Is the rec.2020 UHD color broadcast spec really practical?

I’ve often advocated on this blog for Pointer’s Gamut as an important design goal for display makers but is it really practical today from a technology perspective? Pointer’s Gamut covers a huge area and it’s odd shape makes it awfully difficult to cover with just three primaries. Rec.2020, the leading Pointer’s-covering color gamut broadcast standard and de facto standard for upcoming UHD broadcasts, demonstrates this perfectly. It uses very deep red and green primaries to ensure that all those purples and cyans can get squeezed it into the triangle.

rec.2020 needs a very deep green to cover 99.9% of Pointer's Gamut

rec.2020 needs a very deep green to cover 99.9% of Pointer’s Gamut

It’s certainly tough to make a display that can reproduce primary colors that are that saturated and it is especially hard to do so efficienctly. Until now the displays that have come closest rely on an esoteric and power-hungry laser backlight system that can only cover up to about 91% of rec.2020 spec. That is impressive given how ambitious rec.2020 is but a bulky $6,000 laser display doesn’t exactly qualify as practical and it’s certainly not a technology that we are likely to find in a tablet or smartphone anytime soon given it’s low power efficiency.

That may be about to change.

My company, Nanosys, has been working on this problem and we now think it is practical to produce an LED LCD that covers over 97% of rec.2020 using Quantum Dot technology. The latest generation of our Quantum Dots emit light with a very narrow Full Width Half Max (FWHM) spec of below 30 nanometers for both red and green wavelengths. FWHM is pretty obscure spec to be sure but it means that the color is both very pure and accurate. That pin-point accuracy actually enabled us to demonstrate over 91% rec.2020 just by modifying an off-the-shelf, standard LCD TV set with a specially tuned sheet of Quantum Dot Enhancement Film (QDEF).

Nanosys demonstrates over 91% coverage of rec.2020 using Quantum Dots

Nanosys demonstrates over 91% coverage of rec.2020 using Quantum Dots and a standard LCD TV color filter

Very impressive and even a bit better than the performance of that laser TV but still not quite all the way there. What else could be optimized to improve the system and get us closer?

Looking at the spectrum after the color filters revealed a significant amount of blue leaking through the green filter. This leakage was causing the blue point to shift away from the rec.2020 primary. By optimizing the system and selecting a different blue color filter material with a sharper cutoff, Nanosys engineers showed that it is possible to build a display that covers over 97% of the rec.2020 standard– with great power efficiency.

Quantum Dot enhanced displays are in mass production today, they are used in commonly available displays on the market today. Their high power efficiency also means they can be used in all kinds of devices from smartphones to TVs. So, for the first time, it is actually becoming practical to build displays that cover the massive rec.2020 standard and since rec.2020 is part of the UHD broadcast spec this great news for the next generation of 4K and 8K devices.

How much color gamut do displays really need? Part 3: Existing color gamut standards

Last week I looked at the three “P’s” of human color perception– physical, physiological and psychological– as a way to help define a color gamut for the ideal display. Based on real world examples from art and commerce, I concluded that the range of colors found in nature, as measured by Pointer, provided the best fit with our two design goals which were an accurate and exciting, immersive experience.

This week, I’d like to get a little more practical and take a look at existing color gamut standards to see what we might realistically be able to achieve today.

What fits best?

Color gamut of 4,000 surface colors found in nature as measured by Pointer in 1980 against the color gamut of the iPhone 5.

Color gamut of 4,000 surface colors found in nature as measured by Pointer in 1980 against the color gamut of the iPhone 5.

The first thing you’ll notice about Pointer’s gamut (pictured above again) is that it’s a pretty odd, squiggly shape. This means it is going to be difficult to cover efficiently with a three primary system that mixes just red, green and blue to create all the colors we see, like the LCD found in the iPhone. In order to cover Pointer’s with just those three colors, we’d need to make them extremely saturated. There are proposed standards that take this  approach, such as rec.2020, but since they are not practical to implement today from a technology standpoint I’ve decided to ignore them for this discussion.

For the near future, we’ll need to rely on just three colors to get the job done, so what can we do now? Let’s look at two popular wide color gamut standards: Adobe 1998 and DCI-P3:

Current wide color gamut standards Adobe RGB 1998, commonly used by pro photographers and designers, and DCI-P3, used in digital cinema, compared to Pointer's gamut in CIE 1976

Current wide color gamut standards Adobe RGB 1998, commonly used by pro photographers and designers, and DCI-P3, used in digital cinema, compared to Pointer’s gamut in CIE 1976

Let’s start with Adobe 1998. Many people are familiar with this color gamut since it is found as an option on many consumer cameras and it is popular among creative professionals. It certainly covers a significantly wider range of colors than the HDTV broadcast standard with a very deep green point. The rich cyans that we talked about in the movie “The Ring” would look great in Adobe 1998. But, we’re not getting any more of those exciting reds and oranges. In fact, Adobe’s red point is identical to the HDTV broadcast standard.

What about DCI-P3 then? Designed to match the color gamut of color film and used in cinemas all over the world, DCI-P3 has a very wide gamut. The reds are particularly deep and, of course, all of the colors from the movies we looked at are covered. Still, it’s missing a lot of the deep greens found in Adobe 1998 and only just fits the green Pantone color of the year. So DCI-P3 is not quite perfect either.

What about a hybrid, custom gamut? 

What if we combined the green from Adobe with the red from DCI-P3 and their shared blue point? We’d end up with pretty good, high 90’s percentage coverage of Pointer’s gamut, coverage of all of the existing HDTV broadcast content, full coverage of cinema content from Hollywood and a superior ecommerce experience with most of the colors from the natural world covered.

Hybrid color gamut standard that combines the green point from Adobe 1998 with the deep red of DCI-P3

Hybrid color gamut standard that combines the green point from Adobe 1998 with the deep red of DCI-P3

Looks pretty great and we can make displays now that cover this color gamut with today’s technology. But how would it work on the content side? Would we need to get together and agree on this new standard and then wait for years while it is slowly adopted by content creators and display makers?

Next week

Next week we’ll look at how content delivery might evolve to support gamuts like this without the need for major changes to broadcast standards.

So you bought a 4K TV, now where is the 4K content?

Content is king. One of the biggest challenges for emerging display technology is content availability. Whether it’s 3D, 4K or wide color gamut, these new features simply aren’t worth much without access lots of great, optimized content.

As new 4K TV’s begin hitting store shelves this year, they are entering a content vacuum.

Standards bodies like the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and International Telecommunication Union (ITU) are still working out the precise definition of marketing terms like Ultra High Definition TV (UHDTV). Proposed standards could include support for eight million pixel resolution, extremely wide color gamut and 3D content. But, today, there is almost no content out there that takes full advantage of all of the exciting capabilities of the new sets.

And, unlike the transition to HDTV, there’s no government-mandated switch on the horizon to force broadcasters to get on board.

CIE 1931 rec.2020 vs rec.709

At least one set-maker is taking it upon themselves to solve this problem by delivering both the 4K content and hardware. Sony announced last week that it will loan a 4K Ultra HD video player loaded with UHD content to buyers of their new 84” UHD television. The selection of 4K content on this player is fairly limited for now, but as more titles are released, this approach could help drive adoption of high resolution and wide color gamut formats.  I wouldn’t be surprised if other set makers started following suit, though Sony does have an inherent advantage, owning a movie studio.