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Could high dynamic range video be the future of TV?

High dynamic range images have become a fixture of modern photography since the introduction of the digital SLR. In the future though, we could see television shows shot in HDR with stunning detail

Forget high definition and 3D TV -- the next step in broadcasting could be HDR, according to Professor Alan Chalmers of the University of Warwick. An expert in sensory perception, he is studying high dynamic range video, a technique that until recently was only used for still photos.

High dynamic range (HDR) photos have been increasing in popularity since digital SLRs became more widespread. The idea is to give images a dynamic range that is closer to what the human eye is capable of seeing, rather than the limited range a camera can capture in a traditional photo.

In still photography, two or more photos are usually merged to create an HDR image. Each shot has a different exposure, helping to reveal detail in both dimly lit and brightly lit areas. The picture above is one example of this -- normally you'd expect the sky to be washed out, but that's not so here.

Bringing HDR to video would offer a number of advantages. The increased dynamic range would make watching TV a more natural process, more like looking out of a window than at a television set.

An HDR display (yes, you would need a new TV) would allow an image that is ten times darker and 30 times brighter than any existing system, so detail would be greatly improved. Professor Chalmers says that HDR could also improve 3D TVs significantly, because, with increased dynamic range, you get an improved sense of depth.

Like any new technology, HDR video isn't without some problems to resolve. The HDR camera used by Professor Chalmers munches through 24MB in each frame it records.

That means a minute of footage requires 42GB of storage, 33GB more than standard HD video. To make storing, playback and broadcast possible, video would need to be compressed at a ratio of 100:1.

Exposing dark areas would also complicate TV production. If you are filming inside a house, for example, you'll need to make sure there is no-one making comedy gestures out of the window.

Professor Chalmers' ultimate goal is to produce a form of virtual reality that gives the viewer more of a sense of being involved in the action. HDR video is the first step, but other parts of his research will involve 3D sound and other senses, like smell.

It looks like the race to the highest resolution might not be the be-all and end-all of television in the future.

Photo credit: Drew Stearne, all rights reserved