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HDR and the Ongoing Progression of Technological Advances in Cinema

Television manufacturers and any other companies that create home theatre technologies are and have been in a sort of a special relationship with cinema, a relationship that stretches back decades. This dynamic involves theatres developing their projection and presentation technologies, offering up things such as 3D or seats that move along with the action going on in a movie, all meant to entice viewers away from their comfortable home theatre setups and back to the big screen. On the other side of this dynamic are television manufacturers, who continually introduce new features to their consumer screens—wider aspect ratios, better resolution, 3D, etc.—in an attempt to keep selling them year after year. The latest incarnation of this dynamic comes on the home theatre side of things, with High-Dynamic Range, or HDR, and wide color gamut.

HDR, put simply, allows televisions to show brighter brights and darker darks. As a child I always wondered why it was that when I looked up at the sun in real life it hurt my eyes, but when I saw a shot of it in a movie, it was harmless. It turns out that it was because TVs could not produce an image bright enough to approximate what we see and experience out in the real world (Digital Trends). This is not to say that HDR-equipped TVs will hurt your eyes, but they certainly will be capable of presenting films that are more in line with what we experience in reality, or perhaps more interestingly, they will provide filmmakers with a broader toolset in creating their art.

Along with brighter brights and darker darks, HDR-equipped TVs will also have a wider color gamut. In other words, they will be able to show better color, and a smoother transition between different shades if there is a gradient (Solid Signal Blog). This just opens up more opportunity for filmmakers to manipulate what the audience sees in the interest of forwarding meaning and ideas in their work.

Many are not fully aware of the extent to which filmmakers manipulate color and brightness in their work, and how these factors contribute to a film’s overall meaning. They can be used as motifs, to create a general mood in scenes, to trigger an audience if they bear any specific cultural significance, to draw a viewer’s attention to a particular part of the frame, or perpetuate a running theme, to list a few (Pramaggiore 169). Even just the contrast between light and dark—called chiaroscuro—carries with it many interpretive connotations that stretch back to before the advent of film itself (Pramaggiore 116). By giving filmmakers tools like HDR and a wider color gamut, it is clear that they can intensify the effects of these formal elements to create works of art that pack more meaning, more potential for interpretation, and if nothing else, a more satisfying viewer experience.

While this most recent development in the ongoing trend alluded to earlier is fantastic for individuals who want to enjoy the best films possible from home, it raises concerns about film culture more broadly. That is, this whole cycle of TV manufacturers churning out better sets, and the subsequent response from the theatre industry to preserve ticket sales, seems to be moving toward a definite endpoint. That endpoint being the minimization of the cinema and the communal experience it provides to film lovers.


There are, however, institutions like the Grand River Film Festival, which function to preserve and promote the cinema. Festivals accomplish this by luring viewers out to see “bold, reflective, and inspiring films” among their peers, to engage with the creators behind these films in panels, and to spark meaningful conversations that can help strengthen a community (GRFF).



(Digital Trends)



(Solid Signal Blog)




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