It’s been about six years since HDR emerged, and now there are signs that the technology may finally be tipping into mainstream production.
Streaming services from Apple TV+ to Netflix and Hollywood studios have embraced HDR as routine for their feature films and TV shows, but most other productions view HDR as a luxury that entails an additional post process, more time spent in the colorist suite, and additional cost of critical monitoring equipment.
It is the drop in cost of HDR reference displays that leads Jason Druss, a product marketing manager at Frame.io and previously a senior colorist at WarnerMedia Studios, to declare that the early adopter phase is over.
“The drop in price that’s enabled by growing market penetration allows for economies of scale,” he writes in a post on the Frame.io blog. “And unless I’m mistaken, that’s exactly what we’re seeing right now.”
For evidence, Druss points to the release of Flanders Scientific’s latest HDR monitor, the FSI XM312U, which boasts 5,000 nits of peak brightness for a price tag of $21,995.
If that sounds a lot, compare with FS’s previous monitor (the XM311K), Sony’s BVM-HX310, Canon’s DP-V3120, and TV Logic’s LUM-310.
“All of the models cited are exceptional 31-inch 4K professional reference displays that support a multitude of HDR color gamuts at peak brightness levels of at least 1,000 nits. They all meet or exceed the minimum spec for Dolby Vision mastering. And they all fall [between] $30-40K.”
While $22,000 is still no one’s idea of a casual purchase, “it’s clear that the decision makers at Flanders Scientific believe that market growth is enough to support a price cut of over 30 percent. This is going to allow so many more mid-level production companies finish their projects in the highest quality available.”
Druss adds, “When a better product with a significant technical advantage hits the market at a much lower price, it’s a clear indication that the HDR market is shifting. And you can bet that it’s led to some interesting conversations inside the offices of Sony, TV Logic, et al.”
There are more cost-effective options too. These include Apple’s Pro Display XDR (which costs about $5,000 and new 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros that feature mini-LED displays offering 1,600 nits peak and 1,200 nits full-screen.
Druss also earmarks the Dell UP3221Q, which can hit 1,000 nits, and the Asus PA32UCG, which boasts a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio as being “HDR capable displays” costing less than $5,000.
All of this points towards higher quality, attainable HDR monitoring.
There won’t be many colorists or DPs “who aren’t enthusiastic about having a vastly increased palette of light and color to work with,” Druss says. “The only thing that’s getting in our way right now is affordability, and all signs are pointing to 2022 being the year HDR comes within reach for many of us.”