Friday, April 3, 2015


   Dolby is a brand that has become synonymous with sound, from analog noise reduction to audio compression to surround sound technologies for cinemas and home theaters. But the next big Dolby tech to make its way into your home may be more of a treat for the eyes than the ears. At this year’s International CES, Dolby teamed up with partners like Sharp to exhibit a new display technology called, logically enough, Dolby Vision, which aims to make your viewing experience richer, more vibrant, and more realistic than ever before.

   Don’t worry: this isn’t 3D all over again. Dolby Vision doesn’t require special glasses and it won’t give you headaches, I promise. But it will add new levels of depth to the images you see onscreen. How so? By drastically improving the dynamic range of the image. In other words, by enabling your TV to deliver a much bigger difference between the brightest and darkest pixels. Combine that with a larger palette of colors, and the result is a picture that’s truer to life, one that looks like you could crawl right into the screen, even though it’s technically still 2D.

   Sharp had a prototype TV on display in its booth at CES, and although I had previous read up on the Dolby Vision technology, I still found myself staggered by the comparison between it and the standard Full HD screen next to it. I tried to capture the difference with my camera, but the Dolby Vision screen simply looks blown out and overly bright in my pictures, while the regular display is just about too dark to see. This promotional image from Dolby, though, gives you a rough approximation of the difference.

Dolby Vision Wings over water Standard left - New Dolby Imaging Tech right

   Obviously, the TV or projection system in your home doesn’t look as dull and lifeless as the left side of this image (at least I hope it doesn’t!). In fact, the right side of the image is probably closer to what you’re used to seeing. That’s because the screen on which you’re viewing this isn’t Dolby Vision-capable (duh). But what the image conveys well, I think, is the difference between what you’re used to seeing on your standard HD (or even UHD) display and what you see with Dolby Vision.

   It’s a bit like trying to convey the impact of surround sound using only one speaker. But Hopefully you get the point: with Dolby Vision, the glint of sunlight on a metallic surface looks like a glint of sunlight, not a collection of slightly brighter pixels. Colors pop off the screen. The image has more texture, more feeling… more life.

   And the beauty of the technology is that it works just as well in high-def as it does in shiny new Ultra HD – in fact, I would say this high dynamic range technology has more impact on the perceived sharpness and overall verisimilitude of the image than does more pixels (and I’m certainly not alone in that). But, of course, market realities being what they are, when display manufactures like Sharp finally bring Dolby Vision to market (potentially as soon as later this year?), it’s likely that they’ll use it as a selling point in their latest and greatest TVs, which means you’ll be more likely to see it in UHD displays.

   The good news is that as soon as these new high dynamic range displays reach the market, a number of content partners – including Microsoft Xbox Video, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, and VUDU – are all set to start delivering movies and TV shows in Dolby Vision. Because this isn’t just a display technology we’re talking about; it’s a new way of mastering and distributing video content, as well. According to the press release: “Dolby Vision works from content creation to distribution and playback, and it is already receiving support from critical points in the ecosystem, from A-list Hollywood directors, to executives at major studios, TV manufacturers, and operators worldwide.”

   I don’t know about you, but I like the sound of that.