Here’s What HDR Means to 4K

According to Jeff Boccaccio of independent testing firm DPL Labs, in six months it will be important to ask manufacturers if they can handle HDR, not if they can handle 4K.

HDMI is the four-letter word of the industry,” says Jeff Boccaccio of independent testing firm DPL Labs. “Never has there been something so dynamic and yet so hated.”

Boccaccio didn’t pull any punches while speaking as the keynoter to an audience that included the integration community during the recent MRI Distribution Expo in Sturbridge, Mass.

“I have literally been on the phone for three hours with an installer who was crying. We were getting 100 calls per week on average at DPL Labs when HDMI 1.4 first debuted,” he says.

And the need to solve HDMI problems is only going to get more important. HDMI Licensing LLC reports that there was an estimated more than 1 billion connected HDMI portals in the field at the end of 2015. That is up from about 828 million at the end of 2014. 

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The fact that the HDMI specification is consistently changing also leads to the confusion. “HDMI changes all the time through revisions. Through case studies, we’ve determined that it is not the spec that is the problem. This is why we (DPL Labs) need an algorithm to determine if something works or doesn’t work,” he says.

“You have to believe in HDMI. It is ‘Plug and Pray’ technology. You plug it in and you pray it is going to work,” he says, noting that one of the big problems is that many integrators are living in a component-by-component world, but HDMI is a system. And it is only going to get worse.

“As HDR becomes more prevalent, your cables will start to fail. Ask your manufacturers if they can handle HDR, not if they can handle 4K. If they do not know, walk away.” —Jeff Boccaccio, DPL Labs

Boccaccio’s “get worse” comment about HDMI is in reference to the coming trend of High Dynamic Range (HDR), which he believes is going to give 4K a huge boost in the market. And when that boost comes, most multiroom video distribution systems will be unable to handle it, he says.

“HDR is stunning. The gradients of scale are so dynamic it looks like 3D. But it drives HDMI all the way up to requiring 18Gbps bandwidth,” he says, which many systems cannot handle. Boccaccio says today’s 4K content is lacking in color depth and is transmitting at 10.2Gbps, well below the higher bandwidth in the HDMI 2.0 spec.

“HDMI Licensing pulled down the color to make it fit the bandwidth … the color is not 4K today. It is 10.2Gbps. 4K today has worse color than 1080p,” he adds. “In six months as HDR becomes more prevalent, your cables will start to fail. Ask your manufacturers if they can handle HDR, not if they can handle 4K. If they do not know, walk away.”

But Boccaccio says jokingly, “For many, it is short for ‘nitwit.’ You have to know your nits.”

The human eye can see between 200 nits up to 10,000 nits. Boccaccio says today’s TVs only show between 100 and 200 nits. With HDR, that will elevate to 1,500 to 5,000 nits.

Citing the testing that DPL Labs has done on existing Alternative Transmission Devices on the market, Boccaccio says two-wire Cat 5 balun, single-wire coax and single-wire HDBaseT cables have all failed to transmit 4K HDR content.

Author Jason Knott is editor-in-chief of CI sister publication CE Pro, for which Jeff Boccaccio writes the “HDMI Corner” column.