HDR TVs are finally here, and any good television you buy now in the mid to high end of the segment is not only 4K capable, but can and should be able to display HDR content, too.
But what exactly is HDR content, and why should you care?
Why is this next generation visual technology said to be the next big thing in displays? We have been hearing about HDR for several years, but it took until 2017 for HDR content to become truly common, both on streaming services like Netflix and Ultra HD Bluray discs.
Is this new technology worth the hype?
In a word, yes.
What is HDR?
HDR stands for high dynamic range. It is one of the many acronyms that manufacturers come up with every few years, right alongside terms like 4K, HDCP, and OLED. But HDR video technology is something that has a remarkable impact on image quality.
That’s because the two most important factors in how TVs look are contrast ratio and color accuracy.
If you put two TVs side by side, the one with better contrast ratio and color accuracy, and another with high resolution, the first one will be picked by almost everyone. Its picture will look more natural, seem more real, and have what they call pop — despite having a lower resolution. Put it this way, a 1080p TV with great contrast and colors will beat a 4K television with average values.
Same is the case with HDR.
High dynamic range televisions expand the range of both contrast and color significantly. Images displayed on these TVs not only get brighter, but they also have more depth. The have the ability to show more blues, greens and reds, often times these displays are able to reproduce colors that were until now impossible.
No wonder HDR is being called a revolution.
Making of a good HDR
There are two parts that of a good HDR for television — the TV itself and the source. The first piece of the puzzle is easy enough. All you need is a good HDR compatible TV, many of which are now available on store shelves at all price points. Of course, making televisions brighter and more colorful costs money, so these models are notably expensive than standard ones.
Though prices are continuously falling.
The content is the hard part.
To truly look good, video must be mastered in HDR format. When a movie or TV show is created, the crew behind it work to give the content the right look. Directors, cinematographers, and colorists all combine to create gorgeous colors with depth. You will be able to see more of what is recorded, more details in the shadows and highlights, richer more lifelike colors, with greater shifts in tone, and more delicate gradation.
All that to say, your picture will look more natural, more real.
However, seeing as how important HDR is for the future of entertainment, a number of companies and organizations have put up different standards. Currently, there are five different varieties of HDR on the market — HDR10, HDR10Plus, HLG, Dolby Vision, and Advanced HDR by Technicolor.
Out of these, HDR10 is the original and right now, the most common form of HDR. It’s an open standard that has been adopted by all the big wigs, including Amazon, Netflix, and Bluray Disc Association. The other standards are not as widely used, save for Dolby Vision.
HLG, or Hybrid Log Gamma is potentially the most important of these, because this is the one that is going to be used for television broadcasts. Advanced HDR by Technicolor is the latest arrival, the result of a collaboration between LG and Technicolor. And not the one to be left behind, Samsung played its part in throwing more confusion into the mix by developing its own standard, HDR10+.
As we learned, Dolby Vision is a proprietary format that requires a license. But it differs from a standard like HDR10 in a number of ways. The most noticeable is the fact that it allows dynamic metadata to be added to a vanilla HDR image. In theory, this means that Dolby Vision can work its magic to improve an image on a scene by scene basis, while HDR10 only does it for the whole film.
The two formats can happily coexist, though, and Dolby Vision capable hardware is able to process and display content in the HDR10 format.
There is no denying that HDR is a very attractive idea. But its success will depend not only on the content that is mastered using this technology, but also the hardware that is capable of displaying it. The good thing is that 2017 can clearly be termed as the year of HDR.
Not only is there an increasing amount of content being made available in HDR, both via discs based media and streaming services, the number of displays that are capable of displaying high dynamic range videos is also on the rise. Most TV manufacturers offer support for HDR in their newest launches, mobile devices have jumped on the bandwagon, and gaming consoles like Xbox One S, Xbox One X, and the Sony PlayStation 4 can already output HDR video from any compatible source — Ultra HD Bluray discs, streaming services, and HDR games.
As for the equipment, you probably don’t need new cables for HDR. Pretty much all current high-speed HDMI cables can carry HDR signals. If you bought an AV receiver or media streamer in the last few years, chances are that it is also capable of supporting HDR content. Besides, if your TV is HDR, the internal streaming apps available on the television should support high dynamic range content anyway.
There is no small amount of excitement about HDR these days in the entertainment industry. After all, more pixels are good, better pixels are great.
It may take another couple of years for the world to truly shift to HDR, but with more HDR optimized content making its way out, cheaper and better displays hitting the market that can display it, the future is not just brighter, but a lot more colorful too.