Since the introduction of hi-definition television, we’ve seen a lot of changes. With big hoopla, we’ve gone all the way from 720p to 4K. Manufacturers have improved the picture quality by increasing the number of pixels on the screen and improving the screen’s refresh rate. This resulted in a slightly improved picture quality. Now, technology, called HDR (High Dynamic Range) has found a way to dramatically improve the picture quality of 4K TVs. It is already being included in many new televisions. Yet, not too many people know about it.
Although HDR on a television uses a different technology than the HDR you may be using on your camera, the result is similar – a more realistic picture. Cameras produce HDR photos by taking three or more different snapshots of the same scene with a range of f-stops. It then superimposes them on top of each other producing a more life-like, eye-pleasing result.
HDR in a television produces a more realistic picture by representing colors in a better way. High Dynamic Range on a TV offers greater contrast between dark and bright colors and actually uses more colors. HDR expands the total color range of the TV and in many cases increases the color depth. This increase allows for an increases the number of steps between each color within that range. An example of this would be black changing to white with only three or four shades of gray in between. All you would see is a band of black, four bands of gray, and a band of white. High Dymanic Range can produce hundreds of shade of gray between the black and white. So it produces a more realistic representation of what the camera actually saw when it was recording.
HDR screens also take the top end of the color range (highlights) and increases the brightness of those pixels. The brightness is measured in “nits,” or candela per square meter. Regular HDTV standards limit maximum brightness to about 100 nits. HDR can add luminescence of up to 10,000 nits. This means that when viewing a start in the night sky on your HDR TV it will look significantly brighter and more realistic.
HDR is currently not being marketed as a wonderful new feature. There are several reasons for this. First, is the fact that different manufacturers have adopted different logos and names for this new feature. The UHD Alliance has an Ultra HD Premium logo. If you see that logo you can know that the TV supports HDR. Otherwise you may have to search for this information.
Second, there are two competing standards: HDR 10 and Dolby Vision. HDR 10 is a free open source solution. Dolby Vision is a set standard that is considerably better. HDR 10 can only handle 1,000 nits while Dolby Vision can produce 10,000 nits. There is also a difference in color depth. Dolby Vision content is created with a 12-bit color depth while HDR 10 uses only 10-bit color. That might not seem like a big difference, but it is. While the current non-HDR TVs have about 16 million colors. HDR 10 takes that up to about one billion. Dolby Vision offers a whopping 68 billion possible colors. That said, most current hardware cannot take advantage of all the possible colors that Dolby Vision offers.
HDR is only available on newer 4K televisions. Right now, because of the cost savings, many manufacturers are opting to support only HDR-10. Any TV that supports Dolby Vision by default also supports HDR 10 by default. It doesn’t work in the opposite direction. A television that has support for HDR 10 doesn’t necessarily support Dolby Vision. So higher-end TVs from manufacturers like Vizio and LG that support Dolby Vision also give you HDR-10 support.
In some cases, HDR can be added to older TVs through a firmware update. Currently Sony is the only one that I know of who is doing this, but others may follow. Sony is adding HDR to their 2015 TV through firmware updates.
As you might have guessed, content must be created in HDR in order to be viewed in HDR. Currently there is more HDR content available than there was when 4K was first introduced. As I write this, there are more than a dozen HDR movies or series on Netflix and several on Amazon and Hulu. More are coming quickly.
By the way, if you have been waiting for more 4K content before purchasing a 4K TV. That is also arriving quite quickly. Netflix has recently expanded their 4K offerings and most new made for Netflix content like Marco Polo is being filmed in both 4K and HDR. The same holds true for Amazon and Hulu.
The biggest difference between a standard HiDefinition TV and a 4K TV can be seen when viewing on a screen that is 60” or larger. The real beauty of HDR is that it dramatically improves the pictures on televisions of all sizes.
4K TV gave us the details that our eye can see. HDR gives us scenes that are more realistic to the eye. You may not want to buy a new TV just to get HDR, but when you do purchase a new TV, you will want to purchase one with HDR.
HDR produces an amazing leap in picture quality. It brings movie cinematography into the home. Manufacturers aren’t yet screaming about it, but they should be. Perhaps that is yet to come!