The Challenges of Running HDR Via HDMI

Bringing HDR Content to Clients Remains a Struggle February 2, 2017

It’s January 6 as I write this, and I just talked to my tech editor, Chase. He got a bunch of new HDR toys for Christmas, and he’s basically done nothing else since except try to cajole and coerce HDMI 2.0a/b HDCP 2.2 into communicating. “Great,” I can hear you say, “two more guys just complaining about HDMI.”

Let’s see if we can make it a little more than that. If you’re one of the brave souls trying to bring HDR to your clients, let me reassure you that you are not alone. We feel your pain and frustration with HDMI. Sadly, I can’t give you a magic bullet. I can, however, offer a few tricks of the trade that have helped us.

First, protect yourself on the front end. Don’t make grandiose promises to clients that you can’t keep! Accept that you are going to have issues running HDR over HDMI that are beyond your control. Two words: HDMI waiver. Be really up front in your contracts, and add a disclaimer. Document your expertise–let your clients know that you know what you’re doing. Explain that HDMI is mandatory. The industry has required it, but it’s constantly evolving. This is something no integrator can control. What you need from them is (1) patience and (2) a T&M clause just for HDMI issues. (Ira Friedman has been heralding the merits of T&M for a while now.) You’ll even bill it at cost, or at a reduced rate. If that’s completely unacceptable to a client, be willing to walk. You could actually be saving yourself money in the long run.

Second, learn all you can about HDMI. If you don’t want to do it personally, task one of your more tech savvy field guys to do it. I know it hurts to pay someone to read, but you will reap big benefits in the future. I highly recommend starting with the book HDMI Uncensored by Jeffrey Boccaccio and Derek Flickinger.

HDMI comparisons for resolution standards

Third, list all of the HDR products that you install and locate social media platforms where users are discussing them. Despite all the garbage from people who don’t know what they’re talking about, online forums are usually the first place that real problems and real solutions are reported. Go ahead, swallow your pride, and get in there with the enthusiasts! Actively track firmware builds, software versions, known issues with certain versions, and patch notes. If there are feature request threads, post or bump what you need.

Fourth, stay on top of official sites like HDMI.org for the latest standards and revisions to HDMI. I just looked on their website, and the headline story is the announcement of HDMI 2.1. Official statements are much slower to roll out than the rumors and leaks that you get on threads, but they’re more likely to be accurate. For example, if AVS Forum says HDMI 2.0b will support Hybrid Log Gamma, who knows? If HDMI.org says it will, it will.

Fifth, test, test, test. Buy yourself a good HDMI tester, and learn to use it. Get all of the HDR toys in question, hook them up in your warehouse, and set someone looking for problems. Don’t assume anything is going to work. Test everything. Start at the top of the first menu page of the first device and go through every option: networking, video output, audio output, user interface, control. Test every app. Don’t just make sure they load. Get an account, subscribe or buy a few titles, and start analyzing how well each device runs each app and what formats it likes to use for outputting video and audio. Make notes as you go about which settings work well on which devices. HINT: Contrary to historical precedent, it seems that Auto is frequently the option that works best across the widest range of apps and signal types. I am NOT saying to set everything to Auto and forget. I am saying not to dismiss Auto. Assume nothing. Test everything.

Sixth, report what you find. Report it on forums. Report it to your reps. Report it to the manufacturer. Whether it’s right or wrong for manufacturers to use us as beta testers, we are. By all means keep complaining about it, but accept your role under protest and contribute productively.

There are times when I feel like we’re working together to make things better (a major bug gets patched), and times when I feel like the entire world is against me (no one will acknowledge a problem that’s blatantly obvious). You just have to keep soldiering through. And know there are a lot of us shouldering right beside you, even if you can’t see us!

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