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NAB 2016: UHD Standards Getting Clearer For Producers, If Not Consumers

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The 2016 NAB Show has begun with the annual pre-show workshops. Saturday the south hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center featured a full day of Ennes Workshops presented by the Society of Broadcast Engineers (SBE). Meanwhile in the north hall, Post-Production World was going full-tilt with workshops on everything from the basics of popular post-production software to the future of cinema featuring director Ang Lee. At least one topic was common between these two polar opposites: UHD.

Stan Moote, CTO of the International Association of Broadcast Manufacturers, gave a presentation to the SBE called “The State and Pieces of UHD.” “State” speaks to the current condition of the standard and adoption. The “pieces” portion of his presentation was more interesting. As with any new technology that requires a large number of interested parties to all agree on, there are many “pieces” that are still being revised and revised again.

While Moote's presentation was geared more towards the broadcast engineering audience in the room, he brought some good insight on the pieces of UHD for digital producers and publishers considering the move into UHD production.

First, some good news: The UHD Alliance has introduced a common set of specs that each TV and OTT device must meet in order to wear the official “UHD Premium” label. The eight specs are as follows:

  •     3840 x 2160 resolution
  •     10-bit color
  •     Color palette (wide color gamut)
  •     Signal input: BT.2020 color representation
  •     Display reproduction: more than 90% of P3 colors
  •     HDR
  •     SMPTE ST2084 EOTF (Electro Optical Transfer Function)
  •     Combination of peak brightness and black levels: more than 1000 nits peak brightness and less than 0.05 nits black level OR more than 540 nits peak brightness and less than 0.0005 nits black level

First announced at CES in January 2016, these standards will first be supported primarily by the big Hollywood studios on their 4K Blu-ray releases and through OTT providers Amazon, Netflix, M-GO, and Vudu. In another Post-Production World session on UHD, Rob Carroll, Senior Director of Content Solutions with Dolby, listed Amazon, Netflix and Vudu as the earliest adopters of Dolby Vision, their own proprietary version of HDR. See Jan Ozer’s July 2015 article on HDR for a more detailed explanation of the state of the tech.

Now for some bad news, UHD seems to be gearing up to provide even more confusion to consumers than previous technological leaps like 3D and HD. First, there are still seven or eight different "versions" of HDR. Dolby Vision is being supported by several manufacturers already, but there’s also a hybrid system developed by Technicolor and Philips. The light at the end of the tunnel for this is that having all of these different versions of HDR doesn’t automatically mean they’re incompatible. In fact, it seems that many manufacturers are already making their devices to support several HDR standards.

Another downside to the current state of UHD is the amount of ultra-technical jargon being thrown out to consumers. The TV industry, specifically, has a history of overwhelming buyers with nonsense jargon as a sales tool. Remember the hype about 120hz refresh rates? Now with UHD, consumers will have to understand HDMI 1.4 versus HDMI 2.0. For crying out loud, Amazon even includes an explanation of HEVC in their consumer resource guide to UHD.

As we continue the slow, inevitable move towards UHD, remember that UHD includes 4k (digital cinema standard), 4K (television standard) and 8K, just to mention a few of the resolutions. Plus, just because a video has more pixels, it doesn’t necessarily have better pixels. The best part of UHD likely will be the use and implementation of HDR and the increased requirement of brightness and black levels. So buckle up and hold on, because whether consumers understand it or not, the industry will have to be ready to deliver.

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