Leading the way with HDR

The next big shift in our industry is towards HDR (High Dynamic Range). Enabled by higher contrast display technologies, HDR delivers a significant improvement to picture quality, with greater contrast between shadow areas and highlights, deeper color saturation and higher perceived sharpness. 

Interest in HDR has been driven by television manufacturers and content providers, since higher resolution alone has not prompted consumers to buy new TV sets or pay a premium for content. Manufacturers are therefore releasing second-generation UHD TV sets that can display HDR, new laser projectors are being installed to show HDR images in cinemas, and broadband streaming services have started streaming content in HDR. 

Because of the brilliant design and large size of the individual photosites on ARRI's ALEV III sensor, the ALEXA, ALEXA Mini and AMIRA cameras have the widest exposure latitude on the market. Larger photosites get more light, which translates into higher dynamic range, increased base sensitivity and better signal-to-noise performance. Awareness of dynamic range as a crucial element of overall image quality has influenced ARRI product design since the ARRILASER and ARRISCAN, when the goal was to capture the beautiful, high contrast images of Kodak and Fuji film stocks. This focus on digitally replicating the dynamic range and colorimetry of film continued with the development of ALEXA, which was a key reason behind its success.

In truth, any image captured with ALEXA since its introduction in 2010 is technically HDR, and can easily be prepared for HDR delivery by undertaking an HDR color grade of the original ARRIRAW or Log C material. ALEXA, ALEXA Mini and AMIRA are therefore perfect for all productions looking to shoot images that will play well in the HDR future. The next step is HDR monitoring on set; ALEXA SXT cameras will support this with special ALF-2 look files, and future software update packages will implement HDR monitoring in an even more convenient form.

Last year the UHD Alliance was formed -- a consortium of television manufacturers, Hollywood studios, technology firms and distribution companies such as Netflix, Amazon and DirecTV. With its long history of HDR expertise, ARRI joined as a contributing member in April 2015. The group's objective was to develop a common specification and marketing message for HDR, which it duly announced at CES in January 2016, unveiling the Ultra HD Premium brand.

"The diverse group of UHDA companies agreed that to realize the full potential of Ultra HD the specs need to go beyond resolution and address enhancements like HDR, expanded color and ultimately even immersive audio. Consumer testing confirmed this," says UHD Alliance President Hanno Basse. "The criteria established by this broad cross-section of the Ultra HD ecosystem enable the delivery of a revolutionary in-home experience, and the Ultra HD Premium logo gives consumers a single, identifying mark to seek out so they can purchase with confidence."

Having successfully trialed an ALEXA-based technical workflow on three pilots last summer, Amazon Studios is capturing with ALEXA in ProRes 3.2K, finishing in UHD and grading for HDR on its shows PATRIOT, GOOD GIRLS REVOLT and Z: THE BEGINNING OF EVERYTHING, and is planning to implement the same workflow for upcoming seasons of established productions such as HAND OF GOD and THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE. So why is ALEXA the camera of choice for Amazon Studios? While initially they recommended cameras with 4K sensors for UHD productions, several factors made them reconsider. First and foremost, their creatives and producers kept asking for ALEXA due to the overall image quality, flexible workflows and system reliability. Their decision to promote and deliver HDR content, and ALEXA's superior dynamic range, was an additional factor; and finally the introduction of ProRes 3.2K recording with ALEXA allowed them to capture at native resolution, conform in UHD and grade on an HDR display, all with a very streamlined workflow.

Meanwhile, Dolby has been working on technology for HDR cinema display, using modulated laser light sources with 4K DLP Cinema projectors. The proprietary Dolby Cinema system, comprising Dolby Vision projection technology and immersive Dolby Atmos audio, is licensed to exhibitors. Approximately 20 Dolby Cinema screens have been installed in the US and Europe to date, with more than 100 contracted for installation over the coming years. Dolby Vision technology is also being incorporated into new TV sets, for an enriched home viewing experience. 

ARRI Media, ARRI's postproduction and creative services company, recently completed a deal with Dolby to install a Dolby Vision mastering projector and Atmos audio system into the ARRI@Bavaria Film grading cinema in Munich, Germany. Representing the first Dolby Cinema mastering environment outside of the United States, the grading suite was opened in March 2016 with a major event attended by luminaries from the worlds of film production and technology. This ground-breaking facility reflects ARRI's commitment to the benefits of HDR workflows, all the way from image capture to final exhibition.