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The main things to consider when creating an HDR video are the reference monitor and the format. The monitor is the big issue because HDR monitors are very expensive. The most affordable one at the time of this writing is close to $20,000.
HDR (High Dynamic Range) video is an emerging technology that will be the future of video, for professionals and consumers. HDR video is simply footage graded to display intense colors and high contrast between colors. The dynamic range captured by the camera is extended—detail is highly boosted in the darkest shadows and brightest highlights, the darkest blacks and brightest whites. A sunset, for instance, can be viewed in more of its glory, and in very high contrast to the sky around it.
One look at an HDR video will instantly win you over. HDR video is the new thing that has content creators sincerely excited. There are films already graded to display in HDR, and HDR 4K TVs are already available on the market, and several content providers, like Netflix, already offer some titles in HDR. Amazon Video and Vudu are also already offering HDR content, and YouTube has added support for HDR videos as well.
An HDR reference monitor is a must for HDR video. A regular monitor, even the best one, is incapable of revealing the dynamic range you need to see to grade for HDR.
In theory, you can use an HDR TV, some of which cost only around $1,000, as your reference monitor, but that’s not recommended because only the dedicated reference monitors are good enough to show you the detail required.
The format you choose is important because of distribution. There are two main HDR video formats: Dolby Vision and HDR10. Current HDR TVs, from manufacturers like LG, Sony, and Vizio, support one or the other. So, you must decide on one or the other when grading.
Dolby Vision can display a higher dynamic range, but HDR10 is the more widely used format among HDR TVs. However, TVs that support Dolby Vision can be upgraded to also support HDR10 via possible future firmware updates. Hollywood Studios are going the Dolby Vision route.
The software you use will allow you to select the format; however, not all software offers both. The most popular software now for HDR video is DaVinci Resolve Studio (must be the Studio version), and it offers both formats, as well as a third—Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG), which is not as common. Among other applications supporting HDR are SGO Mistika, Adobe Premiere Pro, and Avid Media Composer. Furthermore, within each format, you can also select the output codec. Premiere, for example, lets you choose between DNxHR, HEVC (H.265), and OpenEXR.
Capturing video for HDR is not too much of an issue. You’re certainly best off recording in raw or log (with raw the better of the two) so you can apply heavier grading. Similarly, the higher the dynamic range that your camera captures, the better. Advanced models like the RED Weapon or ARRI ALEXA are ideal, and you’ll be well off with something like a Sony a7S II or Panasonic GH5, too. Nevertheless, generally, all current cameras capture enough dynamic range for you to be able to grade effectively for HDR. Technically, even footage that doesn’t have enough dynamic range can be graded for HDR, but your results just won’t be as powerful as those sought after with HDR.
There are also other considerations to make when shooting with HDR in mind, such as whether to protect your highlights, and whether to use an HDR production monitor, but the grading is where the HDR work ultimately takes place. HDR production monitors are currently available from Atomos (on-camera) and SmallHD.
The technical process of grading video for HDR is not much different than grading 4K footage. The file sizes are similar so the timeframe is similar, and generally the same equipment can be used. For example, to grade on Resolve in Dolby Vision Blackmagic Design suggests the following hardware (in addition to a Dolby Vision-certified HDR monitor): a workstation meeting Resolve specs, a DeckLink 4K Extreme 12G or UltraStudio 4K Extreme I/O interface for real-time monitoring, an SDR (non-HDR) monitor for the base layer, a special stand-alone hardware video processor from Dolby, called a CMU (Content Management Unit), and a video router.
In fact, in some areas HDR grading is even more efficient. For example, you might be even less reliant on your scopes because the image is so clear.
Video industry staple Larry Jordan interviewed three Hollywood experts: Michael Cioni, Bryan McMahan, and Mike Whipple, on the topic of editing HDR, and following are a few of the outstanding tips they suggest.
• Keep in mind that when you grade in HDR but finish in SDR, there is a major compromise in the translation—not only that the result won’t be as good, but rather it may simply be out of place. The correct way would be to first do your main grade, and then to trim pass it. So, you end up doing two grades, but the second one not necessarily from scratch. This is unlike grading in 4K and finishing in HD, where the difference is satisfactory.
• Don’t overdo your grades (unless required to by the project). You may be tempted to.
• You’ll need at least a day to get used to HDR editing, because you may be inclined to grade the image similarly to the way you did in the past.
All the above describes the general workflow of HDR editing. But more detailed info is offered by some of the makers of the hardware/software available for HDR. The DaVinci Resolve user manual, for example, has a comprehensive section on using Resolve for HDR.
As mentioned above, HDR video has the industry sincerely excited. In closing, I’d like to suggest to those who haven’t seen an HDR video to search for one on YouTube. There are comparison test videos available, and seeing one even on your standard monitor will have you convinced that HDR is the future of video.
Do you have any experience editing HDR video? Share your anecdotes or ask questions in the Comments section, below.