Sony is a firm believer in HDR as the future standard for broadcast and acquisition necessitated by the increasing requirements for high resolutions for broadcast such as 4K and beyond. Despite the fact that there is very few content in actual 4K on TV right now (excluding streaming services such as Neftlix and Amazon, who’ve been championing UHD and HDR for the past year or so), traditional broadcasters have been lacking behind showing only select sport and music events in 4K and HDR here and there. Japan and South Korea seem to be spearheading the high resolution broadcast effort, while their counterparts in the old western world are playing catch up.
Sony’s commitment is further proven by the company’s decision to expand the HDR capabilities of many of its professional products to meet the growing requirements for HDR content across all production genres.
The good news for us is that popular 4K pro camcorders such as the Sony FS5 and Sony PXW-Z150 will be getting an HDR upgrade with HLG and BT2020 support as early as July this summer.
Sony’s definition of HDR (High Dynamic Range) is
“…increased realism to moving images and creates a significantly more immersive viewing experience.”
Broadcasters, live event producers and online content creators all have specific HDR production requirements, and the expansion of Sony HDR production capabilities, this offers a wide range of benefits.
In July 2016, the International Telecommunication Union published the ITU-R HDR-TV Recommendation, BT.2100-0. This standard presents two options for producing HDR images – Perceptual Quantization (PQ), which is supported by the Atomos Shogun Inferno for example (meaning the Inferno can output a PQ compliant HDR signal to a PQ Monitor for on set HDR monitoring for example) and Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) – and opens the way towards wider adoption of HDR broadcasting.
HLG is what Sony seems to be leaning towards at the moment. What is the difference between PQ and HLG? Aren’t they supposed to be doing the same thing – i.e. help transmit HDR images in the “proper” way on an HDR compliant TV for example?
Well, in short – PQ, which was developed by Dolby as part of its Dolby Vision standard, is generally what Hollywood studios and Netflix/Amazon seem to have settled on, however the inherent problem with PQ is that it is not backward compatible with existing SDR TVs/receivers. This could potentially lead to some seriously crappy HDR content due to improper decoding on the TV/receiver’s end making the HDR look even worse than SDR with severely crushed blacks, blown highlights or unnatural over-saturated colours.
HLG on the other hand, was created by the mighty Beeb or (BBC for all you outside the UK) in collaboration with super-hight tech Japanese broadcaster NHK to help them broadcast 4K and 8K. Hybrid Log-Gamma has been specifically designed to be backwards-compatible with SDR making it the preferred choice for live HDR production workflows. HLG also doesn’t rely on metadata to display HDR content properly.
Even though every camera today equipped with a LOG profile, whether a compact 4K mirrorless camera like the Sony a6500 (see some footage I shot with it below) or a purpose built pro cinema camera like the Panasonic Varicam LT, technically already shoots “HDR”, it is not the capture of HDR that is a problem – we are already doing that; rather displaying HDR content is.
Today, 98% of content gets squeezed in the 5-6 stops Rec.709 container and so much of that extra dynamic range is wasted as we simply cannot see it when it is broadcast. HLG will help more with live productions and quick HDR delivery more than anything else IMHO.
Sony a6500 4K S-Log2 IBIS Handheld Test from 4K Shooters on Vimeo.
As the expanding need for HDR content continues, internet video platforms and professionals producing corporate or event content are paying more attention to the added value of HDR. They need to deliver content quickly, without compromising on imaging expression and quality of content.
To meet this demand, Sony now offers HDR capability on the entry level handheld XDCAM camcorders, PXW-FS5 and PXW-Z150. Both feature HLG recording (July 2017) for easy file-based workflows, whilst achieving the image quality of HDR. This simple workflow enables the shooting, editing and viewing of HDR content in HLG, without the need for additional colour grading.
The Sony PXW-FS5 and PXW-Z150 will receive the additional HDR capabilities via a software update. For the FS5, HLG will be supported, in addition to S-Log3. The HLG mode can be set-up quickly through the option of the newly added picture profile. HLG mode will also be supported in the PXW-Z150.
The firmware updates for both the FS5 and Z150 will be available sometime in July 2017.