Technicolor HDR Solutions Hit the Major Leagues

20 December 2016

Case Study: How Technicolor HDR Solutions Deliver Value to Time Warner Cable and Major League Baseball

In the quest to provide more immersive experiences to television viewers, there are few content delivery scenarios that rival live sports.

Enter High Dynamic Range (HDR) – a leading-edge video technology capable of amplifying the contrast available in the image and expanding the TV’s contrast ratio and color palette to offer a more realistic, natural image than what is currently possible with today’s HDTVs.

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Case Study: How Technicolor HDR Solutions Deliver Value to Time Warner Cable and Major League Baseball

In the quest to provide more immersive experiences to television viewers, there are few content delivery scenarios that rival live sports.

Enter High Dynamic Range (HDR) – a leading-edge video technology capable of amplifying the contrast available in the image and expanding the TV’s contrast ratio and color palette to offer a more realistic, natural image than what is currently possible with today’s HDTVs.

To explore the key forces that are driving HDR adoption in the marketplace, Light Reading hosted a Webinar on “HDR’s Challenges and Opportunities for Network Service Providers.” Moderated by Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader of Heavy Reading, the dynamic presentation also leveraged the expertise of Technicolor’s Josh Limor, Vice President, Ecosystem and Technology Development at Technicolor and Brian Jentz, Senior Director, Product Management for Technicolor Connected Home.

HDR is having a profound impact because to viewers, the difference between HDR and SDR is striking — very similar to the difference between high definition and standard definition.  Once the viewer has experienced HDR video, standard definition images do not look quite right anymore – a key reason that the entire industry is moving to HDR.

While the upside of HDR is well documented, the technology creates challenges as well as opportunities for Network Service Providers (NSPs), such as:

  • How to create HDR content and optimize HDR production;
  • How to support multiple HDR formats;
  • How to provide a consistent viewing experience in a mixed environment of HDR and SDR content;
  • How to accommodate households that have both HDR and SDR devices; and
  • How to optimize the viewer’s experience in environments with wide variations in the quality of HDR devices.

HDR and Live Sports Programming

Live sports may present an even greater challenge because at least for the foreseeable future, standard dynamic range and high dynamic range assets must co-exist in a hybrid environment and be compatible with the various different types of displays.

As they look toward migrating to HDR in the future, NSPs today face a challenge managing the transition. “You have to think about what you do if you have a production environment that has all standard dynamic range content, standard dynamic range cameras and infrastructure,” Technicolor’s Josh Limor said.

In a stadium, for example, it would be prohibitively expensive to replace all existing SDR cameras with HDR cameras. It is equally costly and impractical to duplicate master consoles and production equipment and manage workflows. “But what if I want to add some choice cameras in HDR and intermix that with some SDR cameras? Those are the sort of things I need to keep in mind when migrating to HDR cost effectively,” Limor added.

Technicolor is addressing these challenges with two products: Technicolor HDR and Technicolor Intelligent Tone Management (ITM):

  • Technicolor HDR is a delivery system for content owners, distributors, broadcasters, and display manufacturers that delivers all HDR content and is compatible with any consumer display – HDR or SDR. If deployed now, it will be future-proof for consumers as they upgrade to HDR going forward.
  • Technicolor HDR Intelligent Tone Management (ITM) is an algorithm that allows NSPs to up-convert all non-HDR video to match native HDR content. Time Warner Cable Sports deployed this capability to make its network operations center HDR-capable.

Technicolor HDR can be used to create the derived SDR from an HDR workflow, while HDR ITM-LIVE can be used to create HDR feeds from SDR sources.

Time Warner Cable, Major League Baseball

This summer, Time Warner Cable (TWC) Sports – renamed Spectrum SportsNet after the Charter Communications merger — worked with Technicolor to deliver the first ever Major League Baseball (MLB) game in HDR.

In this case, the NSP had two seemingly incompatible requirements: to produce an HDR broadcast of a Los Angeles Dodgers game without changing cameras or the production workflow.

What was interesting about this project was that a key requirement was to produce the HDR broadcast through their existing infrastructure without making any changes to the production workflow. They also needed to transmit that HDR content to consumer devices in a way that it could be properly decoded over the universe of supported devices.

Technicolor solved these challenges by first using Technicolor’s HDR ITM solution to up-convert content from SDR to HDR, then transmitting the HDR content through the Technicolor HDR distribution solution. As a result, TWC was able to generate a single stream of content that could be delivered to all its customers simultaneously.

Breaking Down the Workflow

The process begins at SportsNet LA’s network operations center in El Segundo, CA, where the ITM algorithms reside. The live feed from the stadium comes into the master control center in two formats – the SDR feed and the MPEG 4 signal over TWC Sports’ 1 Gigabit fiber backbone.

All graphics, interstitials, tickers and archives are added in the master control center in SDR.   Using Technicolor’s ITM solution, the signal is up-converted to HDR, and metadata for SDR and HDR are added using Elemental’s HEVC encoder.

Technicolor’s HDR solution sends out a single HDR HEVC stream to its Peakview, CO, facility, which is then distributed over a Zixi platform to Los Angeles and New York for distribution. That process made it possible to distribute content through a single stream to all subscribers, so it could be seen – and enjoyed — on SDR and HDR devices simultaneously. That marked the first time that a live production in SDR was up-converted and distributed as HDR.

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