Your browser is not supported. Please update it.

21 January 2021

Dolby Chief Scientist predicts breakthrough year for HDR in gaming

As the digital dust settled from CES, it became apparent that the virtual event was something of a walled garden compared to the totally free virtual fanfares that kept us engaged throughout 2020. Even a media pass meant meeting strict criteria that was a first even for Faultline.

So to wrap up our 2021 CES series giving a glimpse into the digital debut of the world’s largest consumer electronics show, for those who were unable to attend, we turn our gaze to the latest trends and technologies in gaming – a sector we see as something of an unsung hero during the pandemic.

Dr. Poppy Crum, Chief Scientist at Dolby Labs, heralded the huge leaps made in visual and audio technologies within the gaming sector using neuroscience terminology that blew our minds – zooming in on HDR, low latency, and spatial audio.

While serious gaming conversations tend to ignore consoles, Crum immediately celebrated the arrival of Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and S consoles, in Q4 2020, as the first consoles to support both Dolby Vision (aka HDR) and Dolby Atmos (aka surround sound).

With this double Dolby effect, the industry is going to see a proliferation of games supporting HDR, according to Crum, who predicts that 2021 will be the year that HDR gaming scales in ways that are more “democratized.”

“High dynamic range – with the specular highlights, the improved color gamut, the deeper blacks – impacts the player in really important ways, in what we call competitive excellence. Increased immersive specialization in both sound and dynamic range means faster reaction times, but also gives the creator the ability to improve awareness of that scene; to improve the competitive environment. It will be a breakthrough year in how technologies will shape the ability of the storyteller to reach the player,” explained Crum.

Adding the game engine angle to the conversation, Habib Zargarpour, Head of Film Development at Unity Technologies, agreed that HDR is the next big advancement in imagery – praising the technology for bringing the realism that game engine developers have been striving for.

Part of the beauty of HDR technology such as Dolby Vision is its application at both the consumer end and content creation ends, with use in filmmaking too. However, the gaming community is at an advantage over the film industry, where for movies every step in the pipeline has to be modified – from cameras to storage devices, and editorial stages to VFX processing. All these steps need to be upgraded to HDR, whereas a game engine like Unity can just make the switch instantly, according to Zagarpour.

“The programmer just goes in and changes a number, and voila – you have support for a new format,” he added, which in turn will open up opportunities with game engines emerging on large LED screens in applications such as gaming and esports competitions.

Crum believes we are at a point where technology can transform the way content engages with the brain – which is something truly unique to gaming. Increased adoption of spatial audio formats and the role of personalization are two specific areas that Crum sees leading to faster reaction times among gamers and improving this so-called competitive excellence. In her research, Crum has been particularly impressed with the direction of LG (the session sponsor) in contextual optimization, which is being applied for different genres in new displays.

“Where we’re at with lower latency and HDR is allowing creators to build games that are essentially tapping into a much richer experience for the brain and how you think about the way they explore environments, and the way the brain takes in information. You can walk away with a different memory formation which I think is really transformative,” added Crum.

US GPU powerhouse Nvidia was also present on the panel, represented by VP of Technical Marketing Tony Tamasi, who discussed the correlation between lower latencies and improved mechanical skill among gamers, which Nvidia has shown translating to improved competitiveness.

Nvidia has been researching this field for some time, according to Tamasi, producing developments such as Nvidia’s G-Sync technology, which changes the way the GPU communicates with the display. Historically, the GPU is required to synchronize with the display which has meant choosing between stalling the GPU based on the display’s refresh rate, or turning off synchronization altogether. Nvidia’s G-Sync ultimately allows the GPU to run as fast as possible which prevents screen tearing (where multiple frames are shown in a single display creating a visible tear line in the content).

“We want the world to understand that latency is just as important as frame rate,” was Tamasi’s closing message.