Is 2022 the Year You Buy Into HDR?
It doesn’t matter if you’re just taking your first steps as a colorist or if you’re a veteran who’s been working the scopes for decades, the chances are you’re all asking yourselves the same question, “Is it time to move to HDR?”
If you’ve already run through my article on why you should be thinking about HDR, then you’ll know that I believe the answer is a very firm “Yes.”
Even if your clients aren’t specifically asking for HDR (yet), there’s no better time than now to prepare for it. After all, you don’t want to be scrambling to learn how to live in this bright new world when the call finally comes.
But I get it. Being among the first to move to new technology makes you an early adopter, and everyone knows that early adopters pay a premium for the privilege of being terribly boring at parties. Also, adopting new technology can be a risky business when it involves the core of what you do.
We’re not talking about a new laptop or accounts package, here. We’re talking about a technology that can fundamentally alter the service you’re asking your clients to pay for.
Unless you’re an in-house colorist, it’ll be up to you when to make this jump. Your responsibility. Your risk. It’s no wonder that you’re asking questions.
So let’s stop for a second and consider Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations theory—which introduced the term “early adopter” back in 1962. (Stick with me, it’s not as boring as it sounds and it’s highly relevant.)
Basically, Rogers presents the adoption of new technology as a bell curve.
As you can see, he presents innovators and early adopters as 16 percent of the total market share, while the largest share of the total market, by far, is made up of early- and late majorities, who represent two thirds. The remaining 16 percent is made up of laggards, who turned up to the party late (probably to avoid having to listen to the early adopters going on about their latest tech purchase).
Why am I talking about this curve? Because there are some strong signs that we’re moving towards the tipping point for HDR.
The tipping point
When it comes to technology adoption, the tipping point is the moment when takeup moves from early adoption (the first half of the bell curve) to 50 percent market share.
When you factor in how streaming services, Hollywood studios, and long-form filmmakers have all embraced HDR for their feature films and TV shows (try finding a new show or movie on Netflix, Apple TV+, Hulu, HBO Max or Disney+ that isn’t HDR) it’s hard to argue that we’re still in the early-adopter section. It’s been about six or seven years since HDR hit the scene. I believe we’re ready for the early majority.
This early majority lives in short-form content creation. Branded content, short films, and docs, news, social content, commercials, corporate video, videography. There are so many storytellers, artists, and content creators who aren’t making feature films and TV shows. And very few are using HDR.
If you follow Rogers’ curve, the trick is to get in on the action somewhere between the early adoption stage and the tipping point.
You want to wait long enough to see momentum building and the cost and risk are reduced, but not so long that it hits the mainstream and you’ve missed the potential for profit.
Reaping the rewards
If we can spot when the market for services that we can offer is poised to move from early adoption to the mainstream, we can position ourselves to benefit when it happens.
And the benefits of a head start over your competition can be significant.
- When new and existing clients are ready to make the jump to HDR, you’re ready to catch them. (More customers.)
- Clients are more likely to accept a lift in your rates when it comes with a change in service offering. (More money.)
- You stay compliant with the standards set by existing and emerging content delivery platforms. (More work.)
If you’re still not sold on the “Why?” Cullen Kelly can give you five reasons to care about HDR that might help you over the line. But that still leaves us grappling with the “When?” How do we identify that sweet spot before the tipping point?
For me, the best key indicator is the drop in price that’s enabled by growing market penetration (which allows for economies of scale). And unless I’m mistaken, that’s exactly what we’re seeing right now.
Catch a falling star
A short time ago, if you were to ask the question “What HDR reference monitor should I buy?” the answers would likely include Sony’s BVM-HX310, FSI’s XM311K, Canon’s DP-V3120, and TV Logic’s LUM-310.
I can say this with confidence because someone asked this question in the forums at Lift Gamma Gain and Marc Wielage answered. And when a 40-year veteran like Marc talks, we listen.
All of the models cited are exceptional 31” 4K professional reference displays that support a multitude of HDR color gamuts at peak brightness levels of at least 1000 nits. They all meet or exceed the minimum spec for Dolby Vision mastering. And they all fall within the expected price range of $30-40K, give or take.
Now, only a year and a half later, the industry is waiting for FSI to release its next model, the XM312U. And while the 5000 nits peak brightness of the XM312U is certainly something worth talking about, I’d like to focus on the price—$21,995. Wow.
Great. I’ll take two.
Agreed, $22K is still no one’s idea of a casual purchase.
But compare this to the previous model—which had a list price of $35,000 when this was written—and 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.
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.
What about the rest of us?
This is all very well if you’re working at a major post-house, but what about those of us who can’t justify even this significantly reduced price?
Well, there’s a lot of movement here, too.
How about Apple’s Pro Display XDR, which can be yours for $5K (without the stand)? I’ve been color grading on one for almost a year and I’ve gotta say it’s not perfect, but it’s an excellent HDR and SDR monitor for someone who isn’t grading 40 hours a week.
While I miss my old Sony A-250 OLED, it certainly is nice to have a large monitor in the center of your desk that isn’t used exclusively for post-production. When it’s time to color, I send the 10-bit reference feed directly to my XDR via Thunderbolt 3 and get to work.
And the Pro Display XDR isn’t the only move that Apple is making to bring HDR into the mainstream. In addition to the HDR displays on its phones and tablets, the new 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros come with mini-LED displays offering 1600 nits peak and 1200 nits fullscreen.
Rumor also has it that there’s also a cheaper Mac monitor in the pipeline for this year, as well as a display containing a dedicated chip for visual processing. What the latter will mean if/when this display hits the market remains to be seen, but the idea of a prosumer color grading monitor with a neural engine is pretty exciting.
What else ya got?
If this is still too rich (or you’re not using a Mac), you can step even further down the financial ladder.
The Dell UP3221Q, which can hit 1000 nits, and the Asus PA32UCG, which can hit 1600 with 1000 nits sustained from corner to corner, along with a specced 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio are both capable HDR displays. And they can be had for ~$5K (even less if you catch a deal—I’ve seen the Dell on offer for $3755).
And let’s not forget, we live in times so strange that even running to Costco and grabbing an LG OLED TV is an attainable path to owning an HDR reference monitor (assuming you get it calibrated professionally—this and other essentials for color grading suites are covered here.)
While you may not find some of these monitors at industry-leading post houses—actually, the LG thing is so weird, you will see those at major post-houses—this new world of monitors can get you where you need to go for short-form content work. Even the occasional independent feature film or doc.
So all the signs are pointing towards higher quality, attainable HDR monitoring. Every year, these mid-level monitors get better and better. I reckon it’s only a (short) matter of time until we get one or two that truly change the landscape of post-production hardware as we know it.
That’s not to say that there’s no risk, here. Investors call the point between early adopter and early majority the chasm for a reason.
You don’t want to be the person who went all-in on HDR only to find that it went the way of 3DTV. Or, for that matter, the person who just bought an FSI XM311K and is now feeling the burn of the XM312K’s massive price drop.
But if you’re a colorist, you don’t need to be told that HDR is way more than a gimmick used to sell you an expensive TV. And I don’t know any colorists who aren’t enthusiastic about having a vastly increased palette of light and color to work with.
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.