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29 August 2019

SSIMWave’s Dolby Vision demo first to give back control of HDR

Canadian perceptual quality specialist SSIMWave slipped out a pre-IBC press release late last week talking about demonstrating support for Dolby Vision for the first time in Amsterdam. In conversation with the company earlier this year, SSIMWave cited being a partner licensed to monitor Dolby Digital Plus for live and VoD workflows – collaborating with Dolby on monitoring the preservation of Dolby Vision and Atmos content across distribution. So, not actually a new update at all, and SSIMWave has since confirmed to us that it will be making its debut Dolby demonstration in a few weeks – which Faultline Online Reporter will be seeing firsthand.

The move is timely because the unstandardized nature and inconsistency of screen brightness ranges associated with HDR has acted as a deterrent for some in the industry, yet Dolby Vision and HDR10+, or something like Technicolor’s HDR Intelligent Tone Management (ITM) technology, have all been gaining momentum.

SSIMWave will be showcasing how customers of the SSIMPlus VoD Monitor Inspector can receive viewer scores of Dolby Vision source and output files – claiming to “take control” of HDR quality via an objective grasp on exactly what viewers will experience on any screen using frame-by-frame and pixel-by-pixel scores.

This scoring system, as a quick recap, is ranked by Excellent (81-100), Good (61-80), Fair (41-60), Poor (21-40), and Bad (1-20) – whereby a score of 80+ is generally considered the equivalent of an HD TV broadcast. These values are based on Structural Similarity algorithms and SSIMWave can go deeper by scoring factors based on specific device brands models, be it size of screen, distance from screen (based on sound), brightness, number of pixels, and can even acknowledge that viewing video on a smartphone generally means the handset is titled at an angle of approximately 30-degrees.

Now with Dolby Vision thrown into the hat, SSIMWave can monitor technology boasting highlights that are up to 40 times brighter, and blacks that are 10 times darker. Indeed, HDR10+ still lags Dolby Vision in TV and movie content, although the gap is narrowing. On the other hand, most dedicated mobile HDR content is in HDR10, the predecessor of HDR10+, although Apple has some Dolby Vision content via iTunes. However, Panasonic, despite being a lead member of the HDR10+ Alliance, now supports Dolby Vision in its flagship GZ2000 OLED TV as well as its 4K Blu-ray players. So, at present, the trend seems to be towards both being supported on the TV and mobile fronts with no immediate sign of either winning out.

That is because the industry is split, and both have their pros and cons. Dolby Vision supports greater color depth at 12 bit rather than 10 bit and higher peak luminance at 10,000 Nits rather than 4,000 for HDR10 and HDR10+.

On the other hand, HDR10+ catches up with Dolby by adding support for dynamic metadata that HDR10 lacks, enabling it to realize its potential by instructing displays to display color as accurately as possible within their luminance and bit depth ranges. And the Alliance has even made a virtue out of the lower peak luminance by arguing that this allows it to deliver better quality to many existing displays that do not support the higher values in any case. That sounds disingenuous, but it is certainly true that even current top end displays are incapable of displaying higher than about 2,500 nits, so 4,000 is plenty for now.

The other advantage HDR10+ has is being open source and royalty free, which Dolby Vision is not. In fact, it was Samsung’s reluctance to pay Dolby royalties that inspired the decision to invest in enhancing HDR10, which otherwise might well have withered on the vine to leave just one HDR standard.

So, now all of Samsung’s 2019 4K HDR TVs support HDR10+, while Panasonic’s flagship GZ2000 has become the first TV to support both formats. Philips also supports HDR10+, leaving LG and Sony solely in the Dolby Vision camp.

On the smartphone side, Dolby Vision is still quite rare and, so far, has been implemented in software, unlike TVs where it is hardware-based. LG was the first to support Dolby Vision in a number of phones, joined by Apple with the iPhone, but few others do, while leading models from Samsung, Sony, Huawei and Nokia have HDR10+ displays.

“Our company and our advanced technology exist to preserve artistic intent, so that the consumer receives the ultimate viewing experience,” prophesized SSIMWave president and co-founder Dr. Abdul Rehman.