Live From PGA Championship: CBS, DirecTV Test High Dynamic Range

Internal trials offer chance to experiment with HDR content and workflows

The Sony HDC4300 4K/HD/high-speed camera systems deployed for DirecTV’s 4K show also acquire in HDR for tests within the compound.

The Sony HDC4300 4K/HD/high-speed camera systems deployed for DirecTV’s 4K show also acquire in HDR for tests within the compound.

Besides offering distributed 4K coverage of hole 4 at this weekend’s PGA Championship, CBS Sports and DirecTV are also taking part in some internal testing of high dynamic range (HDR).

Although the HDR signal is not being sent to DirecTV’s broadcast center in El Segundo, CA, for distribution to viewers — in fact, it’s not leaving the compound at all — the engineering crews have a valuable opportunity to play around with HDR content and workflows.

“Trying to get to that HDR stage is really important,” says Ken Aagaard, EVP, innovation and new technology, CBS Sports. “I think what we’re doing here at the PGA this week is a big step toward getting our arms around HDR. How do we do it? What does it mean? What does it look like? How well does it work?”

Notes John Ward, SVP, content operations, AT&T Entertainment Group, “Right now, all of this is a science project, especially the HDR piece.”

AT&T Entertainment Group’s John Ward outside Mobile TV Group’s 39 Flex, host to the 4K and HDR productions at Baltusrol Golf Club

AT&T Entertainment Group’s John Ward outside Mobile TV Group’s 39 Flex, host to the 4K and HDR productions at Baltusrol Golf Club

The added element has changed little in the 4K workflow and required only enabling the HDR capability within the Sony HDC-4300 4K/HD high-speed camera systems. Members of the production and operations crew are observing the images on two HDR displays: a Sony monitor inside Mobile TV Group’s 39 Flex — which houses the 4K/HDR production — and a 70-in. display in a neighboring office trailer.

According to Dale Canino, director, technology, Mobile TV Group, the HDR element does add a few layers of complexity, including requiring additional converters to enable the HDR to be viewed correctly in the desired format — “We are testing a number of different ones”— and to allow conversion back to standard dynamic range (SDR) prior to transmission to DirecTV’s broadcast center.

Inside Mobile TV Group’s 39 Flex, where HDR tests are taking place

Inside Mobile TV Group’s 39 Flex, where HDR tests are taking place

Graphics present a similar challenge. Produced in SDR, they need to be upconverted to HDR so that they can be a part of the test before the whole program is returned to SDR for distribution.

Although 4K gets the most attention, there’s a lot of industry excitement around HDR, thanks to the some of the advantages it offers over 4K. For consumers, screen size matters far less when it comes to HDR, and viewers don’t need to sit at any specific distance or at any particular angle from the screen. And, most obviously, 1080p HDR is more cost-effective to produce than fully native 4K.

“You’ve got to get the footage; then you can play with it,” says Ward, adding, “It’s ultimately going to come down to religious beliefs, just like 1080i and 720p. Regardless of the belief system of what’s going to be the prevailing code, we all believe this is going to be the nirvana.”