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SME 2018: Netflix Bridges the Content and Technology Gap

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OTT viewers have been the first to see content produced using 4K and HDR. Netflix has been leading the way on both fronts, and at Streaming Media East Wednesday, Netflix global director of post-production Christopher Fetner led a keynote panel that explored how these technologies impact the creative artists who produce that content. 

Leading Edge Tech 

"Streaming allows for innovation which can't be matched in the broadcast space. The pace of innovation is very quick," said Fetner. He believes helping producers innovate brings a first-mover advantage to content services, and the result is a more engaging experience for Netflix viewers.  

HDR provides a wider color range than previous standards, and it works hand-in-hand with 4K for an improved viewing experience. "4K gives you a whole new clarity, and with the right combination of lenses and lighting it gives you a very immersive picture," said cinematographer Manuel Billeter, who has worked on Netflix series like Jessica Jones and Luke Cage


The first challenge is getting tools to support these standards. "It's not a mature process. We need to teach everyone in production how to use the technology tools," said Fetner. "It's an experiment." This experiment is both in getting vendors to support newest standards and getting production professionals to learn how to use these tools.

"It's like going from box of 64 crayons to 120," said Anthony Raffaele, colorist at Technicolor-PostWorks. Color grading takes footage, and makes it look consistent with the visual tone a producer or showrunner is looking for. These "extra crayons" provide more extra light and contrast for a colorist to work with. "[I can] finesse the low and high. You can isolate the brightness levels in clouds and shadows. Using HDR 4K, you're now actually using what the camera shoots. I've had creative people say 'I didn't know there was detail in the sky'."

Pros and Cons

The panelists all said they didn't know anyone not shooting in 4K, but the costs to do so present a challenge. "We have not been terribly successful in being able to charge for [new innovations]," said Zak Tucker, co-founder and president, Harbor Picture Company. "We think of the long term, building an ecosystem that allows creatives to play where they can't play anywhere else, using higher resolution and wider color gamut."

While what they called the "4K tax" is not a huge barrier for some smaller productions, for the shows which use a large fleet of cameras shooting at 4K or higher, the extra data really adds up.

"Shooting a show on higher than 4K, means the throughput is significant," said Tucker.This means the amount of computer time increases exponentially. "The computer time is significant, and there are costs associated with it. Directors need to see dailies in remote location, and this is an issue."

Devil in the Details

The final challenge? The content now delivered online may be viewed by a consumer today or several years down the road where even larger screens will be the norm, and so even more attention must be paid to details. Fetner described a show that was set in the 1950, and in one scene in the car's rearview mirror, there was a very small image of a drone behind the car. The problem is once that was shown on a 70-inch screen, that image became significantly bigger.

There's also the overall brightness issue. "There's a learning curve because HDR can get quite bright if over used," said Raffaele. 

Will HDR persist? "Once you see it side by side [with SD], no one has said, 'I really like the SD side better'," said Justin Holt, manager, post production, Netflix.

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