Dolby Vision Makes Big Splash at CES 2017

dolby vision

One of the biggest stories at CES 2017 was the inclusion of Dolby Vision high dynamic-range (HDR) capabilities in many TVs and a few UHD Blu-ray players. This trend stands in stark contrast to last year, when only LG announced and actually brought its OLED and Super UHD LCD TVs to market with Dolby Vision and HDR10. (Philips and TCL announced TVs with Dolby Vision and HDR10 at CES 2016, but the TCL X1 was not released in the US market, and the Philips 8600 was never released at all. Vizio also offered Dolby Vision in its Reference, P, and M series last year, and it added HDR10 in a firmware update, but the company was not at CES 2016 or 2017. And late last year, LeEco introduced the uMax85 with support for Dolby Vision and HDR10.)

This year, many more products with Dolby Vision capabilities were unveiled. In the realm of televisions, LG retained Dolby Vision and HDR10 in its 2017 OLED and Super UHD LCD TVs, and it even added support for HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma) and Technicolor’s Advanced HDR formats, covering all the HDR bases out there today. Philips introduced three model lines with Dolby Vision, and TCL announced two new DV-capable lines that should be available in the US market, along with new models in the X series, which are not slated to be sold in the US. Newcomers to Dolby Vision-enabled TVs included Hisense with its R8 Roku TV (but not the step-down R6 or its non-Roku H series) and—perhaps most surprisingly—Sony with its A1E OLED TV and X930E and X940E LCD TVs, which also include support for HLG. (Last year’s Z9D LCD TV will also be updated to support Dolby Vision and HLG.)

The only major holdout was Samsung, which steadfastly refuses to support Dolby Vision. This is somewhat surprising given the importance the company places on dynamic metadata and tone mapping, which Dolby Vision inherently provides. Granted, HDR10 will soon have dynamic metadata as specified in the SMPTE ST.2094 standard, but it will require HDMI 2.1 to carry all the extra data from an external source to the TV. By contrast, Dolby Vision can be conveyed via HDMI 2.0—in fact, it needn’t be 2.0a. Other factors could be the licensing fees that Dolby charges and the need for sufficiently powerful processing, but other companies seem to have gotten over those hurdles.

Then there are UHD Blu-ray players. At CES 2016, no players were announced with Dolby Vision capabilities; this year, there were two: the LG UP970 and Philips BDP7502. (Oppo also introduced its UDP-203 with support for Dolby Vision late last year.) In all cases, Dolby Vision will be added via firmware update sometime in 2017. Sony’s newly announced UBP-X800 is not expected to support Dolby Vision, which is quite surprising given the company’s support for DV in its 2017 TVs. And of course, Samsung’s new UBD-M9500 will not support Dolby Vision.

What about content? Up to now, there have been no UHD Blu-ray discs released with Dolby Vision HDR, only HDR10. At CES 2017, Dolby confirmed that Lionsgate, Universal, and Warner Brothers will release discs encoded in Dolby Vision this year, though they did not announce any specific titles or release schedule. And DV content can be streamed from Vudu, Netflix, and Amazon, with about 80 titles currently available. Other than the apps within Dolby Vision-enabled TVs, the only outboard streamer that supports Dolby Vision as of this writing is the Google Chromecast Ultra.

Here’s a list of current and announced TVs and UHD Blu-ray players that will support Dolby Vision:

TVs

Hisense R8 LCD
LeEco uMax85 LCD
LG W7, G7, E7, C7, B7 OLED
LG SJ9500, SJ8500, SJ8000 LCD
Philips 8000, 7000, 6000 series LCD
Sony A1E OLED
Sony X940E, X930E, Z9D LCD
TCL P, C, X series LCD (X series not intended for US market)
Vizio Reference, P, M Series LCD

UHD Blu-ray Players

LG UP970
Philips BDP7502
Oppo UDP-203

Why is support for Dolby Vision important? In my opinion, Dolby Vision is better than HDR10, primarily because DV uses dynamic metadata, whereas HDR10 uses static metadata. For those who aren’t familiar with these terms, HDR metadata represent the characteristics of the display used to master the content, especially its maximum brightness and color volume. This information is used by consumer displays to map the video data to the capabilities of the display, which could well be different from the capabilities of the mastering display.

With static metadata, the peak brightness and other characteristics are specified only once for the entire program, whereas with dynamic metadata, the characteristics are specified for each scene or even each frame. This generally results in better image quality throughout the program—for example, with static metadata, scenes that do not reach the specified peak brightness will look darker than they should. As I mentioned earlier, the open SMPTE standard for HDR, commonly called HDR10, is being updated to include dynamic metadata as specified in ST.2094, but it requires HDMI 2.1 to convey from one device to another—which, in turn, requires new hardware to support the higher bandwidth, and it won’t be available in consumer products for about a year.

Isn’t this just another format war? No; just as different audio formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X can be implemented within AVRs and other audio devices, so can various HDR formats coexist within displays and players. Thus, it doesn’t matter what HDR format a given program uses; a player and display that implements multiple formats can accommodate the content and display it to its best advantage.

I’m greatly encouraged by the growing support for Dolby Vision in TVs and UHD Blu-ray players. I think it’s the best HDR you can currently get in graded content, such as movies. HLG or Technicolor Advanced HDR might be better suited for live broadcasting, but we’ll have to wait and see how that end of the content marketplace develops.