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What is Advanced HDR by Technicolor?

Seriously, another HDR format? Technicolor’s foray into the HDR world is already in some TVs. Here’s what makes it different.

Technicolor/MLB

Technicolor has been part of the Hollywood landscape for over a century, and now it's aiming for prominence in your home too. Its weapon is a new format called Advanced HDR.

The company faces some strong competition in your living room. High dynamic range (HDR) delivers the best home video images available today, boosting contrast and pop. Done well, especially on a nice TV, it provides a much more visible benefit than 4K resolution. 4K HDR is basically the future of television, which is why Technicolor (and seemingly everybody else) has an HDR format.

The industry-standard HDR10 format is pretty much everywhere, available from multiple streaming services including Netflix and Amazon, 4K Blu-ray as well as TVs as cheap as $280. Three other HDR formats are also available: Samsung's HDR10+, hybrid log gamma (HLG) and of course Dolby Vision.

HDR10 vs. Dolby Vision vs. HLG: How do HDR formats compare?

A few years ago I visited Technicolor during the early days of Advanced HDR, but now the format is actually available in TVs, specifically those from LG. Does Advanced HDR have enough unique features to compete with the likes of Dolby Vision and HDR10+? Does it have the breadth of support of HDR10? (Spoiler: not yet). Does it have some unique and interesting aspects plus a whole lot of letters and numbers? You bet! Let's dive in.

HDR-2-U

Brace yourself: the term "Advanced HDR" actually covers a group of Technicolor's HDR technologies. For you at home it's three different HDR formats. There's also some tech beneficial to broadcasters and distributors (like Netflix or Vudu). Here are the basics:

SL-HDR1: Single-Layer HDR1 is perhaps the most interesting. It's essentially an SDR (standard dynamic range -- think of it as regular TV) signal, but with HDR data "hidden" inside. This means a single broadcast could work with older SDR TVs, and also provide newer HDR TVs with HDR content. 

This single stream allows for simpler production, like at a live sporting event. A single production truck could broadcast both the HDR and SDR program with minimal effort. The benefits for broadcasters are obvious: Simpler means cheaper. Also, it works on every TV. The downside is it doesn't quite have the picture quality potential SL-HDR2 and its dynamic metadata (more on that in a moment). Still, it's potentially better than SDR. The backwards-compatibility potential of SL-HDR1 is similar to what's promised by Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG). SL-HDR1 been approved for inclusion in the upcoming ATSC 3.0 broadcast standard.

technicolor-hdr-path

The path to SDR and HDR in one SL-HDR1 signal. The top is the content creation, the bottom is what your TV will do with it. The SDR content is automatically created from the HDR signal.

Technicolor

SL-HDR2: This is a full HDR signal, using HDR10 as a base. Added on top of that is dynamic metadata, so each scene, or even each image within a scene, can look its best on your TV. This is a step up over HDR10's static metadata that has one global HDR "look" per show or movie. HDR10+ and Dolby Vision also have dynamic metadata. The downside here, like those formats, is that it's HDR or nothing. A SDR TV would have no idea what to do with the signal. This, of course, isn't an issue with streaming or 4K Blu-ray, which can have a SL-HDR2 stream along with an SDR stream. With broadcast, the lack of SDR makes it a non-starter.

SL-HDR3: This uses HLG as a base, but adds metadata on top, potentially improving the image quality of that format. This is still in the early stages, so we'll likely hear more about it in the future.

That's a lot of letters and numbers. OK, five letters and three numbers, but still. The main thing you should take away is that SL-HDR1 is backwards compatible with non-SDR TVs. This is what makes it good for broadcast. SL-HDR2 has dynamic metadata, so it potentially offers the picture quality improvements of the more advanced HDR formats like HDR10+ and Dolby Vision. SL-HDR3 is still in the early stages, and is tied to HLG which itself is in the early stages, so it's not worth worrying about for now.

technicolor-sdr-hdr-example

These are SDR images created from HDR videos, using HLG (left) and SL-HDR1. From Technicolor's whitepaper.

Technicolor

Also, and sort of related, the "Advanced HDR" banner sometimes also includes Technicolor's proprietary SDR-to-HDR conversion process called Intelligent Tone Management. For more info on that, check out this explainer.

Where can you see it?

With any video format, there are two main questions: is there content available now, and can you display that content on your TV? The short answer is no to the first part, and theoretically yes to the second (once content becomes available).

There is currently no Advanced HDR content available in any of its three flavors. There is some test footage, like the Dodgers game you see at the top, but in terms of "sit down and watch a new show on my TV," nothing yet. This could change once ATSC 3.0 arrives around 2020. If we start to see ATSC 3.0 broadcasts using SL-HDR1, it's not a stretch to think we'd see other flavors of the format in wider use, like SL-HDR2 on a streaming platform, for example. It's also possible we'll see SL-HDR2 on Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, but there's no content yet.

Though they have a late start to the HDR race, the ace up Technicolor's sleeve is LG. You can buy an LG TV today, perhaps you even bought one of theirs last year, that can already decode Advanced HDR. This is part of a strategy by LG to cover as many format bases as possible, best described by their Senior Director of Product Marketing, Tim Alessi:

"LG's approach has been to offer the widest support for HDR formats in order to provide a cinematic experience in the home, and remove any potential uncertainty about compatibility. For example, we were among the first to introduce support for the premium viewing experience of Dolby Vision, and add support for HLG in addition to HDR10.  We see inclusion of Advanced HDR by Technicolor as a continuation of that philosophy."

LG TVs don't support HDR10+, of course, but no surprise there because that format was basically created by arch-rival Samsung, in part to make up for a lack of Dolby Vision support on Samsung TVs. 

LG's OLEDs, and soon their UHD LCDs, also have a "Technicolor Expert Mode" as one of the picture presets, which LG claims will make the image look as close as possible to how it did in the Technicolor mastering suites. In CNET's review of the C8 OLED TV, that mode did provide an extremely accurate picture with both SDR and HDR content, so that's cool.

Beyond LG, Funai, which sells TVs under the Philips brand and several others, has announced support for Technicolor Advanced HDR in their 2019 models.

Even though that's just one, soon to be two, companies, that's still a sizable installed and growing base. That's a far better position than Technicolor was in two years ago: coming up with a format and trying to shop it to content creators with no way for consumers to watch it.

technicolor-logo
Technicolor

So will we see more companies offer Technicolor Advanced HDR? Samsung, pushing their HDR10+ format, seems like a non-starter. Vizio has had Dolby Vision from the beginning, while Sony was late to Dolby Vision but it's catching up this year. Either company could be next. 

Advanced HDR has been included in the draft of the upcoming broadcast standard in China. If it's adopted, could that mean wider availability from Chinese TV companies, like TCL or Hisense? Possibly.

Technicolor claims we'll see more TVs with decoding built-in at the IFA trade show in September. They also told us we'd hear about even more companies supporting Advanced HDR at CES 2019 in January.

Joseph and the Amazing HDR Dreamcoat

Technicolor's Advanced HDR is interesting enough, but at this stage it's far from a must-have in your next TV. And its success is hardly assured.

The real question now is whether Technicolor can convince content creators that Advanced HDR's options offer enough of an improvement in picture quality, reduction in production costs or both, compared to other HDR methods. In that way it's largely out of our, the consumers, hands. We'll have to wait and see how it all shakes out, especially with ATSC 3.0 around the corner.

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Got a question for Geoff? First, check out all the other articles he's written on topics like why all HDMI cables are the sameTV resolutions explainedLED LCD vs. OLED and more.

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