The Future of Post: 4K, HDR and Wide Color Gamut

Posted on by Larry


Last night, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel sponsored by KeyCode Media and Sony on “The Future of Post: 4K and HDR.” We spent 90 minutes discussing whether it was time for editors and post-facilities to start editing 4K and/or HDR images, and what changes these new formats would require.

The panel consisted of three outstanding experts:


4K is the term used to describe image frame sizes that are close to 4,000 x 2,500 pixels. 4K actually has a variety of different aspect ratios – Michael Cioni listed six off the top of his head – along with a variation of 4K called Ultra HD (UHD).

HDR is the term used to describe High Dynamic Range video, which provides more grayscale values than traditional video. HDR is described as more “lifelike,” and is especially notable because it provides richer blacks and more vibrant highlights.

HDR generally requires RAW files using a bit depth of 12-bits or greater. This means that file sizes will be much larger than standard HD video files. Also, for best results, HDR images should not use a compressed video codec. However, footage needs to be captured during production as HDR, you can’t add it to footage after the fact during post.

Wide Color Gamut is the term used to describe video with more color saturation than traditional video. Not “different” colors, but richer, more saturated colors.

In the shorthand of the panel, these formats were described as: more pixels, more gray-scales and more saturation. These new image standards are described in a SMPTE spec called “Rec. 2020.” This is similar in concept, but not in values, to the Rec. 709 spec we use for HD or Rec. 601 we used for SD.

As Michael Cioni said: “People often speak of 4K or HDR or Wide Color Gamut. But it isn’t “or,” its “and.” The video we’ll be editing in the future will contain higher-resolution images and greater dynamic range and wider color gamut. Think of it as three legs of a tripod supporting the video of the future.”


New video technology often requires making adjustments to support it, however, from the artist’s perspective, those adjustments are fairly minor. As Bryan McMahan described, there’s no difference from the creative perspective of grading 4K video vs. 2K or HD. There may be more pixels to work with, but the techniques he uses still work.

However, there is a difference between color grading HDR video vs. “SDR” (or “Standard Dynamic Range” video as Michael Cioni called it). Bryan said it took him a day or two to get comfortable with the new HDR format.

However, and I found this very interesting, once Bryan became comfortable with the format, he said it took him about the same amount of time to color grade an HDR master as an SDR master. In fact, “I think I can do HDR a little faster than SDR, because I have a broader palette to work with.”

The big difference with HDR, all three panelists stressed, was not the workflow but getting a monitor that properly displays HDR video. Here, prices are not cheap. While no specific brands were suggested, a color-grade-capable HDR monitor is in the $30,000 price range.

Which brought up a key question for me: “Where’s the money?”


Of the three panelists, only Michael Cioni is directly involved in client prospecting and billing. So he and I talked about how editors and post houses would make money in this new format.

Michael charges a “little bit” more for editing 4K video and “more” for HDR. We didn’t get into specific pricing.

Then Michael surprised me by saying, “The money for HDR and 4K won’t come from broadcasters or cable. They are a long way from updating their infrastructure to support this technology, because the upgrades are expensive and time-consuming. The market is broadband companies – NetFlix, Amazon, Hulu, Microsoft and Apple – who are able to instantly deliver 4K media directly to the home via the Internet.”

This agrees with trends I’ve been seeing. Traditional broadcast audiences are declining for everything but live events, while audiences for Internet-based video delivery is sky-rocketing. The money is still in the older distribution formats, but the audiences are on the web.


We had a long discussion on whether the typical audience can actually see the image improvements of 4K. While panel members felt that 4K was instantly perceptible, I am less sure. On the other hand, if editing 4K allows editors to get more work, I’m all in favor of it; whether anyone can see the difference or not.

Where the panel was all in agreement was that the differences in HDR were massively better than traditional HD video. As Bryan said: “Once you’ve seen a properly graded HDR image, going back to SDR looks flat and lifeless.”

At this point, Michael Cioni made an interesting comment: “It is easy to make a 2K, even a 1080 version of a 4K master file. Those conversion transforms are well known and don’t damage the image. However, with HDR, there’s no easy way to convert from HDR to SDR. For those cases, you’ll need to create two different color grades of your material.”


If an editor is successfully editing 1080 video, they can probably step up to 4K without needing to buy much new gear. Clearly, 4K requires more storage space and a 4K video monitor if you need to see your images pixel accurately. However, for most creative editing, seeing the image at full resolution is not necessary, which means that editors don’t need a 4K monitor to do the creative cut.

However, as Michael Whipple pointed out, it is important to see the image at full resolution at some point during the edit just to make sure shots are in focus. Viewing images a less than full resolution tends to hide focus problems.

HDR and Wide Color Gamut video requires vastly larger storage due to the size of the source files, plus video monitoring gear that allows display of the extended color range images.

The big gating factor, as Bryan pointed out, is that an HDR monitor suitable for color grading is about $30,000. Which means we need to find ways to charge more to cover the costs of the gear required.

NOTE: Currently, Avid Media Composer, Premiere Pro CC and Final Cut Pro X don’t support HDR; except in a very rudimentary fashion.


I decided to put Michael Cioni on the spot by asking: “We are currently shooting 4K, 5K, even 6K images. NHK in Japan is planning on airing 8K images next year and 16K was demonstrated at NAB last spring. Should we just wait for three months for all the resolution specs to change again?”

Michael replied: “I expect 4K to be a standard delivery format for the next 10 years. While resolutions we use in production will continue to increase, the resolution we deliver will remain constant for a while. This means that editorial houses can standardize on a 4K deliverable.”

“HDR will take longer to develop because we need to get HDR-capable TV sets into the home to drive demand. The interesting thing about HDR is that it looks great regardless of the resolution of the video. HD, even SD, looks much better when displayed using HDR.”

NOTE: Here’s a blog from Broadband TV News that goes into more detail on the challenges of working with HDR media.


It was a fascinating discussion which made me realize that both high-resolutions and HDR/Wide Color Gamut are in our future. Maybe not today, due to a lack of widespread software support and not for companies focused on streaming to the web.

But, the future evolves faster than we think and last night’s discussion gave me a good idea of where we are headed. Thanks to KeyCode for allowing me to be a part of this discussion.

NOTE: Here’s a link to the webinar itself, posted by KeyCode Media.

6 Responses to The Future of Post: 4K, HDR and Wide Color Gamut

  1. Egon_Freeman says:

    > Wide Color Gamut is the term used to describe video
    > with more color saturation than traditional video. Not
    > “different” colors, but richer, more saturated colors.

    I’m sorry, but – since when? Wide color gamut is the term used to describe devices that can display a finer granularity of color — this does indeed mean more (so yes, “different”) colors. I’m sorry, but I’m calling You out on it.

    It’s the difference between “white, grey, black” and an integer scale of 0 to 255 — even though both of these examples cover the same “general” scale (black to white), the two vary greatly in their resolution (granularity). Saturation isn’t the key here. If your display can in fact differentiate between between 255 shades of purple and make them visually distinct, it’s “wider gamut” to a display that can only sufficiently reproduce 16 shades of purple with any distinction.

    And if your display can’t display a wide gamut of colors – then it’ll be doing the next best thing, which is “cramming” the wide-range color information into a smaller fidelity color matrix, thereby making it seem as if the display had “richer colors” and “better saturation” — it’s a side-effect, not the intended functionality (though the only alternative is displaying… an error message, I suppose).

    It’s basically a form of HDR, only it’s the color range that is increased, not luminosity range. Of course, a large-gamut display means exactly diddly squat if you don’t have material that actually covers a wider color range, or if the display itself isn’t calibrated properly and the media you have don’t conform to standards and/or don’t have associated color profiles.

    To sum up, gamut width is “the other side” of the coin on which HDR resides (so you have luminosity fidelity (HDR) and color fidelity (wide gamut)). To quote Wikipedia as my backup:

    “In color reproduction, including computer graphics and photography, the gamut, or color gamut /ˈɡæmət/, is a certain complete subset of colors. The most common usage refers to the subset of colors which can be accurately represented in a given circumstance, such as within a given color space or by a certain output device.”

    • Larry says:


      Thanks for your comments. I’m not a color scientist, but as wide color gamut was explained to me, we are not inventing “new” colors, but allowing the colors that exist to be more deeply saturated.

      As you know, in most video systems, blue and yellow support very limited saturation; as can be seen by looking at the vectorscope.

      Wide color gamut removes many of these restrictions.

      You are correct, however, in that different monitors are required in order to view this type of video, the same as different monitors are required in order to view HDR. Without a monitor supporting this greater saturation, “super-saturated” colors will be mapped to the existing color space, thus losing the ability to view wide color gamut video.


  2. Erik Graham says:

    This might not be the appropriate place to post this, but I’m curious what your thoughts are on the new iMac 5K which supports the dci-p3 color space. It’s a much wider gamut than sRGB or Rec 709. What does that mean for our color grading workflow in Final Cut?

    For example, even if I start with 4K Protune footage from a GoPro, after color grading isn’t it likely that I would push some colors outside the gamut of sRGB or Rec 709? Playback on the new iMac would be accurate, but the instant the footage is viewed on most other displays, which don’t support the P3 color space, what would happen? How would it look? Does this mean we’ll need to do a grade for P3, and then another grade for other devices?

    Disclaimer: I’m not a pro, so excuse me if I’ve asked a dumb question.

    • Larry says:


      This is an EXCELLENT question and, you are correct. You need to do two color grades: one for standard dynamic range (SDR) media and a second for HDR media.

      Again, you guessed correctly, that not all monitors will support HDR images.


  3. alfred says:

    Sorry for my lack of color science but can someone please simply tell me if my late 2014 5k retina IMAC (with Sierra) will display HDR video if edited from FCPX 10.3 ? Do later IMAC models display HDR video? Macbook pro (with Sierra) ? I am assuming HDR photos are displayable (assuming application, eg Photoshop, supports it) ?

    • Larry says:


      As we are learning, HDR means the brightness of pixels, while Wide Color means increased saturation. My understanding – and I’m happy to be corrected, is that the 5K iMac supports Wide Color but not HDR.


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