Audio Pioneer Dolby Wants to Change the Way You Look at Movies

by Tony Kontzer

Long known as an audio innovator, Dolby Labs wants to revolutionize how you look at movies and TV.

The company has been working on displays that feature so-called “extended dynamic range,” or EDR, which promises to be a bridge to video imagery that will duplicate the range of brightness and vivid colors the human eye is capable of seeing.

Thad Beier, Dolby’s director of image platform workflow, told NVIDIA’s GPU Technology Conference that the time had come to deviate from previous approaches, such as 4K resolutions, which focus on squeezing more pixels into displays.

“We decided there was a better opportunity in better pixels,” Beier said.

He noted that human visual range reaches up to 20,000 nits, or 200 times the luminescence of TV images and 40 times the capabilities of most HDTVs. To highlight just what the makers of TV and movie content are missing, Dolby took nit readings of everyday objects around its office in Silicon Valley. The dark area under a desk registered .08 nits, while the reflection of the sun off of a car windshield reached 330,000 nits.

To push the entertainment industry closer to that range, Dolby has developed a system that can encode up to 10,000 nits, aided by GPU-accelerated video processing and visual effects tools. To demonstrate the difference, it built a prototype display that can support 4,000 nits. While Dolby has no plans to turn that into a consumer product, Beier said the display breakthrough has rocked the industry.

“Every person who sees it says it changes everything for movie making and TV production,” he said, noting that it yields sharper images without adding pixels, and that the higher brightness threshold enables a larger color volume.”

While Beier acknowledged that it makes no sense to crank up movies and TV shows to 40 times their current brightness, the expanded range made possible by EDR means blue skies can be as bright as they look to the human eye and outdoor scenes can cause viewers to feel more like they’re outside.

“You should squint a little bit,” Beier said.

Photo Credit: Tech Cocktail