Monitors have often been treated like second-class citizens intruding in the glamorous world of movies, commercials and TV—respected, but largely unloved. But that’s all changing, as movies, TV and commercial production run to embrace high-resolution digital video and CGI. Now, the lowly monitor has become a star in its own right, as colorists and post professionals increasingly depend on reference displays with exceptional detail, color and gradation accuracy. And, Dolby, along with a new generation of pro monitors from such companies as Panasonic, Canon and Sony, are providing solutions, as well as catering to the rise of professional-level home entertainment systems.
In January, Dolby (www.dolby.com) unveiled their new Dolby Vision system, an end-to-end solution that helps content creators and TV manufacturers deliver images with true-to-life brightness, colors and contrast by augmenting the fidelity of Ultra HD (UHD) and HD video signals for over-the-top (OTT) online streaming, broadcast and gaming applications. Basically, it heralds the arrival of a brave new world of high dynamic range TV (HDR TV), which got a lot of buzz at NAB this year.
"The system is about wide color gamut and HDR," notes Robert Carroll, senior director at Dolby, "so it’s actually independent of spatial resolution—whether that’s HD or Ultra HD. It will work with both contents, and is aimed at both pros and home consumers." He goes on to point out that today’s digital cinema cameras can capture much more latitude than the current monitor technology is capable of displaying. "So with Dolby Vision and Dolby Vision monitors, you’re able to actually see the whole dynamic range," he adds.
The company notes that even though most TV shows are recorded using camera technology that captures the colors and brightness of real life, much of that richness is lost by the time it reaches consumers. That’s because current TV and cinema color-grading standards are based on the limitations of old technologies and require that the original video content be altered—dramatically reducing the range of colors, brightness and contrast—before it can be reproduced for transmission and playback. Dolby Vision changes that, giving creative teams the freedom to use the full gamut of colors, peak brightness and local contrast, knowing that those will be reproduced faithfully on televisions that feature Dolby Vision. The result? A richer and more realistic viewing experience that makes it easier for viewers to discern details that might previously have gone unnoticed in an image, regardless of screen size or viewing distance.
Small wonder that Dolby Vision has already been embraced by companies with postproduction solutions, such as FilmLight, best known for its Baselight color-grading solution, and SGO and its Mistika color-grading software. OTT services like Netflix, Amazon, Vudu and Xbox Video, which hope to distribute Dolby Vision movies and TV shows once they’re available, and TV manufacturers like Sharp and TCL are also embracing the new technology.
At Cine Gear this year, ARRI showcased how their ALEXA XT camera supports Dolby Vision, not just by capturing the high dynamic range colors and brightness of real life, but by making it easy to view the images on-set on a prototype monitor to better optimize the lighting, exposure and camera angles for Dolby Vision.
"Practical tests have shown the ALEXA camera has the best dynamic range on the market. Dynamic range is important, and we’re proud to have achieved a true 14+ stops of range to match the best film stock. Now that Dolby Vision makes it possible to deliver and play back true-to-life colors and contrast, we wanted to see these high dynamic range images on-set to better understand how creative teams might use this new capability to adjust exposure, lighting or other camera parameters. That’s what we’ve been able to achieve by configuring an ALEXA camera to output the full exposure range that’s captured by the ALEXA for display on a prototype Dolby Vision monitor."
"Whether you’re shooting digital, film or doing CGI," notes Carroll, "our system will benefit all those source materials." Looking ahead, he says the company will continue to deliver a better experience to the users—in the theater, at home and on the go.