The most exciting part of new movie/tv content, HDR. It stands for high dynamic range and it can elevate your tv watching experience to an incredible new level.
There are always marketing terms that technology companies use to entice you to buy their product. They’re easy and catchy. Terms like “Retina Display” and “High Definition” help to cut through the technical jargon and give your brain something to latch onto for the next time you need a computer or tv.
What is HDR and what does it do? HDR greatly increases two things that are vital to picture quality. Contrast ratio and color accuracy. Contrast ratio is the difference between white and black on the screen. The bigger the ratio, the more realistic the display will be in detailing shadows, clouds, and everything in between. The other improvement is in color reproduction. There is a newly accessed color gamut, DCI P3, that covers over 15% more color than the previous gamut Rec. 709. 15% might not sound crazy-good but 15% of multi-millions makes a big difference. This new color space increases the number of shades or gradients that can fit into each type of color to allow for smoother transitions between colors.
Color Space Coverage Chart
The smallest to largest triangles: Rec. 709, DCI P3, Rec. 2020
You may have seen or heard about HDR on your phone/camera. You’ll be happy to know that HDR on a tv does not work the same way by pressing multiple images into one to create a “better” image. It strictly increases contrast and colors on the image displayed and doesn’t involve additional processing which can create an unrealistic image. Speaking of a lack of realism, some people still complain that the bright highlights and deeper blacks of high dynamic range make the image appear processed and unnatural. A lot of this depends on what tv you are viewing the HDR content on. High-end 2016 models display HDR very well and don’t oversaturate colors or crush natural lighting. It also depends on your level of sensitivity to picture differences. Some people have a keen eye and can pick out better quality panels and these people also can pick up on the changes between a 4K HDR movie and a 1080p blu-ray. You probably also know some people that still watch DVD’s and own the iPhone 4 so hopefully you’re somewhere in between.
The last important thing to note about high dynamic range technology is that even though a tv may be able to show HDR content, the source material itself has to be created with HDR in order for it to be effective. If the content is created without HDR in the mix, it won’t have the information to carry to the tv saying “I’m bright or I’m dark.” It will look the same as any other movie in your blu-ray collection, even if viewing it on a 4K HDR ready tv. It will still look good, just not great like properly mastered HDR content. Speaking of content, there is limited 4K/HDR content available on Amazon, Netflix, and YouTube. There’s a limited but growing number of 4K blu-rays, however not all 2016 movie releases included a 4K version. HDR looks fantastic and makes you excited for when more of this content becomes available.
If you do decide to buy a new tv, make sure that it has the capability to stream 4K content. Some tv’s outside of the Netflix and YouTube apps, can’t stream 4K content because it needs special hardware to do so. I prefer disc-based content for its consistency and uncompressed nature but most prefer streaming for its convenience and simplicity. In particular UHD blu-rays need to be played on a UHD capable blu-ray player. Older blu-ray devices don’t have the necessary guts to play 4K. The Samsung UBD-K8500 UHD blu-ray player is now selling on Samsung’s website for $200. You can also buy the new Xbox One S right now for $300 which includes a 4K player or wait until the spring of 2017 when Sony and a few other companies are slated to release their own UHD players. Whatever 4K content you decide to pursue, make sure it fits with how you plan to play it on your tv. Just as a note, the 2016 LG OLED tv line are all HDR 10 and Dolby Vision compatible so they can stream and play content in 4K from anywhere without fail. In case you’re curious, Dolby Vision is the same thing as HDR/4K, it’s just a slightly different standard that Dolby created. Content that has the Dolby Vision logo, passes their quality standard. UHD premium is the other quality standard that is referred to as HDR 10.
-4K is just a resolution jump, HDR refers to the contrast/color improvement.
-Not all tv’s are created equal, check the specs for HDR compatibility.
-Not all content is mastered in 4k, use the website below to verify the quality.
Update 1/4/2017: Edited content for coherence