Monster Guide: HDR10 in Resolve Studio 18 (Part I)

Part I: Project settings

Part II: BT.2020 or P3-D65 Limited?

Part III: HDR Palette, project render settings, generate MaxCLL and MaxFall HDR10 metadata

Part IV: HDR to SDR Conversion LUT for YouTube

Part V: RAW

Part VI: The Grade

Part VII: The State of HDR Film Emulation LUTs & Plugins

Part VIII: Why HDR Production Monitors Matter

Note: The information in this guide is continually revised and expanded and the reader is urged to check back occasionally for updates. The current recommendations are valid as of macOS Monterey version 12.3.1, DaVinci Resolve Studio 18 beta and Desktop Video 12.2.2. RED Komodo project settings have been added to Part V: RAW.

Since publishing our exhaustive workflow for HDR10 in Final Cut Pro, we’ve been inundated with requests to do the same for DaVinci Resolve – and with the introduction of customizable HDR color wheels that allow extremely precise exposure and color adjustments from super blacks to specular highlights in Resolve Studio 17, a terrific NLE just got even better! It’s baffling how to this day the single greatest contribution to cinema since the talkies remains woefully neglected by many in the filmmaking community and that there exists in 2021 no one-stop source with concise, accurate, up-to-date information for the enthusiast on the acquisition, processing and delivery of HDR video. Moreover, of the exceedingly few HDR tutorials that can be found on the Web, many have inaccurate, incomplete or outdated information. Our goal was to make this tutorial as intelligible as possible, with the aim of inspiring even more filmmakers to discover the incredible universe that is HDR. In part one, we’ll cover (1) how to set up your a7s III; (2) project settings you’ll need to grade HDR10 in Resolve; (3) Blackmagic Design Desktop Video settings; and (4) how to configure your LG OLED for use as an HDR grading monitor.

Far from being just a gimmick, HDR is an entirely new language with its own unique vocabulary and an expanded tonal range, allowing for immense expressive possibilities. Yet much of the HDR content on video sharing platforms and streaming services like Netflix is virtually indistinguishable from SDR. And some HDR YouTube videos are so oversaturated, so grotesquely bright, so utterly lacking in contrast, with hideously blown-out highlights, that they resemble monstrous caricatures – yet unaccountably, they amass hundreds of millions of views – while at the same time exercising a corrupting influence on the taste of the general public. Click here to read more about HDR brightness levels and how shooting for HDR differs from SDR. For an example of superb HDR cinematography and grading, we can’t recommend the exquisitely lensed Netflix thriller The Spy highly enough.

Here’s how to set up your Sony a7s III.

In picture profile, select either S-Gamut3/S-Log3 or S-Gamut3.cine/S-Log3. For what it’s worth, S-Gamut3.cine/S-Log3 is the most common color space used on Sony FX9, F55, FS7, F5 and FX6 Netflix productions (which also happen to use the P3-D65 color space in post-production). We’ve also been informed that key mastering engineers at Sony Pictures in Culver City recommend selecting the S-Gamut3.cine/S-Log 3 settings in Resolve.

False color makes adjusting exposure lightning fast!

For further examples illustrating how to expose correctly using the false color guide of the Ninja V, click here.

To sync audio with the Ninja V, be sure to check out this post!

Note: For the best results, we really recommend shooting RAW, not XAVC S-I internal.

In spite of bizarre claims made in some online tutorials, MacBook Pro and iMac displays may not be used for grading HDR video. Furthermore, it is not advisable to connect either directly to an HDR monitor or television set without an I/O box. Nor should one be relying on a field monitor like the Shogun Inferno for color grading. Focus and resolution should only be judged on a screen that is sufficiently large to allow viewing at 1.5 times picture height. Suitable displays include the Asus ProArt PA32 UCX and LG OLED televisions. Apple’s Pro Display XDR is not recommended, as one can pick up as many as three Asus monitors or four 55″ OLED televisions for the cost of one XDR display with stand, nano textured glass and 3-year extended warranty. You might also consider adding a consumer reference display.

Data levels should almost always be set to video. “The easiest way to tell is to send a pure black frame to the TV with your output set to video levels (not in HDR, in SDR). If the screen shows an elevated black level, it’s expecting a full range signal, if it’s as black as it gets, it’s video”. – Samuel Bilodeau

We can also confirm whether our clips are being properly displayed by asking ourselves (1) do clips that were exposed to the right look dark? and (2) when viewing the same clips on the timeline of another NLE, such as Final Cut Pro, do the clips look brighter? If your project was set to Full and the answer to both questions is yes, then you’ll want to switch data levels to Video. Just as, when importing the same ProRes 4444 file into Final Cut Pro and DaVinci Resolve with output color space set to Rec.2020 PQ, they both have virtually identical color, contrast and brightness on our MacBook Pro Liquid Retina XDR miniLED with reference mode set to P3-ST.2084.

“HDR mastering is for X” lets you specify the output, in nits, to be inserted as metadata into the HDMI stream being output, so that the display you’re connecting to correctly interprets it. Set the “nit” level (cd/m2) to whatever peak luminance level your HDMI connected HDR display is capable of. Under Lookup Tables, be sure to select Tetrahedral interpolation, as it outperforms Trilinear – although, when it comes to HDR WCG, traditional LUTs are nowhere near large enough to avoid artifacts, particularly when it comes to dark and saturated images.

To prevent power windows from appearing on your external monitor, go to View > Window Outline and check Only UI.

To use the HDR capabilities of an Apple MacBook or iMac built-in display or external HDR capable displays such as the Apple Pro Display XDR in order to preview HDR content directly via the Resolve viewer, observe the following steps. Note: the feature is only available on macOS 10.14.6 and above and DaVinci Resolve 16 and above. 

Screenshot of HDR PQ image on SDR gamma calibrated display. The image is flat and lifeless.
Go to Project Settings -> Color Management and enable “Display HDR on viewers if available”, then restart Resolve to make the settings effective.
Go to MacOS System Preferences -> Display, and disable “True Tone” and “Automatically adjust brightness”, then set screen brightness to 80% – 90%.
HDR PQ image with “Display HDR on viewers if available” enabled.

While no one should be using the Resolve viewer for color grading on their Mac, this feature does have a number of advantages: (1) it makes it possible to edit HDR footage with actual color and contrast; (2) you can show the client/friends/model what you’re working on when on location or when there’s no HDR display around and (3) it makes previewing HDR content on a MacBook possible.

The time can’t come soon enough when we’re able to see an actual HDR image in the viewer on Macs with miniLED displays.

Update 12.2021 The Apple Liquid Retina XDR miniLED display has arrived!

UPDATE: DaVinci Resolve Studio 17.4 adds Native HDR viewers and 120 Hz playback on supported MacBook Pros.

For sure, you’ll want to calibrate your LG OLED before using it as an HDR grading monitor.

25 thoughts on “Monster Guide: HDR10 in Resolve Studio 18 (Part I)

Add yours

  1. “baffles me to this day how the single greatest contribution to cinema since the talkies remains woefully neglected by many in the filmmaking community and that there exists in 2021 no one-stop source with concise, accurate, up-to-date information for the enthusiast on capturing, processing and delivering HDR. Moreover, of the exceedingly few HDR tutorials that can be found on the Web, many have inaccurate, incomplete or outdated information”


    Absolutely agree with you..back in 2016 when HDR was starting to gain a bit of traction… I bought the original BMPCC just because of that …12bit RAW… That one day in future I would be able to edit / grade and see them at their true potential…

    Here we are in 2021… We have HDR TVs becoming affordable… We have great HDR screen on Mobile Devices… And still – as you mentioned – there is almost zero attention to producing HDR Workflow in our community / Youtube…

    Hope this changes soon..and HDR gains traction with general not only for Watching movies…but for everything .. from recording home videos to Blockbuster… HDR is the future and it’s potential should not be ignored ( which right now seems to be…and its criminal )

  2. “Furthermore, it is not advisable to connect either directly to an HDR monitor or television set without an I/O box.”

    – I always had this question… But most post / tutorials on YouTube… Just gloss over it quickly…

    Why do I need an I/O box ?

    E.g. I have LG 65CX OLED. I connect my PC to LG OLED
    .. then forced my LG OLED using 1113111 and override the HDMI signal to be in HDR Mode. Wouldn’t that be sufficient… If I am grading for HDR PQ / HDR 10 with 1000nit peak…
    Why would one require an additional ( and expensive – for a Hobbyist) I/O box ? Any particular reason ?

    And if I/O box helps in sending HDR metadata to TV.. isn’t LG OLED 1113111 HDMI signal override helps in removing the I/O box from the equation ?

    And if I am doing HDR10 – which has only static metadata.. will I still require I/O box ?
    ( Will it be more suitable for HDR10+ or Dolby Vision Grading which have dynamic HDR metadata scene by scene basis ??

    1. An I/O box is required to bypass Windows or macOS color management. A budget option is the excellent UltraStudio Monitor 3G, which runs around USD $100 (1080p maximum).

      1. Can I connect my Macbook Pro 16 via UltraStudio Monitor 3G to LG 65CX OLED? Will that work as it should? Thank you in advance

  3. I noticed in the screenshot of LG OLED HDMI Signal Override via 11113111 menu… You have set MaxCLL to 700 ?

    Because I can be set to 1000 as well…

    Any specific reason ?

    Is it because physically LG CX OLEDs can do ~700nit peak ?

    If so.. does this mean I should not grading an HDR video targetting 1000nit ??
    Because if the LG CX OLED can physically do ~700Nit max.. anything above will be seen as clipped… ( Leaving your Waveform as the saving grace )

    Now the question becomes..
    Should I really be using my LGCX OLED for HDR Grading targetting 1000nits ?

    Also while doing HDR Grading.. should I use DCI-P3 color space or REC 2020 ? Because LG OLED does cover DCI-P3 fully ..but not complete REC 2020.. would you recommend going for P3 instead or REC 2020 in the Project settings.. ?

    Also given you had set your LG OLED MaxCLL to 700..
    In the final 10bit x265 video file export.. do you set the video file’s metadata to MaxCLL 700 as well ?

    Ahh…. So many questions…..

    1. Matthew Bilodeau writes “if you keep your color grade within the MaxCLL of your display’s HDR range, and add a hard clip for the light levels beyond your display’s maximum value, you can use your display’s maximum CLL as your metadata MaxCLL value.” When I was still grading in Final Cut Pro and rendering projects in Compressor, I set MaxCLL to 700 in metadata for upload to YouTube. (Compressor no longer supports uploading directly to YT from within the app). LG CX MaxCLL should also be set to 700. For now, I restrict most of my highlights to below that figure. Whether you should be targeting 1,000 nits or using P3 color space are both very good questions!

  4. Thank Jon for your quick response… This really helps. 👍

    Any plan on creating a YouTube Tutorial Series on HDR Workflow ? – That would be awesome. 🙂
    And will help so so many people who are still puzzled about this animal – HDR !!

    ( I know right now it’s hard to capture PC / Mac screen in HDR.. so kind of becomes difficult to showcase HDR workflow in its true glory… ☹️ )

  5. Hi Jon,

    Any reason you’re not recommending the ‘HDR DaVinchi Wide Gamut Intermediate’ option in project settings colour processing – rather than choosing ‘HDR Rec2020PQ’, which has less latitude in the highlights?

    Also what is your logic for setting ‘Rec2020.ST2084’ as preferred over ‘Rec2100.ST2084’ in your output color space? (Seeing as 2100 is assigned to the input clips).

    Oh , and one other thing. When you bring in RAW transcoded 4444 Prores files they need to be set to ‘Full’ data levels I assume?

    1. Good questions! Yes, use full levels with HDR. Input color space does not determine the output color space: footage from several cameras may be mixed and matched on the timeline, it does not alter the output color space. The input color space of the clips you’re referring to could just as well be changed to Rec.2020 ST2084 1000 nits without affecting anything. The HDR Rec.2020 PQ preset sets up a Rec. 2020 HDR grading environment suitable for wide gamut SDR or HDR deliverables up to 1000 nits. I might change the recommendation to HDR DaVinci Wide Gamut Intermediate as it may offer advantages when working with footage from several different cameras and it facilitates grading HDR at high nit levels in the event you’d like to repurpose your material at a later date – and there are few downsides (for instance, having to hand footage off to someone who doesn’t happen to work in DaVinci Wide Gamut).

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