic tone mapping, every scene is individually enhanced to bring to life vibrant visuals and achieve unprecedented picture quality. This new enhanced visual experience will allow consumers to see pictures that match the intention of filmmakers."
Boring old static tone mapping, eh? How very 2016.
But now both systems apparently offer the same merits, why would anyone continue licensing Dolby Vision, when HDR10 is open-source?
Well for one thing, it seems 'open-source' does not mean 'unlicensed'. From the same release: "20th Century Fox, Panasonic Corporation and Samsung Electronics announced today a new partnership to create an open, royalty-free dynamic metadata platform for High Dynamic Range (HDR) through an associated certification and logo program, tentatively called HDR10+. Together, the three companies will form a licensing entity that will begin licensing the HDR10+ platform in January 2018. The entity will license the metadata broadly to content companies, ultra-high definition TVs, Blu-ray disc players/recorders and set-top box manufacturers, as well as SoC vendors, royalty-free with only a nominal administrative fee."
So, er, HDR10+ will be "licensed", yet "royalty-free", it will be "open" yet require certification... and are we to read from the above that it will actually license the metadata itself, in addition to the technology presumably required by the platform? If so, i sounds like a potential handshaking nightmare that could rival the restrictive and disruptive HDCP system of copy protection. No admin fee paid by your AV receiver manufacturer? Turn off the HDR info then.
We'll let you know as we find out more. After all, this announcement isn't saying HDR10+ even exists yet - it's announcing a partnership that will create a platform for licensing it.
Meanwhile expect Dolby to respond. We heard rumours that HDR10 would go dynamic as early as last February, and when we mentioned it to Pat Griffis he was clearly aware of the possibility. The HDR10+ announcement doesn't clarify if the new system movies to 12-bit delivery or sticks with 10-bit. If the latter, there's plenty of room for Dolby Vision to up the stakes. More as it happens...