Look at those TVs

UHD is TV’s next big thing. So why is the industry divided?

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We’ve had gigantic TVs, curved TVs, 3D TVs, even TVs that can bend with the press of a button. TV makers tend to bring all their latest gimmicks to one-up each other at the annual CES show in Las Vegas. But this year, the industry had something to show off that consumers may actually want: better-looking images.

Collectively, the industry has decided to double down on 4K, and also make each and every pixel look better. Samsung, Sony, LG, TCL and others all showed off 4K TV sets with high-dynamic range (HDR) at the show. HDR gives TV sets whiter whites, blacker blacks and a lot more contrast in between, which results in pictures that not only look brighter, but also expose a lot of details that would otherwise get lost or appear washed out. I’ve had a chance to see a few HDR-capable TV sets at CES, and have to say that they looked pretty stunning.

Samsung's SUHD TV, unveiled at CES by Joe Stinziano, the company's executive vice president of home entertainment .
Samsung’s SUHD TV, unveiled at CES by Joe Stinziano, the company’s executive vice president of home entertainment .

A lot of TV manufacturers are working on ways to extend the dynamic range of their TV sets with a variety of methods (check this CNET story for a comparison of some of the different approaches), and everyone has their own terminology that goes along with it. Samsung likes to call 4K TVs with extended dynamic range SUHD TVs, Sony has X-tended Dynamic Range, and Panasonic apparently likes to call it Dynamic Range Remaster.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that 4K itself isn’t really called 4K anymore. Instead, most companies have settled on UHD, which stands for ultra-high definition — but Samsung and many others would like you to believe that their UHD is better than others by throwing HDR and other technologies in the mix.

An alliance of frenemies

Confused? You’re not alone — and that’s alarming to Hollywood. Movie studios have long tried to get people to buy their products again, as opposed to just renting them, or waiting before they appear on Netflix. The industry’s hopes that 3D would revitalize home entertainment were crushed by — well, mostly those dorky glasses. Now, it’s hoping that HDR will do the trick, and that consumers may be willing to pay more if their movies look even better.

That’s why Disney, Fox and Warner Bros. were among the founding members of the UHD Alliance, a new industry consortium unveiled at CES last week. The goal of the alliance is to establish new standards for 4K and HDR, amongst other things. Founding members also include Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp and Sony, as well as Netflix and Directv, Dolby and Technicolor. Members have not only committed to coming up with a standard, but also promoting it to consumers, and telling them what UHD is all about.

[pullquote person=”” attribution=”” id=”905997″]Samsung and many others would like you to believe that their UHD is better than others by throwing HDR and other technologies in the mix.[/pullquote]

The problem with that is that some of these members have very different ideas for UHD. Dolby, for one, thinks that the common standard everyone is looking for already exists: The company heavily promoted its own Dolby Vision technology at CES, and it aims to be part of the entire ecosystem. Dolby wants to provide studios with post-production tools to preserve the extended dynamic range that is already being recorded by today’s Red cameras and others, encode it, and then deliver it to Dolby Vision-certified TVs.

Not everyone likes Dolby

Not everyone in the industry likes the idea of paying Dolby yet another licensing fee, which is why (privately, at least) some are voicing the hope that the UHD alliance may come with a license-free approach, or at least chose a solution that may be less expensive. Some of those concerns even overtly made it into in the alliance’s CES press release, which called for “embracing standards that are open and allow flexibility in the market.”

Dolby’s Director of Business Strategies Zaved Shamsuddin seemed confident when I quizzed him about this. HDR solutions may be popping up like mushrooms, but few of them will survive, he argued: “As with any fungus, it has a life span, and then it dies.”

What’s next for HDR

Dolby has thus far partnered with Philips, Hisense, Toshiba and TCL to build Dolby Vision-certified TVs, but the biggest names in the business — Samsung and LG — are notably absent from that list. The company has also struck an agreement with Warner Bros. to deliver some movies in HDR, and Netflix, Amazon and Vudu have signed on to stream Dolby Vision content.

But even at Netflix, there seem to be concerns that the industry may not get HDR right. Neil Hunt, the company’s chief product officer, told me at the show that he believes HDR to be “a more significant innovation that 4K,” arguing that simply adding more pixels to the screen eventually gets pointless. “We kind of ran out of more pixels to add,” Hunt quipped.

Netflix has committed to produce some of its content in HDR this year, but the company has stayed away from saying which shows that will be, in part because there simply is no standard yet. Hunt cautioned that Netflix doesn’t want to support a huge number of competing HDR standards, but seemed resigned to the fact that the industry may not come up with one single solution. Asked how many HDR standards Netflix would be able and willing to support, Hunt said: “Two is probably okay.”

The UHD alliance meanwhile hasn’t set a roadmap for the introduction of its standard, and it’s members haven’t actually had a formal meeting yet. With that in mind, one shouldn’t expect a common UHD standard any time soon. Then again, that may not stop consumers from buying TVs that offer far superior picture qualities when compared to previous-year’s models.

And when it comes to buzzwords, there’s always CES 2016.

15 Responses to “UHD is TV’s next big thing. So why is the industry divided?”

  1. Mx. Remy Ann David

    There are those of us who have been in the production of entertainment for many years. I myself have been around the block a few times in my over 40 years, in the entertainment production business and network television and major market radio.

    Just like in the early 1970s, we got quadraphonic. But most consumers never bothered. In 1983, I was one of the first audio recording facilities to go digital, with the Sony PCM-F1 Digital audio processor.. This was intended as a consumer device. And it would only set a consumer back a mere $2000. Not including the almost $1000 video recorder one needed to store the digital audio upon. It was a huge flop.. As it was too costly for consumers. And that was a time of a much more vibrant economy.

    Network television sports has largely driven the consumer video market. The technical advances made have been phenomenal. And people, much like their lemming counterparts, are running out to purchase 4K LCD’s.. Those that have more money than brains. None of them yet realize, there isn’t any 4K movies out there or television. And just like 3-D, 4K is going to flop. Nobody needs to see the hairs in anyone’s nostrils. They don’t need to see beautiful movie actresses with zits on their face. We don’t need to see the age wrinkles all over people’s faces. And yet, with something as low-resolution as High Definition digital television, we can still see a golf ball fly. How much freakin’ resolution does anyone really need?

    And who the hell needs 11.2 surround sound, in their home? When they didn’t even put up four speakers, for quadraphonic. Half the people out there can’t even get left and right straight. And you think they’re going to purchase 4K? No they won’t. They’ll purchase whatever is on sale at the big-box stores.

    So, 4K are just a bunch of greedy companies, trying not to go out of business. It’s nothing that anyone needs whatsoever. Just like 3-D. Just like smart TVs. Just like idiotic curved screens. Flat screens are so much better. Easier to mount on your walls at home.

    4K is like telling everyone, you don’t want to drive to work in that Toyota. You need a Maserati, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Porsche, Rolls-Royce, a Corvette or a Bentley to drive to work with. Don’t get Tesla with me! Do you need a timeout? Go to your room. And no Yogi Bear tonight.

    Instead of going 4K? All that’s doing is to further raise our green footprint. Instead, it would be much more advantageous, if the manufacturers (mostly in China) were to make home entertainment equipment last much longer. I don’t think we’re going to see any of these LCD displays that we currently have, still working, 40 years from now? Like our old CRT TVs still working from that era. It’s all planned obsolescence and marketing gobbledygook. I can’t buy into that nonsense. No one should. No one needs it. It doesn’t offer anything better. I don’t need to put my nose up to the TV screen and say…” did you see that field mouse in the grass at the baseball game? ”

    I mean, of course, there is a sucker born every minute. And 4K is pandering to those idiots that have more money than brains. Which is only 1% of the population. And people who went to college for marketing don’t know that? Then they flunked. They all need to be fired. Manufacturers simply need to deliver a quality product for the money that people shell out. But they no longer have any integrity whatsoever. Just hungry multimillion dollar valued stockholders. People who don’t need more money.

  2. Eh, HDR is a gimmick in this inctance. It’s awesome on cameras and during processing, but once you’ve figured out the min and max brightness that you actually want to display, you can safely round up to approximate colors and discard extra color precision. It is a completely maningless buzzword when it comes to displays.

  3. The missing info from this article is the fact that HDR images look bad on an SDR display (worse than just an SDR image) because of clipping. Dolby Vision is a way to carry a signal that is would be compatible with Standard Dynamic Range (SDR) TVs while allowing TVs with the technology to decode as much of the HDR material as possible depending on their capability. If ALL TVs could display the exact same amount of dynamic range and that was standardized to be extreme HDR, AND the transmission infrastructure was updated to support the higher bandwidth, then an adaptive technology like Dolby Vision would not be needed for HDR. And every TV would be more expensive.

    I am not that familiar with ACES, but I think it only allows for color gamut mapping, not dynamic range mapping. I believe DV allows for both dynamic range mapping and color gamut mapping and allows color graders to pass on trim info if desired.

    However it gets done, I think HDR looks great and I can’t wait until it gets to the home!

  4. If 4K does not include a frame rate of at least 60p it really looks terrible. Work on frame rate first, who really cares about deeper blacks or more color space except a few geeks. Did anyone ever say that Breaking Bad looked bad because the color space was not wide enough? What we want is smooth action in sports and on-screen movement.

  5. hundoman

    Why does the industry need another propriety High Definition UHD color system when we already have the ACES – Academy Color Encoding System from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Association and this color system includes SMPTE standardization already.

    ACES is a container of all color and dynamic range information captured.

    Lets not forget that ACES also includes Output Display Transformation (ODT) which is used to rework what is in the container to the capability of the display and has been on the market for a while now.

    Does Gigaom ever do true reporting or does it just push press releases manufactures what to get to market?

    • Mr. Video

      ACES is fine for production, but no one is going to distribute 16 bits of 4:4:4 to the end user.

      The real HDR question is how we fit 16 bits of dynamic range into 8 to 12 bits to the viewer, and the answer will be with some type of logarithmic curve, such as the “perceptual quantizer”. But the devil is in the details, for example should the under 100 NIT (SDR range) match today’s SDR electrical to optical transfer function, or should we not be concerned with SDR compatibility? Should there be an SDR and an HDR grade sent in parallel, or an SDR compatible grade with additional (optional) information to create an HDR grade at the viewer’s set?

    • Mr. Video

      NTSC 1000/1001 fractional frame rates are just such a long-living fungus that still infect us over 60 years later! People are even talking about 119.88 fps next!

  6. Robert Smith

    Why is it that you change your “smart”phone out every 18-24 months, but balk at buying a new TV every 3-4 years? Especially when you pay more for the “smart”phone (in subsidies, whether you realize it or not) than the TV? Do you think display technology does not advance the same as other technology?

  7. Time to buy that 60″ Samsung plasma set, and stay firm in 1080i.

    And wow never to buy any more content on a physical medium – got Godfather on Laser Disc, VHS, DVD, blu-ray already, and all these versions suck when compared to the HD one on Netflix.

  8. 4K in the home is a waste of effort and born solely by TV manufacturers to sell new TVs. Worse yet it will make production and distribution more difficult and result in more comprised imagery.

    HDR on the other hand is something that does offer significant improvements in picture quality.

  9. exhibit44

    Look at the popular TV fare. Would any of it be improved at all with higher resolution? No. You either have reality shows which thrive on ugliness, or highly verbal serials and comedies. Resolution is only important on swooping establishment shots.

    I think TV is becoming less of a visual and more of a verbal medium, where writing and mise-en-scene are more important than how it looks. I wish I had my old crt back, frankly. It took up a lot less room.

  10. We can always just loop the demo footage on our HDR screen and watch the movie on our iPads and not buy any content. Is there anyone in the TV industry that remembers the vhs Betamax war? And they wonder why consumers don’t buy the next big thing?