Outlook: Realtime inline color transforms are reimagining HDR workflows
Bryce Button
Issue: November/December 2022

Outlook: Realtime inline color transforms are reimagining HDR workflows

A surge in demand for HDR content in recent years has resulted in more complex creative workflows from production through to post, as well as an uptick in the number of deliverables required for many projects. HDR has emerged as the preferred production standard, and there are a variety of different approaches for color correction and HDR/SDR delivery formats that post professionals must evaluate and consider to achieve a color-accurate final look. 

Creating new challenges and opportunities for creatives, recent versions of DCCs, including Resolve, Apple Final Cut Pro, and Adobe Premiere Pro, have bolstered color tools to provide options for HDR outputs, whether from original HDR masters or SDR versions. It’s then up to post production teams to figure out the most efficient way to monitor all of these outputs as they work.

Monitoring various outputs is required throughout the creative process, while experimenting with different look up tables (LUTs) and looks to view how the final pixel will appear. Rendering out these different looks while creative decisions are still being made can result in wasted financial, storage and time resources. It can generate unnecessary files that require additional storage, which is especially costly for teams using cloud storage. Rendering additional files is not an ideal situation for any production facility – especially considering most are already bogged down with excessive data and in today’s remote worker world, may put more strain on cloud services than really needed.
A simpler and more straightforward approach that’s emerging in post is to apply inline color transforms. Doing so allows teams to adjust looks in realtime and monitor outputs with greater confidence, ultimately resulting in more informed decisions that maintain creative intent as content moves throughout various equipment and stakeholders in the chain. It also ensures teams aren’t generating excessive media or files. 

Post teams can take advantage of inline color transforms through use of an HDR capable display and emerging color conversion tools like AJA ColorBox. The ability to upload a LUT directly to the device in realtime eliminates the need to render footage from an NLE or color grading tool to test and preview different looks in realtime. Industry-leading color processing pipelines, like Colorfront, NBCU LUTs, BBC HLG LUTs, and Orion-Convert can also be used to create and manage looks for live and scripted content, and/or combined within ColorBox and its AJA Color Pipeline (ACP) mode. This strategy then allows editors to test and preview different looks in realtime during post. It’s key to understand that the ACP offers a range of flexibility with the ability to utilize a range of “look” LUTs, and then combine them with particular HDR transform LUTs.

Streamlined communication is also essential to ensuring image integrity as content moves throughout post. For this reason, being able to capture and recall up to 4K/UltraHD frame sizes and pre- or post-processed images, as well as using overlays for text and metadata on video output to simplify communication among VFX, color, and editorial teams, is advantageous. Once LUTs are agreed upon by production teams, a tool like ColorBox can then be used to help teams to manage presets and save and recall looks. This approach ensures that everyone across the production chain is working with the same color configurations and not accidentally introducing errors into the process.
As post production teams work to strike the best balance between honoring creative intent, keeping within budgets and timelines, and controlling media management, it’s critical to maximize HDR workflow efficiencies. Realtime color transform technologies, like AJA ColorBox, are making it easier for teams to take control of color managed workflows, save time and money, and streamline inline color transforms so the final pixel aligns with creative intent. 

Bryce Button is the Director of Product Marketing for AJA Video Systems (www.aja.com). AJA develops an extensive range of solutions for the professional video and audio market, from conversion devices to I/O solutions, digital recorders and more.