Time Warner Cable Sports, Technicolor Bring HDR Life to SDR Signal

Time Warner Cable Sports has taken the High Dynamic Range (HDR) plunge, as its network operations center is now HDR-capable thanks to Technicolor HDR technology that can take an incoming Standard Dynamic Range (SDR) signal and distribute it as SDR and HDR in one stream. “What we have found is that for low financial lift, we can create a signal with a minimal amount of bandwidth increase on the cable plant,” says Mark Coleman, VP Engineering and Operations at Time Warner Cable Sports. “And it also doesn’t impact the look of the standard HD signal.”

Time Warner Cable Sports is using Technicolor HDR technology to convert its SDR programming signal to HDR.

Time Warner Cable Sports is using Technicolor HDR technology to convert its SDR programming signal to HDR.

It was only a little over a year ago that Time Warner Cable Sports tackled a Los Angeles Lakers game in 4K (the first time the Sony HDC-4300 4K cameras were used in an actual professional sporting event) distributing the signal across the entire ecosystem, from venue to home. So it only made sense for the team to once again tackle a production challenge. This time it was taking a 1080i SDR signal and up-converting it to HDR.

HDR is the most intriguing thing to us right now, and we wanted to see if we could take it to the next step and actually do something live and simulate transmitting it to a home. So we started to think about doing something with the Dodgers and Major League Baseball,” says Coleman.

Those conversations extended out to Technicolor, and Roy Stewart, Technicolor, VP, Business Development & Partner Relations. The result is that SportsNet LA is making use of Advanced HDR by Technicolor which uses algorithms and metadata to take an SDR signal and distribute it as both SDR and HDR in a single feed.

“Hidden in SDR content are details that our algorithms are able to bring light,” says Stewart. “You may not be able to see these details on an SDR display, but through our advanced technology the content is brought to life with new detail throughout the images from highlights to shadows, while maintaining the integrity of the flesh tones.”

The technology can be applied at different places in the production and distribution chain. In this instance, Technicolor’s algorithms reside at the SportsNet LA network operations center in El Segundo, CA.

The workflow begins by taking the feed from the production truck, as either a JPEG2K at 200 Mbps or an MPEG4 signal at 30 Mbps via the TWCSport’s 1Gbps fiber backbone, and then into master control. At master control all of the interstitials, graphics, and archival content is added in SDR. The signal is then taken through Technicolor HDR ITM where it is up-converted to HDR and then deconstructed, through Technicolor HDR, into SDR plus HDR metadata.  The video is then encoded by an Elemental HEVC encoder and the metadata is inserted into standardized SEI messages.

The single Technicolor HDR HEVC stream is then sent out over TWC’s 10 Gbps backbone to TWC’s Peakview, CO facility where it is then distributed over the internet via a Zixi platform (providing forward error connection) to Technicolor in Los Angeles, Technicolor in New York, and soon Major League Baseball headquarters where set-top boxes play the content Presented in Technicolor HDR to both HDR and SDR TVs.

“It even gives a little bit of a bump in quality to some of the old footage,” says Coleman. He adds that there are certain touch points which need a little bit of finessing.  Most notably, camera shading in bright daylight. “We need to work with the shaders to ensure we are protecting the detail in the highlight areas. We also want to talk with Sony about integrating 4K HDR cameras into the production, creating a hybrid workflow.”

An interesting observation is that when we run tickers, branding elements and graphic boxes through the Technicolor HDR ITM they pop out of the screen even more,” he adds.

Even the derived REC709 video can look better after being up-converted to HDR because it exposes more details and mid tones.

“One of the great things about baseball is it lends itself to those details,” says Stewart.

Coleman points out that the system is up and running on a 24/7 basis.

“We want to keep playing with it and get more eyeballs on it, so we don’t see any reason to take it down.”