High-tech colour scheme threatens to complicate simple pleasure of watching TV

LAS VEGAS -- For years, TV makers have focused on making pictures sharper by squeezing more pixels onto screens. Now, their attention is shifting to improving the way sets display colour, with a newish technology called HDR taking centre stage.

See Full Article

HDR, or high dynamic range, promises brighter whites, darker blacks, and a richer range of colours -- at least when you're watching the few select movie titles that get released in the format. Trouble is, there aren't all that many of those yet, and other HDR viewing options are likely to remain scarce for the immediate future.

Even worse, there are likely to be several different flavours of HDR, just to keep TV buyers on their toes.

HDR represents the latest effort by the world's television makers to goose demand for new sets. Global television shipments are expected to flatline this year, says research firm IHS -- and that's an improvement over 2015, when shipments fell 4 per cent.

TV makers are still touting the previous new new thing -- 4K, or ultra high-definition, sets, which have four times the pixels of current high-definition screens. While 4K has stopped the bleeding, it hasn't jolted the TV industry back to life, not least because such high resolution only makes sense if you sit up close and get a very large screen.

HDR faces some similar challenges. As with 4K, studios have to release movies and shows in the new format for owners to get the most out of new HDR sets. To date, there have been only a handful of releases, including "The Martian" and Amazon's original series "Mozart in the Jungle." More are coming, and Netflix aims to join Amazon this year in streaming some HDR titles, but getting an HDR-ready set still mostly means preparing for the future.

It's the same chicken-and-the-egg problem that previously confronted would-be buyers of Blu-ray discs, high-definition TV, 3-D TV and most recently, 4K.

Beyond that, there's the complicated issue of choosing between different versions of HDR. For starters, your version of HDR may look better or worse depending on the kind of set you get.

Basically, only two types of TV screens can display HDR: those using organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs), now built only by LG; and liquid crystal display (LCD) panels that use quantum dots, which are being made by everyone else.

OLEDs are more expensive but provide higher contrast, with truer blacks made possible by pixels that turn all the way off. LCDs, by contrast, will give you a brighter image than OLEDs, but require a backlight that limits just how black its screen can get. (A similar argument over "true" blacks and higher contrast ratios once raged between proponents of plasma-screen and LCD-screen TVs; LCDs won that round.)

Then comes the next wrinkle: a new proliferation of HDR-related marketing labels. For instance, there are actually two ways of defining "premium" HDR technology -- one for OLED sets and one for LCDs. The LCD standard allows a brighter screen with less contrast, but the Ultra HD Alliance of electronics manufacturers, studios and distributors says both deserve the tag "Ultra HD Premium."

At least those sets will offer better pictures when you watch HDR-compatible programming. But many lower-end sets will also play HDR-formatted shows, just without the technology's trademark wider colour and brightness range -- and they'll still be able to boast of "HDR compatibility" even if it's largely meaningless.

Confused yet? You probably won't be alone. "People can understand that more pixels is better than fewer," says IHS's TV analyst Paul Gagnon. "When you start talking about colour gamut and HDR, people's eyes start to glaze over."

Set manufacturers aren't making it any easier on us. LG, for instance, has three levels of HDR: "HDR Pro" for its top-of-the-line OLED sets, "HDR Plus" for high-end 4K TVs with contrast-limited LCD screens, and then a lower level simply called "HDR" that still promises better colour display than vanilla high-def sets -- for instance, by displaying less "banding" on a sky with complex shades of blue.

LG's director of new product development for home entertainment, Tim Alessi, acknowledges the challenge: "We definitely need to do a good job on educating the consumer on what HDR is all about."



Advertisements

Latest Tech & Science News

  • Another reason to flip the off switch for Earth Hour: light pollution

    Tech & Science CTV News
    For the 11th year running, cities worldwide will turn their lights off Saturday to mark Earth Hour in a global call to action on climate change. But the moment of darkness should also serve as a reminder, activists say, of another problem that gets far less attention: light pollution. Source
  • Black hole gets unusual 'kick' out of galaxy core thanks to gravitational waves

    Tech & Science CBC News
    A team of international researchers got a bit of a shock recently when a supermassive black hole — something that normally anchors the centre of a galaxy — was spotted speeding away from its home. The reason? Gravitational waves, says the research team. Source
  • Bad breath: Study finds array of bacteria when orcas exhale

    Tech & Science CTV News
    SEATTLE -- When the mighty orca breaks to the surface and exhales, the whale sprays an array of bacteria and fungi in its his breath, scientists said, some good, and some bad such as salmonella. Source
  • Trump's proposed NASA cuts take aim at Earth science

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Officials at NASA were delighted that U.S. President Donald Trump's budget proposal allocates $19.1 billion for the agency, down only 0.8 per cent from last year, but the proposal also cuts several programs to study the Earth. Source
  • 'Call of Duty' gamers converge on Toronto for national championship

    Tech & Science CTV News
    TORONTO -- Many people have a go-to tool at work. For Andrew Ivers, it's a KBAR-32 this weekend. The 19-year-old from Toronto is a professional gamer who hopes to use his virtual assault rifle to help Team GIRG win the Cineplex WorldGaming "Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare" tournament final Sunday. Source
  • Apple: Software flaws in latest WikiLeaks docs are all fixed

    Tech & Science CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Apple said purported hacking vulnerabilities disclosed by WikiLeaks this week have all been fixed in recent iPhones and Mac computers. The documents released by the anti-secrecy site Thursday morning pointed to an apparent CIA program to hack Apple devices using techniques that users couldn't disable by resetting their devices. Source
  • Spacewalking astronauts prep space station for new parking spot

    Tech & Science CBC News
    ?Spacewalking astronauts prepped the International Space Station on Friday for a new parking spot reserved for commercial crew capsules. The 402-kilometre-high complex already has one docking port in place for the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing Starliner, which should start carrying up astronauts as early as next year. Source
  • Skin powered by the sun? Prosthetic limbs with better sense of touch being developed

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Amputees with prosthetic limbs may soon have much a better sense of touch, temperature and texture, thanks to the energy-saving power of the sun, British researchers said on Thursday. While prosthetics are usually fully powered using batteries, a new prototype from University of Glasgow researchers opens up the possibility for so-called "solar-powered skin," which would include better sense capabilities than current technology. Source
  • Spacewalking astronauts prep station for new parking spot

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Astronauts ventured out on a spacewalk Friday to prep the International Space Station for a new parking spot. NASA's Shane Kimbrough and France's Thomas Pesquet emerged early from the orbiting complex, then went their separate ways to accomplish as much as possible 250 miles up. Source
  • U.S.-born panda Bao Bao makes first appearance in China

    Tech & Science CTV News
    DUJIANGYAN, China -- American-born giant panda Bao Bao made her first appearance Friday before the public in southwestern China following her move there from Washington, D.C. Bao Bao was born at the National Zoo in Washington to pandas on loan from China. Source