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How Long Can Your HDR Workflow Wait?

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Unlike the move from SD to HD and from HD to 4K, the move to HDR isn't going to have a huge impact on your data rate or infrastructure. However, there are key changes that need to be made during production, post and delivery and, unsurprisingly, they come with quite a price tag.

Understandably, people want to hold off on investing in HDR-capable equipment until they've booked a job that demands an HDR deliverable. But waiting until you've signed a contract is risky, as it leaves you with a very limited window in which to develop a workflow, find and install equipment – which employees may or may not be comfortable with – and get to grips with the broadcaster's requirements for acquisition and delivery.

So, what can you do to prepare without paying too much upfront?

Shooting log for SDR versus HDR
"The most obvious and expensive change in production is that you'll need to use HDR-capable cameras," said our systems integration engineer, Phil Crawley. "But you may well have some already – HDR-capable cameras have been around for a while now, it's just that people have been using log-type gammas to give the colourist some extra latitude in the grade, rather than because they have to create an HDR deliverable."

You will, however, need to overhaul your monitoring setup. Your DOP and/or racks engineer is going to need to start monitoring in SDR and HDR to ensure that the image you capture works in both standard and high dynamic range. Keep an eye out for cables that are hidden in shadow in SDR footage but visible in HDR, windows that are blown out in SDR not HDR, and costume jewellery that's shiny in SDR but a dazzling, distracting highlight in HDR.

"A lot of details that are hidden in SDR become visible when you do a good HDR pass on an image," M&E systems developer, Jamie Allan said. "You want to be able to monitor where your luminance levels are outside SDR space on set, partly so your image can look as good as possible, but also because it may be that you need to change things practically – if you can see part of a lighting rig in the HDR image, you need to find a different way to light the scene or be prepared to pay to add VFX to the shot."

"Having a lighting camera operator or a lighting director who's worked with HDR before is ideal," Phil added. "And you need to think carefully about your camera operators if you're shooting something fast and unscripted, like reality television. With SDR cameras, if you had a decent auto focus and auto iris, you could have the runner shooting the B roll and it would look usable. That's not the case if you want good looking HDR pictures."

Key equipment pick: Atomos Sumo monitor-recorder
Sumo's 19" 1920×1080 10-bit LCD panel is driven by the AtomHDR engine, which precisely maps the Log/PQ/HLG from popular cameras, game consoles or TV makers to perfectly resolve 10+ stops of HDR in real time. View scenes on the monitor itself, or output to larger HDR/Rec. 709 displays for on set review. The Sumo can also be used with popular editing and grading suites in the studio or as part of your onset workflow.

Developing your post workflow
"Resolve, Baselight and Nucoda have all been able to handle HDR for about a year now, so again your investment is going to be in monitors and scopes," says Phil. "If you want a quality HDR mastering display at the moment, you've only got three choices and they'll all require a sizeable budget."

Those choices would be: the Sony BVM-X300, Netflix's currently preferred monitor; Canon's DP-V3010 and EIZO's new challenger, the CG3145 (this hugely impressed us when we had it in the office, and we strongly recommend you book some time with our demo model).

You'll also need LEADER's scopes – other HDR waveform monitors are available, but they're pretty primitive and LEADER's are the only ones we'd recommend spending money on, and our customers so far have agreed. (Representative quote from Daniel Sassen, Head of Technical Operations at ENVY Post Production: "With high-end productions moving to UHD/4K and HDR delivery we found the LV5490 to be an excellent tool for our colourists to accurately monitor which parts of the picture are really showing off the highlights and extended colour range that comes with UHD.")

The temptation may be to wait and see if the cost of HDR monitoring falls at all, but this seems unlikely in the short term, and by not planning for HDR work ahead of time, you run the risk of falling foul of "nuances and little gotchas between different gammas that mean you have to make different decisions based on what you have to deliver," according to Jamie.

"Even if you're not going out and buying kit, you need to be investing in workflow development and intelligence, so that when a job does come in, nothing takes you by surprise. This is more complicated than going from HD to 4K and you need to empower yourself to talk about it confidently with production companies and clients. At the bare minimum, get out there with demo units, research the kit and design a workflow that you're confident you can implement when work comes in.

"The more you understand the entire end to end process of delivering to a broadcaster or OTT provider, the better you can inform production companies who are developing their workflows, the better service your engineers and operators are going to be able to provide, and the more likely you are to win repeat business."

Rather than hold off altogether, a better move is to invest in one HDR-ready room for your online, and then do your offline with SDR proxies, which will work just fine with your existing monitors and equipment.

Delivery and QC
Broadcasters and OTT providers are requesting their HDR content in different formats, and passing QC for all of them is another of those areas of your HDR workflow which is going to be more complex than you thought. Again, it's worth putting the hours in beforehand, as the consequences of failing can be severe: Netflix, one of the biggest sources of HDR jobs, blacklist companies whose first-time pass rate falls below a certain point.

Key equipment pick: LEADER waveform monitors
The broadcasters you're delivering to use these for QC, so the easiest way to ensure you'll pass is to invest in the same. They're a welcome addition at any point in your workflow – they were used for the latest series of The Grand Tour and were apparently the only change to equipment in the show's history that operators didn't complain about, while colourists doing SDR and HDR passes will appreciate the Cinezone false colour display that highlights the parts of the image that are in HDR.

Make your own business
Ultimately, preparing for HDR work may be the fastest way to book it. "We're at the point where a lot of broadcasters are watching the development of HDR very closely, even if they're not yet asking for it as a deliverable," Jamie said. "If you're bidding for high-end work and can't competently deliver it in HDR, even if that's not what's being asked for yet, you may find yourself getting passed over for future work.

"A lot of productions are asking for an SDR and an HDR version, so that they have the HDR version ready for the future, however it pans out. If you're in a position to talk to production companies or broadcasters about the options these new formats and colour spaces give them, and it could impact or improve their distribution deals, you're far more likely to get clients asking for an HDR deliverable, and secure work to pay off your initial investment faster."

And, when the job arrives and it's time for you to either buy the kit you've been testing or complete your setup, give us a call. We have a team of experts who can advise on your HDR workflow, yes, but we also have a massive stockholding, so are the most likely to have niche kit in stock – otherwise, lead times for new HDR kit can run to weeks. We've also got a ready supply of demo units that we're happy to loan out as stopgap solutions while you're waiting for kit to arrive, and can even provide training on how to manage HDR on set.

To demo any of the kit discussed here, or speak to one of our workflow design specialists, give us a call on 03332 409 306 or email [email protected]. For all the latest news, follow @WeAreJigsaw24 on Twitter, or 'Like' us on Facebook.

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