Facing challenges from all sides, pay-TV operators are in a struggle to maintain their dominance in the new world order of streaming services and smart TVs. Julian Clover speaks to Dolby’s Jason Power.
Although some streamers are now scaling back their ambitions in programming, operators across satellite, cable and IPTV also face competition from smart TVs, and potentially more threatening, streaming sticks. Each is tempting the consumer with slick interfaces and high-quality sound and images.
Enter Dolby, known for its enhancements to sound quality has also spent 20 years working on improvements to picture quality.
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Jason Power, Dolby’s Senior Director of Commercial Partnerships and Standards, talks about the creation of an ‘entertainment experience’ that enables content creators to ‘wrap people and immerse them in the story’.
“We’ve had various activities in different areas around video, but the thing that has really taken off is Dolby Vision. It runs in parallel to what we’ve done in audio and gives an experience that is noticeably more real, more vivid, more immersive, and just opens a whole new palette for content creators.”
Dolby Vision’s aim is to deliver an image that is as close as possible to what the original creator intended. It does so by carrying additional information around the director’s creative intent in the signal that helps render the image to give you something that will look as close as possible to the original intention given the constraints of the display.
Smart TV manufacturers Sony, LG, Panasonic and Philips have already made the move to Dolby Vision as part of overall improvements to their experience, leaving pay-TV operators effectively engaged in a battle for the first HDMI socket. They want to make sure that once the consumer has pressed the logo, they’re not going anywhere else.
Already Sky, KPN (Netherlands) and SFR (France) have integrated Dolby Vision into their latest boxes.
“The best experience is one that offers the best range of content that the consumer is really gonna get excited about and also offer all of that in one place,” says Power. “But to do that, you’ve got to offer the best possible experience where people are going there and that that means to, you know, to some degree or discoverability of content and the range of content that’s on there. But equally, you’ve got to enable them to have a great audio and visual experience when they’re there.”
Netflix and Apple have been pioneers in the use of immersive audio through Dolby Atmos and have now turned their attention to Dolby Vision HR content. Already there are several thousands of hours of content available in the format.
“On TV side, there’s a wide choice of Dolby Vision TV already out there and they’re selling very well. So, I think one of our key focuses is making sure that when you’re connecting your pay TV service now to those, you’re still getting Dolby Vision. So that’s where we see a lot of opportunity with pay-TV operators.”
With operators integrating the popular operators into their services, Power says the next stage is to bring in Dolby Vision to ensure the experience lives up to what can be found elsewhere. “There’s no point in aggregating those services onto your platform and having them available in a set-top box if the experience is still less than the one that you’re gonna have when you turn to the application on the on the connected TV. We think there’s a real opportunity for operators to be that single platform where everything is there and it’s the best possible user experience.”
As part of the modern creative process the director of photography or cinematographer will create a palate as part of the grading process, which can go down to individual frames, Dolby Vision’s role is to get as close to that as possible within the home environment.
Series such as Black Mirror and Bridgeton on Netflix, or Avatar on Disney+ are among the many hours of content available in Dolby Vision.
The beauty of Dolby Vision is that there’s little chance of the consumer messing up the settings, calibrated modes see to that, so the end result becomes a true director’s cut that may go some way towards tabloid complaints of actors performing in the dark.
Says Power: “We’ve designed the modes so that they look similar across TVs of different kinds, different brands, and there are known reference points, so that means that you can have predictability around.
“While it’s gonna be what something is going to look like in a particular mode and you avoid some of the Wild West situation that that, that otherwise would be happening where you manufacturers for very good reasons each have their different looks and algorithms and ways of processing images to achieve the thing that’s perhaps distinctive around their displays.”
Power admits that Dolby Vision isn’t a magic bullet that can solve every complex situation around it and how it’s ultimately rendered, but the calibrated modes mean that there is now an expectation of what will be delivered to consumers’ homes.
For the consumers themselves, there are a small number of presets, for example, to move between a cinematic and vivid feel. In sports, as more adopt the Dolby Vision format, Dolby wants to give a little more creative control to the director.
Dolby has been involved in sports including the Superbowl and most recently Roland Garros.
“If you’ve ever sat through a football game and you’re getting fed up with the camera, but it’s panning between the side of the stadium that’s in bright sunshine and panning into the area that’s in deep shade. The people shading those programmes, doing absolutely awesome job of dealing with something that is technically immensely hard to actually have an image that is exposed correctly through wildly extreme wild extremes of conditions.
“But Dolby Vision can bring a lot to that situation. You can maintain depths of light and shade. You can maintain the vibrancy of deep vibrancy of colours. You think of other colours of some of the kits and some of those amazing like fluorescent tops that goalkeepers are wearing.”
Amid the vibrant colours and deep blacks of Dolby Vision there is still room for the Dolby sound experience.
Picking up on the general trend for sound bars, SFR in France is one of a number of operators offering their subscribers a set-top and sound bar in one that also adds Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos to the mix. No longer are consumers relying on a tiny speaker along the bottom of the TV and in this case, it’s been tuned by Bang and Olufsen.
Typically operators are charging an extra €5 and €8 per month for the speakers.
“You’re providing a better audio-visual experience to perhaps a level of consumer that would never have gone out to the store to even buy a sound bar. Let alone a home cinema system. But you’re giving them a better experience that they’re gonna notice is better. And for sure they’re going to notice if they ever, if they ever consider churning from the service and going elsewhere.”