The Dolby era is coming. Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos are already beloved by the expanding OTT market, and now Dolby are pushing aggressively into other sectors, bringing Atmos sound to gaming headsets and home assistants, and teaming up with Apple to deliver Dolby Vision content to the Apple TV app. So, given that Dolby is about to be everywhere, let’s take a look at how you can set up your Dolby workflow…
Dolby Vision, also known as Dolby PQ, is a display-referred HDR standard that supports a maximum brightness of 1000 nits. You’ll often be asked to deliver a Dolby Vision version of a project alongside a Rec. 709, 100 nits one, and the entire Dolby Vision workflow is designed to help you with this.
While you do your initial grade in HDR, Dolby uses advanced metadata to automatically downconvert each shot to Rec. 709. You can then review this downconversion and use Dolby’s Trim Metadata toolkit to make lift, gamma and gain adjustments on shots that have not translated well to SDR.
When you deliver the project, you’ll most likely be asked to deliver an IMF package containing the original HDR grade and all the edited metadata needed to convert it to SDR, so the distributor can mount their own version.
Our first hardware tip: make sure your grading station has an up-to-the-minute video card (we like AJA’s KONA 4). This will allow the grading workstation to split the output into SDR and HDR streams, so you can monitor your grade and the automatic conversion side by side and jump on any adjustments that need making.
Baselight, DaVinci Resolve and Nucoda all support Dolby Vision. We advise updating to the latest version of whichever program you use. Not just because that version will have the most comprehensive Dolby Vision toolkit for making your initial HDR grade, but because it’ll help with the SDR versions too.
Over the last year, Dolby have replaced the external box used for the downconversion with tools built into your grading software, so making changes can be a more intuitive and iterative process than simply performing damage control at the end of a project. (It also saves you a bit on hardware, although you do still need to pay an annual licence fee to Dolby for access to the tools themselves.)
While your SDR monitors will be fine for checking your Rec. 709 output, you will obviously need a colour accurate HDR monitor to do your actual grading on. Sony’s X300 and EIZO’s CG3145 (and its successor, the CG3146) have proved popular with our customers, and Apple’s incoming XDR monitor is Dolby Vision compatible.
While that monitor may cost less, it’s worth pointing out that it currently only supports the Dolby PQ standard, and so if you’re asked to produce content for another HDR format you’ll need to buy a separate monitor, and it won’t be able to properly display Slog2 or Slog3 footage if you’re using it on-set. We’d recommend the XDR more as a high-quality GUI monitor for creatives – a role in which it excels – rather than as your main reference monitor for a grade.
However good your grading monitor and software are, neither of them were initially designed to help you work on two grades simultaneously, so we recommend investing in a good waveform monitor to make sure you’re getting all the feedback you need to perform the best possible downconversion.
We heartily endorse Leader’s LV5600 and LV5300, as they have a wide range of inputs and outputs, can monitor audio levels as well as picture information, and include a raft of useful features to help you when you’re preparing an SDR/HDR conversion, including false colour displays, MaxFALL and MaxCLL measurements, and a focus assist for low contrast images.
Streambox recently made remote colour grading a possibility with their unique pixel-perfect streaming codec, more on which here. They’ve now added Dolby Vision support, meaning you can stream an HDR version of your project to a client, and their Streambox decoder will downconvert it to SDR for them according to your Trim Metadata. Provided you both have the appropriate monitors, you’ll be able to see identical versions of the project in HDR and SDR at either end of your Streambox connection, making remote approvals far easier.
If you’re delivering Dolby Vision to an OTT provider, they’re likely to request it as an IMF package. We’re talked about IMF before, and though Netflix has qualified other systems for media encoding, our most trusted option for IMF delivery is still Rhode & Schwarz’s R&S CLIPSTER. The latest version of CLIPSTER’s software supports playback of clips in Dolby Vision, so you can review and QC your footage at full resolution and with its full colour range before delivering your final project.
When it comes to Dolby Atmos, integration works slightly differently and you still need a dedicated hardware unit, known as your Rendering Master Unit or RMU. This connects to your Pro Tools system and works with a series of Dolby software plug-ins (known as the Dolby Atmos Production Suite and Mastering Suite) to mix, render and play back 7.1.4 mixes, as well as dictating how they will fold down in 7.1, 5.1 and other speaker configurations.
When Atmos was initially released, it could only be used on one of two very specific, high-end Dell servers. This was followed by support for a Mac Pro server and, more recently, by support for a more affordable Mac mini model. If your RMU is running on one of the Dell options, you’ll have to connect it to Pro Tools via MADI, while Mac users can choose between MADI and Dante. Either way, you’ll need to be able to send 128 channels, meaning you’ll need a Pro Tools setup with two DSP cards in – three if you want to monitor through Pro Tools too.
As a Dolby Atmos Mastering Suite dealer, we can configure your Mastering Suite software on Dolby-approved hardware with MADI or Dante connectivity to create a complete Dolby Atmos Home Entertainment Rendering and Mastering workstation (HT-RMU), then install it and provide onsite training.
Unfortunately, this is slightly more complicated than adding some speakers to the ceiling of your 7.1 room. Dolby’s criteria for certification is very strict, and without their official blessing, you won’t be able to book jobs from the major OTT providers, no matter how much rendering hardware you invest in.
You'll need to set aside a couple of days to get your speakers calibrated to Dolby's specifications – they're actually quite relaxed about which model of speaker you're using, with pretty much any brand being fine as long as you can demonstrate the correct SPL, EQ and rolloff when asked. If you have a low-ceilinged studio and are worried about fitting the overhead speakers in, Focal’s 300 Custom Install series is a great low-profile option, but the right monitor will of course depend on your space and workflow – get in touch with the team to arrange a live demo of some of our preferred monitoring setups, or try this JBL combo.
To calibrate your monitor setup to Dolby's requirements, you have a few options, with the most popular coming from Avid’s own SPQ cards, the JBL Intonato range, and the Trinnov D-Mon range. While our team can help you get things optimised ahead of Dolby’s official visit to your facility, you will ultimately need their sign off if you want to call yourself fully Atmos capable.
Our consultants are some of the most experienced Atmos workflow specialists in the UK, and can help you optimise your audio and video workflows ahead of applying for a Dolby certification.
As well as providing all your key hardware and software, we can help with workflow design, and provide ongoing monitor and studio calibration to ensure that your images and audio consistently hit the mark. To find out more, get in touch using the form below.
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