In the real world, light levels vary enormously. Our current screens can't reproduce images that include light sources or reflections of them accurately. To do so would require a massive increase in brightness. But it needs to be done. Phil Rhodes explains the science needed for this next artistic leap
Let's try a quick experiment: Google up a nice picture of the sun, and then see if the light coming out of your monitor is casting your shadow on the wall behind you. No? Well, Dolby may have the answer. Sunglasses at the ready.
It is no secret that effectively all current display devices will fail that sort of test; they backlight on your 24-inch desktop TFT is probably in the 40-watt range, whereas the sun emits something like 380,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 watts. Even though your monitor is slightly closer than the sun and the inverse square law is a great and powerful thing, there's no way that any current display can render a photographic image of the sun with literally correct luminosity. For that matter, we don't even need to go to the extremes of our local star. The filament (or arc tube) of a common lighting instrument, especially one with collimating optics between it and the observer, will be many, many times brighter than any monitor can reasonably display. You would, literally, need sunglasses.
Given our near-obsessive concern over dynamic range in camera systems, the dynamic range of monitors would seem like a reasonable target for research. Dolby won the Emmy for their current top of the tree reference monitor, the PRM-4220, so it's no surprise that they've come up with a genuinely arresting idea – a monitor around ten times brighter than the current average. This is currently very much a lab toy because the immensely powerful backlight requires active liquid cooling, but there are already rumblings of consumer versions (notwithstanding anyone's ability to actually make them), as well as talk of new mastering techniques for film and TV productions to allow them to take advantage of the uprated technology.