The Art Of Better Pixels

Most of us in the business of creating visual content are at least casually familiar with the Dolby brand. In the analog days, it was Dolby noise reduction and, more recently, state-of-the-art theater and home surround-sound technology. Founded by engineering genius Ray Dolby, Dolby Laboratories has been improving and refining its sound for over five decades. Dolby died in 2013, but his company has continued to flourish with each new generation of innovative technology.

People are calling Dolby Vision a revolutionary breakthrough, with many expressing that the technology creates the best imagery ever seen in cinema, with gorgeous, jaw-dropping colors. So what’s the inspiration behind these rave reviews that not only are coming from consumers, but also prominent filmmakers, colorists and cinematographers?

Dolby Vision was introduced at CES 2014. Dolby’s latest breakthrough has industry observers and analysts convinced that their technology is a huge leap forward for both cinema and television. Let’s examine why.


Dolby Vision is Dolby’s version of HDR (high dynamic range). The technology creates images 40 times brighter than current UHD (ultra high definition) TV signals, featuring up to 21 stops of dynamic range for a contrast ratio of up to 2,000,000:1.

The current monitors most of us use to view HD or 4K images are still limited in brightness and dynamic range (the difference between the darkest blacks and the brightest whites), while the human eye is capable of seeing many more stops of latitude. Dolby Vision has changed this paradigm by bringing cinema and home theater viewing significantly closer to what our human eye perceives. Essentially, it’s a product line and technical specification that takes the entire production, postproduction and exhibition workflow into consideration to create an image that’s much closer to what cinematographers and directors intended. HDR maintains significantly more brightness, color gamut and dynamic range than any other current technology out there.

Improving dynamic range requires significant improvement in two fundamental image parameters: a larger color space (Dolby Vision utilizes the 2012 ITU-approved Rec. 2020 gamut included in the Ultra HD standard), and higher 10- and 12-bit color rates necessary for more accurate color fidelity.

The Art Of Better Pixels
Dolby’s version of HDR, Dolby Vision creates astonishing images 40 times brighter than UHDTV signals, with a contrast ratio of up to 2,000,000:1. The cinema and home viewing experiences are about to change.


Dolby co-developed their laser projection system used in Dolby Cinemas with Christie Digital, a company recognized for its state-of-the-art digital projection systems. Cinema is constrained with limited peak brightness and less than 50% of the visible color space. As a general rule, when the maximum brightness on screen is restricted, brighter colors quickly become de-saturated, limiting the realism of our viewing experience.

Brightness is measured in a unit called a nit (1 candela/m2). A bright, sunny day is measured at up to 50,000 nits, whereas the average consumer television offers images displayed at only 100 nits plus a small subset of colors. Dolby Vision specifies that content for the home is 40 times brighter than current TVs, resulting in more detailed images with greater contrast in both the cinema and home experience.


Dolby Cinema codifies the entire cinema experience with specifications that include the sound system and cinema seating, plus exact number of seats, viewing angle and floor plan. It even takes into account ambient light levels with exit signage and walkway lighting.

Dolby Vision is also paired with Atmos, Dolby’s cinema sound system that offers a home cinema version, as well. The Atmos specifications lay out the exact installation parameters and number of speakers required, channels of amplification and viewing/listening distances.

As for Dolby Cinema locations, so far they’re in California, Georgia, Missouri, Texas and Kansas. Additional locations also will be opening in Illinois, Texas, California and New York, while Dolby Cinema is also found in the Netherlands, Spain and Austria. Dolby is partnering with AMC to open AMC Prime locations to also feature Dolby Cinema.

The public will be able to purchase and install Dolby Home Cinema components using similar technology (but utilizing certified components and installation) when paired with a new line of televisions from Vizio and streaming devices from Vudu.


How do content creators ensure that their projects are photographed, edited, graded and finished to ensure maximum compatibility with this format? On set, most cinematographers and directors understand that today’s high-end digital cinema and live-broadcast cameras will capture a wider dynamic range and color volume than a Rec. 709 monitor can display. Therefore, special Dolby Vision-capable monitors are available to provide the range and color gamut necessary to see the entire latitude and color volume captured by their cameras.

On-set workflows generally have evolved to a file-based workflow. The files can be in a wide range of formats and types, including PQ, EXR, Log and Raw. In live or on-set viewing, playback from cameras and on-set data management systems support signal output in SMPTE ST 2084:2014 (PQ) into a Dolby Vision-capable monitor. This provides direct view and playback of the camera image in high dynamic range and wide color gamut on the set, allowing for correct exposure, lighting and composition for the much more wide range of Dolby Vision.

“At present, Dolby is the only manufacturer of Dolby Vision-rated monitors, supplying them to productions that will be presented in Dolby Vision,” explains Roland Vlaicu, VP of Consumer Imaging at Dolby Laboratories. “Dolby will also be licensing the technology to professional monitor manufacturers soon.”

Editing in Dolby Vision retains the entire dynamic range and color information of the timeline. “We’ve developed plug-ins for most of the industry-standard color-grading tools like FilmLight Baselight, DaVinci Resolve and other grading tools,” adds Vlaicu. “Using the plug-in, the Dolby Vision metadata is saved and exported together with the timeline, which gives the editor and the director the greatest flexibility in establishing the look of the movie after the cut.”

Meanwhile, visual effects (VFX) for Dolby Vision utilizes the same common workflow, tools and practices that are popular today. The biggest advantage comes in monitoring the image. Dolby Vision capable-monitors enable the artist to see the full dynamic range and color volume without needing to bracket the exposure.

Monitoring VFX for cinema or television today on a Rec. 709 monitor requires the artist to bracket the image exposure in order to see either the highlights or black details of the image data in the VFX shot. With Dolby Vision-capable monitors, the artist can simultaneously see the entire dynamic range and color volume of the VFX shot without adjusting the image. This ensures high confidence that the VFX shot can be matched and composited with other live-action or VFX material.


Director Brad Bird helmed one of the first Dolby Vision films released in cinemas, Disney’s Tomorrowland. “Dolby Vision is the best advance we’ve had in a while,” he commented recently. “The blacks are black, plus you can really see the detail in the blacks. The brightness, you almost have to blink [when first seen]. The color range is much greater. If you see Tomorrowland in Dolby Vision, it’s fantastic.”

Other prominent filmmakers have used Dolby Vision, with positive feedback, including Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible–Rogue Nation), Chris Columbus (Pixels) and Francis Lawrence (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay–Part 2). Hollywood has eagerly embraced the technology with an ever-growing slate of Dolby Vision films from Disney, Warner Bros., Lions Gate, Paramount, Sony, Fox and Universal.

Terence Curren, colorist and owner of the AlphaDogs post house in Los Angeles, observes, “This is truly the next area of picture presentation improvement that, unlike 4K, will actually be very noticeable to the average viewer. When you see a Dolby Vision presentation, either on one of their demo monitors, or better yet, the laser projectors in a cinema, you will be blown away by how much the image pops. The image is so much richer and the colors so much more vivid. Seeing a 1920×1080 HDR Dolby Vision image next to a normal 4K image of the same material will immediately show you where the ROI for technology is going to be. The average viewer will gravitate to the HDR image.”


If you’re a professional, you have a few opportunities to see Dolby Vision in person, either at a trade show like NAB, IBC, CinemaCon or Showbiz Expo, or, if you’re located in one of the states or countries that has Dolby Cinema installed, you can attend a screening. The Dolby tagline to tout the Dolby Vision technology is “The Art of Better Pixels.” Indeed, pushing to increase resolution is significantly less important than garnering color depth, dynamic range and brightness to create stunning imagery.

By thinking outside the mainstream, Dolby has created what’s shaping up to be the biggest recent development in motion-picture technology.

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