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CES 2014: Dolby Vision Strives to Make Ultra-bright Displays the Future of 4K

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If Ultra HD is to take off, consensus is that resolution alone is not the killer app which will persuade consumers to upgrade their TVs. What is needed, its argued, are richer pixels, which serve up an enhanced picture comprising wider color gamut, higher luminance (dynamic range), and higher frame rates along with 4K resolution.

Dolby has taken this critera on board and introduced its own set of technologies that cover everything from the mastering process to displays themselves. Dolby Vision has already enticed backers including Sharp, Vizio, and TCL on the hardware side, all of whom have preview sets built using the format on show this week and due to launch this year. On the content side, Dolby has signed providers including Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Microsoft Xbox Video, and Vudu.

Dolby argues that content shot, graded, and mastered in Dolby Vision show a dramatic improvement over content soley produced and displayed with resolution in mind. In particular it is able to raise the brightness of each pixel to show highlights and colors not apparently possible with existing UHD displays. It is a feature which Dolby says consumers can instantly appreciate.

The question, not yet answered by Dolby, is whether the company intends to market its approach as open source or whether it will remain proprietary, just as it has done with its next-generation sound system for cinema, Atmos.

If the latter, then it would conflict with the ITU standard recommendations for Ultra HD. Existing Ultra HD TV sets, for example, have been designed with the ITU's spec in mind. If Dolby Vision takes off, then content graded and mastered in the new format would not be compatible with older UHD TVs. Content will need to be graded specifically for the format, and Dolby has a special reference display in the works as well as software plugins for third parties.

Another question is just how much additional data would be required to compress these richer pixels into manageable bandwidths coded in HEVC. Dolby puts this at a 20 per cent overhead.

Dolby demonstrated a monitor displaying 1080p HD using Dolby Vision alongside a UHD monitor displaying 4K content without Dolby Vision and the results were startling in that the HD version was noticeably an improvement. That might beg the question why move to 4K at all, if with tweaks to HD1080p we can get a better picture today.

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