Date: 11 Sep 2020 – Written By Roland Moore-Colyer –
Xbox Series X Could Hammer PS5 on Audio and HDR thanks to Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision.
Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S will be the first consoles to come with both Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos tech, promising high-end high dynamic range HDR and powerful immersive audio.
Dolby posted an update on its website that noted how the upcoming next-generation Xbox console will launch with Dolby Atmos support and then get Dolby Vision in 2021. That’s pretty exciting stuff, especially when we consider how the Xbox Series X will already be bringing 4K resolution gaming at 60 frames per second as well as immersive ray-tracing capabilities.
For the uninitiated, Dolby Vision is one of the more exacting HDR standards, in that it demands a certain level of brightness and color reproduction. And Dolby Atmos is an audio format that delivers immersive sound, with physical or virtual systems building upon surround sound by having overhead audio channels. Modern cinemas have Dolby Atmos seeker systems, so you can consider the audio format as one of the best around for immersive sound.
Bringing all that to the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series means games that support HDR will have “10x deeper black levels” and “40x brighter highlights.” Combined with a touted 12-bit color depth, future Xbox games, as well as those that have basic HDR support, are set to look very impressive.
And Dolby Atmos will ensure that gaming on the Xbox Series X and Series S isn’t just a visual treat but an aural one as well thanks to high-end immersive sound.
But there’s a rather large caveat in that you’ll need to ensure you have a TV and sound system that are rated for Dolby Vision and Atmos. Such hardware can be rather expensive. But it’s good to know that if you have such Dolby-grade tech available that the upcoming Xbox consoles will be able to tap into it when they arrive November 10.
As far as we know, the PS5 won’t have Dolby Vision, which could be a big blow for the console in appealing to gamers with high-end TVs or monitors. But on the audio front, Sony is delivering its own take on 3D audio in the form of the Tempest 3D AudioTech.
Sony’s audio tech will aim to deliver 3D sound not only through the optimized Pulse 3D wireless headset, but also existing TV and speaker setups. As such, the PS5 could deliver high-end audio without relying on expensive sound-and-vision kit.
All in all, the next-gen consoles look set to deliver the most immersive gaming experiences yet. The leap in graphics fidelity might not be as significant as it once was, but games are promising to be more detailed and realistic in sight and sound.
Date: January 10, 2020 – Written by: Henry St Leger –
Dolby Vision HDR Could Change The Way You Watch Everything.
Dolby Vision is everywhere these days. On games consoles like the Xbox One S and Xbox One X, 4K Blu-Ray Players, Smartphones the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, and of course across huge swathes of Premium Televisions from the likes of Panasonic, LG, Sony, and more.
But what exactly is Dolby Vision HDR, what content is usually found in the format, and what difference does it make to your viewing experience? The world of HDR can be confusing, which is why we’ve put together this in depth guide to Dolby Vision’s roots, availability, and advantages over competing formats.
Dolby Vision is the game changing advancement to TVs that we’ve needed for the past decade. Yes, 4K has given us additional pixels, but it’s HDR that has made those pixels really shine in a way they never have before.
Not all HDR TVs come with this dynamic HDR format the minimum required is the more basic HDR10 but those that do offer a rocket boosted viewing experience above and beyond usual SDR images, that is, if the screen you’re watching on is able to do it justice.
Dolby Vision is the format that more studios are turning to and harnessing its potential to deliver colorful, dynamic and calculated images on a scene-by-scene basis. All of which will show up on your TV at home.
WITH THE LATEST DOLBY VISION IQ: technology enhancing the way that Dolby Vision is shown onscreen, too by using brightness sensors in high end televisions to auto calibrate picture settings depending on the level of light in the room it’s a format that continues to give more the longer its on the market.
Dolby Vision is still a relatively new format, but from what we’ve experienced, it’s exactly what home cinema needs to match the silver screen. Best of all? It’s available for you to bring home right now.
WHAT IS DOLBY VISION: Dolby Vision is a type of HDR probably the second most popular after the ubiquitous HDR10 standard that’s included on all HDR TVs and players.
And while it bases a lot of its technology on the basic HDR standard Dolby played a key role in the development on it after all, it’s a better solution.
The main improvement from an end-user’s perspective is that it places an additional layer of information on top of a core HDR10 video signal which contains scene-by-scene information which Dolby Vision capable TVs can use to improve the way they present their pictures. This means better brights and darker blacks, and this enables TVs to display the full range of colors in the Rec. 2020 standard.
If HDR Blows You Away Now, Wait Until You See Dolby Vision.
We’ve seen Dolby Vision already in the UK on a handful of Netflix and Amazon video streams, and it’s also available via VUDU and iTunes in the US.
The big one for many AV fans, though, has been Ultra HD Blu-Ray. Dolby Vision is included as an option on the UHD BD specification sheet, and AV fans have been desperate to see how much of a difference Dolby’s system might make to the picture quality of the AV world’s best quality source.
The latest crop of Dolby Vision Blu-Rays, which include the Despicable Me films, West World from HBO and Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, look nothing short of amazing provided you’ve got the hardware to watch them.
WHAT IS DOLBY VISION IQ: Dolby Vision is going to get even better this year, thanks to a new feature in some high-end TVs Dolby Vision IQ that will make shows and movies look great in any room at any time of the day.
The new feature was announced at CES 2020 alongside the new Panasonic HZ2000 OLED and LG Gallery Series OLED, two of the first TVs to use the new technology.
The way Dolby Vision IQ works is by using the dynamic metadata encoded in Dolby Vision content in conjunction with an embedded light sensor in the TV, using the information to change the picture settings and display a more accurate picture.
Basically, Dolby Vision IQ can tell that you’re watching TV in a brightly lit room, where lots of dark details are getting lost. The TV will therefore be able to boost the brightness automatically without you having to go into the picture settings and do it yourself. Dolby Vision IQ also helps to change picture settings to suit the kind of content being watched movies, sports, etc. Dolby Vision IQ is about to make HDR TVs even better to look at.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED TO WATCH IN DOLBY VISION: For the avoidance of doubt, Dolby Vision is a licensed video platform that requires all the links in the video chain to support it. So buying the Despicable Me 4K Blu-ray discs won’t be enough in itself – you’ll also need a TV capable of receiving Dolby Vision, and a 4K Blu-ray player capable of playing Dolby Vision.
All LG’s OLED TVs are DV-capable, as are its high-end Super UHD LCD TVs. Sony TVs with X1 Extreme chips the ZD9, A1 OLED, XE93 and XE94, plus the 2018 X900F handle Dolby Vision too after a firmware update, as can some VIZIO and TCL TVs in the US. Much of Panasonic’s 2019 TV range GX800, GX920, GZ1000, GZ1500 and GZ2000 also packs in Dolby Vision support.
The newest additions to the Dolby Vision family are consoles including the Xbox One S and Xbox One X and Mobile Phones, albeit on the premium end. The format can be displayed on the all-new iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone X and LG G6 handsets, bringing truly vivid visuals and color to the screens you’re likely to use the most.
Of course, if you want Dolby Vision from a physical disc, there are only a few 4K Blu-ray players currently supporting Dolby Vision like the now-discontinued Oppo UDP-203 and Oppo 205, but more models from LG and Sony should help fill the void.
If you’re lucky enough to already own a suitable combination of kit, though, trust us: you’ll want to buy as many Dolby Vision Blu-rays as you can. The impact of Dolby Vision on the visuals of both movies has to be seen to be believed.
DOLBY VISION – A NEW WORLD OF COLORS:
Take color, for instance. With our Oppo 203 and LG OLED55C7 combination, the Dolby Vision Despicable Me movies display an unprecedented array of tones and tonal subtleties. Everything from the animated skin tones to background walls and locations contains subtle variations and accuracies of color you just don’t get in HDR10 – a comparison verified by playing the discs’ HDR10 ‘core’ video through the Panasonic UB900 Ultra HD Blu-ray player onto the OLED55C7.
This helps pictures instantly look more detailed and refined, despite the fact that Dolby Vision isn’t capable of actually adding more pixels to the 4K source pictures.
The Dolby Vision transfer doesn’t just portray more subtle colors than the HDR10 transfer either. Some colors also look slightly different in hue and tone; and invariably our impression was that the DV versions were the definitive, accurate ones.
Startling in its brilliance, too, is Dolby Vision’s mastery of light. Somehow the technology seems to deliver purer, brighter highlights than we’ve ever seen from the LG OLED before, while simultaneously delivering dark scenes with more richness and subtle light detailing.
Actually there seems to be more definition between subtle light differences in every part of the Dolby Vision image, giving it a more stable, rich, deep, solid appearance that looks almost three-dimensional versus the flatter, less precise HDR10 picture.
As if this wasn’t all stunning enough, the settings Dolby has designed for the OLED55C7 seem to handle motion more cleanly and effectively than LG’s own processing with HDR10 does.
Add all the Dolby Vision Despicable Me benefits together and you’ve got an image the likes of which we haven’t seen before on a domestic television, despite the fact that we’re only talking about a pair of ageing animated titles. Having seen the cinematic version of Dolby Vision at work on Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 recently, we can only imagine how spectacular Dolby Vision at home could look with more visually sophisticated titles than Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2.
RIVAL TECHNOLOGIES TO DOLBY VISION: It’s worth remembering at this point that AV brands not signed up with Dolby for Dolby Vision notably Samsung tend to suggest they can deliver equivalent results to Dolby Vision by just applying their own processing power to HDR10.
Having played the Despicable Me discs in HDR10 into a reference Samsung UE65KS9500, though, while that set delivered brighter light peaks than the Dolby Vision picture on the LG OLED, it couldn’t match Dolby Vision for light and color subtleties.
Samsung announced back in 2017 it was partnering with Amazon Prime Video to develop a new HDR format called HDR10+, which also applies a layer of so-called dynamic metadata scene by scene instructions to an HDR10 stream. It’s essentially a royalty free alternative to Dolby Vision, which is built into Samsung’s line of high-end QLED televisions.
Both Panasonic and 21st Century Fox had thrown their weight behind HDR10+, selling it as a more democratic, open-source HDR format. Panasonic recently changed its tune on this, however, and you can now get Dolby Vision on a host of Panasonic 4K Blu Ray players and Panasonic TVs.
We’re not necessarily saying here that your next TV and 4K Blu-Ray Player absolutely definitely must have Dolby Vision support. The format still, after all, has to work within the brightness and color limitations of any TV it’s applied to.
There are non Dolby Vision TVs out there which are either in Samsung’s case in particular capable of delivering color and brightness levels beyond those possible from any current Dolby Vision TV. But there still aren’t many Dolby Vision Ultra HD Blu-Rays available, despite the format’s official launch.
What certainly does no longer seem in doubt from having seen Dolby Vision in action from a 4K Blu-ray, though, is that it does an incredible job of getting the absolute best out of any screen it comes into contact with. And with a technology as confusing and frankly error strewn as HDR is right now, that’s a pretty big deal.
NBCUniversal’s Peacock launches today in the US, with free and premium tiers. The new streaming service will not offer 4K HDR or Dolby Atmos at launch. It will not be on Roku or FireTV either.
PEACOCK UNFOLDS ITS FEATHERS: Peacock will have a free, ad-supported tier with limited access to 13,000 hours of content, a $5/month tier with 20,000 hours of content and ads, and a $10/month tier with full, ad-free access. That is the good news.
The bad news is that, like WarnerMedia’s HBO Max, Peacock is not offering 4K HDR video or Dolby Atmos audio at launch. Movies and TV series are available in up to HD resolution. There is no word on when to expect it either. Up to 3 simultaneous streams are allowed.
It is not because NBCUniversal lacks movies in 4K HDR. Universal Studios is one of the most prolific studios when it comes to releasing UHD Blu-ray discs and 4K HDR movies through video-on-demand services such as iTunes and Vudu.
Peacock will roll out today on Apple TV including the Apple TV app, Android TV, Chromecast, Xbox One, Vizio SmartCast TVs version 2.0 or later, and LG webOS TVs version 3.5 or later. It effectively means that many owners of recent Vizio and LG TVs will not be able to download the app.
Again like HBO Max, Peacock will not be available on Roku and Amazon FireTV at launch. These TV platforms are, according to most estimates, the biggest two in the US. Negotiations have reported stalled over terms for revenue sharing from ads.
With Peacock, you will have access to new originals from NBCUniversal as well as popular catalog titles from Universal, Focus Features, DreamWorks, and Illumination such as Jurassic Park, E.T., Meet the Parents, Shrek, Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock, Saturday Night Live, King of Queens, Everybody Loves Raymond, Two and a Half Men, and Frasier. Coming soon are titles like Trolls World Tour, The Office, and new original TV shows.
NBCUniversal is the latest to enter the streaming wars after Apple TV+, Disney+, HBO Max, and Quibi. Peacock will launch in the US today and later internationally. You can check it out on peacocktv.com.
If you’ve been keeping up with Ultra HD TV technology, you may recall that there are essentially six pillars to it:
1. UHD or Ultra HD Spatial Resolution 4K or 8K. 2. HDR or High Dynamic Range. 3. WCG or Wide Color Gamut. 4. Deep Color Resolution. 5. HFR or High Frame Rate. 6. NGA or Next-Generation Audio.
Most of these we’ve got by now. You can go to an electronics store and buy a 4K TV with HDR, WCG, 10-bit color and a Dolby Atmos sound bar or AVR, and they’re not even expensive anymore. The one piece that’s missing? HFR, or High Frame Rate. It’s probably the least understood in terms of benefits and how it works – by consumers but likely also by the creative industry. Even science is still lacking. It’s probably the most controversial of all UHD technologies. Many misconceptions abound, so here’s an attempt to shed some light on what we know and what we don’t know. Many misconceptions abound, so here’s an attempt to shed some light on what we know and what we don’t know.
HFR FOR MOVIES: What do we mean by HFR? That depends what we are talking about. When it’s about film, anything above 24fps (frames per second) will be called HFR. It’s not very common. The number of high-profile movies with HFR you can count on one or two hands. First we had Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, shot in 3D at the double frame rate of 48fps. Since then, we’ve had director Ang Lee taking things further with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk shot at 120fps and Gemini Man starring Will Smith, both shot at 120fps and in 3D. Latter movie was screened in different ways: 2D theaters showed it in 24fps; 3D theaters showed it at 60 or 120fps, depending on their capabilities. And with good reason: Ang Lee pursued high frame rate in order to overcome issues inherent to projection of 3D images at 24fps – strobing and flicker, just like Peter Jackson did. James Cameron has a slightly different approach but prefers to use 120fps in certain parts of 3D movies to avoid judder in shots that pan or have lateral movement across the frame. But HFR for movies is a very divisive technique. Some people love it, a majority of people seem (I don’t have any hard numbers here) to hate it. 24fps is sacred.
DIRECTOR ANG LEE FILMING ‘GEMINI MAN’. PICTURE CREDIT: PARAMOUNT
But why? Well, part of the reason is that’s what we’re used to. This video does a good job explaining why we’ve got 24fps, and why we’ve kept it. But if more pixels and more colors and more bits per color and more audio channels are good, why would more frames per second be bad? Doesn’t it add more realism? Yes, it does, and that’s exactly why it’s bad for movies. Realism is not the point – quite the contrary. It’s very similar to the discussion around analog, chemical film grain: Some people dislike it, but like 24fps frame rate it’s something our brains have been conditioned for since almost 100 years. Although most of us will not consciously notice it, our brains register it subconsciously and know we’re watching a proper film, a possibly epic story. It helps with our suspension of disbelief and puts our brains into ‘movie watching mode’ and immerses us, pulls is into the story. Some refer to 24fps as a ‘dream-like cadence’. Heightened realism takes away from that. It breaks the magic spell. As one moviegoer succinctly put it: “I didn’t see Gandalf et al – instead I saw a load of actors dressed up in some odd costumes.” Billy Lynn and Gemini Man triggered many of the same type reactions, as you can see on social media. Some compare it to a home video shot on a GoPro or a smartphone, looking “hyper-real” or “like a videogame”; others refer to the “Soap Opera Effect” as it’s called (a bit of a misnomer), and the dreaded motion interpolation that their in-laws have enabled on their TV.
Much however is unknown about how our brains process frame rates and motion perception. More scientific research into this area would probably be justified.
How come we (most of us at least) subconsciously perceive 24fps frame rate without being bothered by judder?
Are our brains really conditioned into seeing 24fps as ‘epic’ yet when we see 60i or 60p this mechanism shuts down and we go into ‘soap opera’ mode?
And yet for videogames, which nowadays are also a lot about storytelling, High Frame Rate has evident benefits that gamers appreciate apparently. So do people who play videogames at high frame rates (120fps and above) perceive movie frame rates differently?
Also, provided the Soap Opera Effect is real, there must be an Inverse Soap Opera Effect whereby TV content converted from 60fps to 24fps suddenly starts to look epic? What points to this is a common technique in sports news shows, where they cut the frame rate to 24, 25 or 30fps, crop the picture to get a wider aspect ratio (adding black bars at the top and bottom) and add dramatic music when they want to make a game summary look epic.
Does frame rate matter for traditional cel animation movies, and if so, how?
At what frame rate above 24fps does the magic stop working? 25? 30? 48? 60? Anecdotal evidence (the three Hobbit movies) suggests 48fps is already guaranteed to blow it, but where is the border?
Although soap operas are never in 3D, 3D does not seem to help with suspension of disbelief or make something more epic. Perhaps even contrary. Is this because 3D adds realism which, like HFR and absence of grain, breaks the spell rather than sustaining it?
Is this behavior learned? Would someone from another culture who’s never been to the cinema experience frame rates the same way?
So many questions, so few answers. With the advent of Filmmaker Mode and this insistence of accurately reproducing 24fps frame rate, it’s easy to forget that before Ultra HD Blu-ray, the original Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD were the first home media ever able to handle this frame rate. Broadcast TV, all consumer videotape formats, LaserDisc and even DVD used interlaced video. Yes, DVD was the first format to offer Progressive Scan, but not at 24fps. An important lesson from the history of Hollywood that’s perhaps easy to forget because most of it happened so long ago is that every major technology transition also led to new movie genres and significantly shifted the balance between existing movie genres. HFR is a powerful new tool for movie making in a larger toolbox, so exploration is required. The old ways will not work with HFR, simply because they are built on different assumptions about movie making. Maybe HFR will give rise to entirely new genres, maybe it will take computer animation to heights that we can’t yet imagine. Combined with computer animation HFR may give rise to CGI actors that are more convincing than live actors. We just don’t know yet. What we do know based on past experience though is that every time a major innovation presents itself this discussion flares up: “Who wants to hear actors talk”, “No one wants color film”, and so on. This line of thinking is usually a losing argument over time. It’s not a given that 24fps is going to last forever. So what’s going to happen next? These transitions take many years, sometimes even decades when you have a firmly established structure such as the Hollywood studio system with its worldwide cinema distribution system but innovation never stops, also in the film industry. New secondary tools for movie making are implemented into current workflows and embraced by the industry. Helicopters? Awesome, let’s do flyover shots. Drones? Cool. Large LED screens? Using giant LED screens showing rendered virtual environments instead of green chromakey walls, like they used for shooting The Mandalorian? Absolutely. Anyway, it’s too early to draw conclusions. We’ve had fewer than ten HFR movies, from only a handful of directors. All of these have been conceived as a way to do 3D better. Meanwhile 3D itself has taken decades for Hollywood to get it right, become mainstream and get accepted as more than a novelty feature. For now, the best advice is to go see HFR with your own eyes (and an open mind) to form your own opinion and not accept any dogmas as absolute truth.
CONVERGING TECHNOLOGIES: It’s important to bear in mind that Hollywood movies are still made and optimized for cinema. The technical capabilities of cinema guide movie production and as such many of the ‘truths’ in Hollywood are based on this system. Things could change if suddenly home entertainment becomes a much bigger market for Hollywood, which was actually already happening in 2018 and 2019, and perhaps much more dramatically so in 2020. Movie production optimized for TVs would most likely look different from film production optimized for cinema. After all, what works well at the cinema doesn’t necessarily work well on a TV set. Research by Dolby Labs found that higher brightness makes judder more apparent, as does higher contrast. What looks good in SDR judders too much in HDR, so colorists end up grading HDR darker to avoid this, which defeats the whole purpose. The study also showed that at 50 nits – the typical brightness with traditional theatrical projection – 24fps is the ideal frame rate whereas at 1000 nits – achieved on now fairly common and not too expensive HDR TVs – 32fps would be preferred. Although television came several decades later than cinema, the two technologies have been on parallel paths, going through many of the same innovations. Film went from silent movies to sound, from black & white to color, from mono to stereo to digital surround sound Dolby Digital, DTS, SDDS, initially all on optical film with an ever-growing number of channels. These changes have been noticeable but followed an evolutionary approach. But more recently the cinema business has seen some innovations that are major technical changes but entirely behind the scenes and very subtle if at all noticeable to the viewer: from chemical film to digital projection, with movies distributed on HDDs in cartridges and soon possibly online. The next major step in cinema is probably going to be the most drastic one in a century: from projection on a silver screen to ‘direct view’ displays. Of course, no CRT, no plasma, no LCD, no OLED but real LEDs. These bring far greater brightness, contrast and dynamic range, and will bring cinema screens back on par with home cinema – where they are now essentially running behind on spatial resolution, dynamic range and brightness – only way bigger. It will also add the flexibility to use higher frame rates though whether this will be used is doubtful, given the above considerations and the generally conservative nature of the movie business. This switch will also bring new entrants to the market. Samsung, which has never been in the cinema projection business, has launched its ‘Onyx Cinema LED Technology’ – 34-feet (10-meter) diameter screens with true 4K 4096 x 2160 resolution. The first cinemas rolling this out since 2017 were Lotte Cinema World Tower in Seoul, Paragon Cineplex Theatre in Bangkok, Pacific Theatres Winnetka in Chatsworth, California, just north of Los Angeles, Pathé Beaugrenelle in Paris, Sambil Leganés in Madrid, and the Shoudu Cinema in Beijing.
This transition is going to take years. This stuff isn’t cheap, and the technology it’s replacing isn’t cheap either. It’s a capital investment. But cinema and TV technology are converging further than ever. In the future, a cinema screen will basically be a very large TV set – typically with a far superior Dolby Atmos system. Expect this transfer of TV technology to the cinema to feed back into the home. The first signs are already here. If you’ve got deep enough pockets, you can buy Samsung’s ‘The Wall’ micro-LED display. It’s a modular system, which means you can construct various screen sizes and resolutions. One module measures 16×18 inch and counts 360×360 pixels. An HDTV will use 18 modules, a 4K display 76 and an 8K one 288. There’s no limit, really. 16K displays are also possible. The only constraint is basically money. A single module will set you back about $10,000 so you can do the math.
The specs and sizes for Sony’s Canvas or Cledis Crystal LED Integrated Structure or Display System are very similar. This technology is of course aimed mainly at professional applications but Sony explicitly says it’s also available for living rooms. Now for this to become something for the mass market, we need a price reduction of about 99%. That sounds very steep, but we’ve witnessed exactly that in the 4K TV market over the past seven years. Great news: like the cinema product, the home product offers strong HDR (perfect blacks and 1000 nits peak brightness), wide viewing angles, great 3D, and 120fps HFR.
HFR FOR OTHER TV CONTENT: So if it is only for scripted, acted content that low frame rate matters, are higher frame rates better where realism matters i.e. nature documentaries and live sports? Evidence suggests so. HFR adds to the sense of ‘being there’ in a good way. But before we go into that, back to the definition of HFR. Broadcast TV comes in a range of resolutions now. The trend is upward but very slow. A related trend is that slowly but surely we seem to be getting rid of interlaced video, where ‘fields’ (half frames with only the odd picture lines or the even ones) are displayed successively. Sure, at 1080 HD resolution there’s still a lot of 50i and 60i content but at Ultra HD resolutions only Progressive Scan with full frames is permitted. Various frame rates are allowed (including fractional ones), but 50p and 60p are not considered HFR – they’re Standard Frame Rate. When organizations like the Ultra HD Forum speak of High Frame Rate they mean at least double that – 100 or 120fps and beyond. What drives the (very slow) move to higher frame rates? Is it a silly numbers race, like some would argue the move to higher spatial resolution (4K, 8K) became? Not quite. Even if we don’t need or want it for movies, there are definite upsides. First, why are we moving to higher screen resolutions? Just because TV makers can, and they see TVs with higher resolutions having higher margins? No, there’s more behind it than technology push. Since many decades, TVs are getting bigger and bigger. It’s a pretty constant trend, and the average diameter grows by about 1 inch per year across all territories, even if these averages vary from region to region. In the meantime, our viewing distance does not change much. Living rooms (also varying in average size geographically) did not get significantly bigger. That’s why we need more pixels. Now with higher resolutions, the risk of motion blur increases. With 8K, this is particularly visible. 8K sports content, like the Olympic Games, you probably do not want to watch at frame rates lower than 100fps. Although Japanese public broadcaster NHK has announced quite some time ago they’ll shoot and transmit many parts of the Olympics in 8K, they have not yet said at what frame rate.
THE DIFFICULTIES WITH HFR: While shooting, recording and transmitting HFR may be relatively straightforward (arguably more so than HDR), there is a complication: How to achieve backward compatibility with Standard Frame Rate TV sets and transmission systems? At the moment there are two approaches to this, and DVB and ATSC solve this in different ways. Here it’s going to get a little more technical. What the two have in common: Both use a technique called temporal sublayering for backward compatibility of HFR with SFR. ATSC includes optional temporal filtering for enhancing the standard frame rate picture when temporal sublayering is used,
HFR: DVB and ATSC – temporal sublayering: How does this work? In ATSC and DVB both, PID (program ID) = 0 is the SFR version, and PID = 1 is the HFR enhancement element, to be used along with PID 0 to reproduce the HFR version. In DVB, it actually wouldn’t matter which PID you viewed, they are just the odd and even frames, so each represents a half-frame rate feed, with just a slight timing offset. In ATSC, the frames are a bit different. The frames in PID 0 are a weighted sum of the odd and even frames of the HFR signal. The result is that the PID 0 content has an artificial motion blur. The HFR camera needs a 360 degree shutter (i.e., photons are being captured essentially 100% of the time; the camera doesn’t blink). The contents of the PID 1 frames are the weighted difference between the two signals. The trick here occurs in the receiver: As in DVB, if you don’t know better, show PID 0, you’ll get a usable SFR signal with full motion blur (depending on the weightings). If you do know better, you recover consecutive HFR frames by summing and differencing the two PIDs frames to reconstitute the original odd & even frames of the HFR.
In HFR demos the Ultra HD Forum has given over the last few years, they showed the DVB technique and sometimes, in earlier demos, done it poorly: The camera didn’t have a 360-degree shutter, it was more like 180, so the camera was capturing 100fps, but the exposure was 1/200th second in duration. Odd frames went to PID 0, even to PID 1, and when viewing only one of those, the play-out was 50fps, but the shutter was effectively 90 degrees (still a 1/200th of a second exposure), giving a very staccato, strobe-like presentation which was hard to watch. Eventually, they got a HFR camera with a 360-degree shutter, so the SFR playout appeared as if having a 180 degree shutter, which looks acceptable.
To be sure, these two flavors are not competing in the same market, can coexist in software or silicon in the same TV set, probably do not involve any license fee and are not a matter for a future format war, just in case anyone gets worried. The ATSC and DVB solutions can be used for terrestrial TV, DTH satellite TV, cable TV and (multicast) IPTV. So what about (unicast) OTT streaming? There this compatibility is not an issue at all. The VoD provider just plays out the version that matches the capabilities of the viewer’s system. That can be 60 or perhaps 120fps (in the future, that is – current products such as Apple TV, Roku, ChromeCast and Amazon Fire TV don’t go beyond 60fps) but different frame rates will simply be different versions of the same asset, in the same way that a HD and 4K resolution are different version of the same asset.
HFR IN PRACTICE: So can you go to a store and buy a HFR TV or monitor? One area where this will come in handy is gaming. Current gaming PCs as well as the upcoming PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, the ninth generation of consoles, are (going to be) capable of HFR output. PC/gaming monitors already cater to that. High Frame Rate is one of the few feature areas where monitors are ahead of TVs. Most don’t do a too impressive job in terms of high dynamic range, contrast, peak brightness, wide color gamut, resolution, etc. But while TVs currently don’t exceed 60fps (claims about 120Hz, 240Hz, etc. are often marketing overstatement), gaming monitors can now routinely handle 144fps, 165fps and even 240fps. They’re locked in a numbers race, trying to keep up with graphics cards output capabilities. To what extent the human eye can appreciate the difference between 144fps and 240fps remains a question. Mark Rejhon, founder of Blurbusters, argues in favor of a “retina refresh rate” of over 1000fps based on quite extensive research that he’s been doing.
LG has given HFR TV demonstrations as far back as 2016, and more recently in 2018, when they announced sets for 2019. On 2018 models HFR support is still limited: They can play HFR files from USB, as proven in this LG OLED C8 test. Since 2019 LG high-end TVs have had HDMI 2.1 ports with 4K at 120fps via FRL (Frame Rate Link – HDMI 2.1’s new signalling system for 48Gb/s bandwidth), LG says. 2020 LG high-end TVs have the same HDMI 2.1 support with 4k120p via FRL. Here’s how they promote that on their website:
It’s a feature that few reviewers pay attention to, probably because there’s so little HFR content out there, but it’s one of the things that makes LG’s current high-end UHD TVs intriguing. They are ready for 4K HFR from PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X (even if they may require a firmware update to fully enable HDMI 2.1 after certification). Very few other TVs are. LG is also specifying VRR with 4K 40-120Hz frequency range. Actually it’s also possible to do 4K120 (limited to 8-bit SDR and 4:2:0 chroma) over HDMI 2.0 bandwidth, but it is out of spec. Samsung has been doing it however since 2019 (in high-end TVs) and LG since 2020 (at least in OLED TVs). Several generations of TVs have 1080p120 support, even sometimes 1440p120. This is well within the HDMI 2.0 bandwidth. Test site Rtings has been certifying 1080p120 and 1440p120 in their reviews for some time now, as in this 2017 Sony A1E OLED TV review (check ‘supported resolutions’). There may even be older TVs out there. It could be going to take some time before we start seeing HFR content available, especially live content. There’s a good chance with HFR that, like with 4K resolution, streaming platforms will take the lead over broadcasters. So maybe look to DAZN rather than ESPN. But the chicken and egg situation that so often exists when the hardware makers or content providers need to innovate first you don’t need to worry about. The TV manufacturers have already done their part. Once 120fps TVs become common, broadcasters may begin shooting sports matches in HFR. This does not necessarily have to be in 4K. A program in 1080p at 100 or 120fps with HDR will look quite stunning. Until they’re ready for that, you can use motion interpolation to do the job.
If you want to experience HFR for yourself, at home, you can buy the 4K HDR Ultra HD Blu-ray of Billy Lynn or Gemini Man. Both are authored at 60fps HFR, as the UHD BD standard doesn’t handle 120fps. In fact it also doesn’t handle 48fps, so you’re out of luck if you wanted to watch The Hobbit Trilogy at the proper frame rate. The regular 1080p HD SDR 2D Blu-rays and 3D Blu-rays contain the movie at 24fps. There is no Ultra HD Blu-ray of this yet but when it does arrive it’s surely going to be 24fps, too. A 3D Blu-ray of Billy Lynn comes bundled with the 4K disc, if you buy the right edition (linked above). Gemini Man was not released on 3D BD in most markets, but it was in Germany. The 3D discs are also 24fps. Unfortunately, the HFR format doesn’t support 3D and the 3D format doesn’t support HFR. VoD/streaming services do not offer any 3D or HFR content at the moment.
RECOMMENDED READING: You can read more facts about and impressions of The Hobbit here on FlatpanelsHD, or read about the aftermath. There is plenty of coverage for Ang Lee’s movies but long before the days of internet, Douglas Trumbull – Visual Effects Supervisor for classic movies including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Trek and Blade Runner – did many experiments with HFR. This article about his movie Brainstorm offers a great summary of that. Trumbull and Cameron were speakers at a 2012 Siggraph panel session on HFR cinema, a report of which you can read here.
ATSC 3.0 (A/341) Many thanks to Bill Redmann, Director of Standards, Immersive Media Technologies at InterDigital, for his explanation of the DVB and ATSC approaches to HFR/SFR compatibility and his contribution to this article.
Disney+ will now launch in the UK and other markets in Western Europe on March 24th, one week earlier than the March 31st release date that was originally announced. Pricing has also been officially confirmed as £5.99/€6.99 a month or £59.99/€69.99 a year. The service’s initial European roll out will cover the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, and Switzerland.
The news means that March 24th will be the first time much of Europe will be able to legally watch the original content that has debuted on Disney’s streaming service following its official launch in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and The Netherlands last year. These originals include the hit Star Wars TV show The Mandalorian, as well as High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, a live action version of Lady and the Tramp, and The World According to Jeff Goldblum. The service launched in de US and Canada last year.
The service’s UK pricing is the same as Netflix’s standard definition tier, however Disney+ is only offered at a single price with no additional features locked behind more expensive subscription plans. Variety notes that Disney’s service launched with almost 500 movies and 7,500 TV episodes across the company’s Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic brands.
After its initial March 24th launch, Disney says the streaming service will come to Belgium, the Nordics, and Portugal later in summer 2020.