LG 2018 TV Reviewers Workshop, Part 3: Technicolor

The day-long LG 2018 TV Reviewers Workshop on March 15 started with a deep dive into this year’s OLED and Super UHD LCD TVs, followed by a visit to Mack Sennett Studios and Netflix. Our final stop was Technicolor, where we faced a gauntlet of security to get in—and no photos were allowed in any of the studios.

technicolor
The only photo I was allowed to take inside the Technicolor offices was of this 3-strip camera, one of the first to shoot full-color images.

Technicolor has been helping to bring storytellers’ visions to life for over 100 years. The company’s main goal is to ensure visual consistency throughout the entire production process, from camera to mastering monitor to final display in a commercial cinema or consumer’s home.

As I wrote about in part 1 of this report, LG and Technicolor have established a partnership to do just that. One result of that partnership is the Technicolor Expert picture mode in LG OLED and Super UHD TVs, which strives to visually match the color of the consumer display with what the content creators saw on their grading monitor. Surprisingly, this means moving the white point away from (0.313, 0.329), aka D65. For an image to look identical on different types of displays, the white points of those displays must sometimes be different. This doesn’t make intuitive sense, but it is demonstrably true nonetheless.

Color Grading

After a brief introductory session, we visited colorist Tom Forletta in one of Technicolor’s color-grading suites. The room includes two monitors—a Sony BVM-X300 30″ 4K HDR OLED (around $30,000) and an LG 55B7 OLED TV (around $1600). Tom said that 55″ is just about the perfect size for sitting 4-5′ from the screen. As he showed us clips from the show he was working on, This Is Us, the two screens looked identical in terms of color. However, he said that if there is any discrepancy, he goes with the B7.

Tom explained the process of color grading in basic terms. The camera captures images in a flat, desaturated format called “log” that must be adjusted to look good and consistent within and between scenes. This is especially important with scenes shot outdoors, which might represent only a few minutes in the show but can take hours with the light changing continuously.

The color changes are performed using lookup tables (LUTs). Each show has a basic LUT that defines its overall “look,” which the colorist then fine tunes for each shot as needed. For example, they might increase the brightness in certain areas of the image to draw the viewers’ eyes to those areas. Or, they might simulate a key light in some shots to match the lighting in other shots within the same scene. In one example Tom showed us, he made an outdoor daytime shot look like it was nighttime. He emphasized that the intent is to make the images look as natural as possible. On a show like This Is Us, the process takes Tom a total of 16-20 hours per episode.

Advanced HDR by Technicolor

Next, we learned about Advanced HDR by Technicolor, a very unwieldy name for the high dynamic-range technology developed by Technicolor and Philips in France. Kirk Barker, Technicolor’s Senior VP of Emerging Products, emphasized that it’s not a format; it’s a “system” that’s fully compatible with HDR10, Dolby Vision, and HLG. Also, it’s designed to optimize distribution and adaptation of the peak luminance and color gamut of the mastering display to consumer displays—in other words, tone mapping.

Like Dolby Vision, Advanced HDR by Technicolor includes a base layer that can be SDR or HDR, and it uses dynamic metadata to describe how it looked on the mastering display. Unlike Dolby Vision, however, it’s compatible with any EOTF (electro-optical transfer functions)—PQ (Perceptual Quantizer), HLG, gamma, etc.—which defines how brightness values in the signal are translated into light emitted by the display.

Kirk said that the Technicolor system acts like a “container” that is format-agnostic. It can accept HDR10, Dolby Vision, HLG, and SDR as an input, normalize the content (including SDR-to-HDR upconversion if necessary), and deliver it to any HDR or SDR device in a single stream, ensuring a consistent experience in both cases.

To illustrate SDR-to-HDR upconversion, we saw the same clip displayed on two LG OLED TVs. One was showing an SDR version upconverted to HDR, and the other was native HDR. I could see virtually no visible difference between them—very impressive!

One of the main selling points is that distribution—over the air, streaming, or UHD Blu-ray—requires only one file. In a broadcast application, that file would typically be SDR with metadata that allows compatible devices to reconstruct the original HDR image. Incompatible devices simply ignore the metadata and display the SDR image.

Technicolor is in discussions with content providers, and its HDR system is slated to be included in the final ATSC 3.0 broadcast standard. Early trials of ATSC 3.0 are scheduled for this year, but they will be SDR. Streaming content can be distributed with Technicolor HDR much sooner. However, providers such as Netflix need to see an installed base of consumer devices that support the system before it will produce content that uses it—a real chicken-and-egg problem.

LG is the first TV company to implement Advanced HDR by Technicolor in its OLED and Super UHD LCD TVs. Funai has also announced that some of its Philips-branded TVs will support Technicolor HDR, but no other manufacturers have made such announcements yet. In addition, Kirk told us there are 20 to 25 SoCs (systems on a chip) that support Technicolor HDR, so other manufacturers could use one of them in future products, such as TVs and set-top boxes.

Technicolor has conducted several trials of its HDR system during live sporting events. For one of the baseball games, only one truck was used to produce the content in HDR, which was then converted to SDR for broadcast around the world. That trial demonstrating the ability to deliver both SDR and HDR from a single truck, which cuts expenses dramatically.

It will be interesting to see if Advanced HDR by Technicolor catches on. HDR10 and Dolby Vision are already deeply entrenched in streaming and UHD Blu-ray, but OTA broadcasting is still an open field. And if the Technicolor system offers significant savings in time and/or money, that could help boost it into the mainstream.

Meanwhile, I thank LG and Technicolor—and Mack Sennett Studios and Netflix—for an enlightening day in Hollywood.

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