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HDR, or High Dynamic Range, is a video signal containing metadata which allows the TV to display a wider range of colors and contrast for the HDR-compatible content. Another spec that plays a big role in HDR is the TV’s maximum brightness. Two most common HDR formats are HDR10 and DolbyVision.
If you are buying an expensive TV, it should definitely support HDR. For budget TVs, HDR won’t have as striking impact on picture quality, in which case you’d be better off with a medium-range TV without HDR.
In comparison to 1080p, a 4K TV has four times the pixel count which certainly improves the image quality in terms of detail clarity and immersion, but what about color quality and contrast ratio?
If you want to take another step forward when buying a new TV and get more vibrant colors as well, you will need HDR (High Dynamic Range).
In short, HDR feeds its metadata to the TV which allows it to display more lifelike and distinct colors. However, just having an HDR-capable TV isn’t enough, there are plenty of additional things to consider.
First of all, HDR only works for content that was made for HDR, be it console games, HDR Blu-rays, or your favorite TV shows on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, etc. So, you need to make sure you’ll have something worthy to watch on an HDR TV.
Secondly, not all HDR TVs are the same. HDR won’t be able to improve the picture by much if the TV has a poor contrast ratio, low brightness, and a narrow color gamut. In fact, a cheap HDR TV will still have a worse image than an expensive non-HDR TV.
Lastly, there are several different HDR formats including HDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision, HLG, Advanced HDR, etc. In this article, we’ll be focusing on the two most popular and widespread formats which are HDR10 and Dolby Vision.
HDR vs Non-HDR
In order to truly see how HDR affects the picture quality, you would need an HDR-capable display, obviously.
This also means that all of the images online that try to depict HDR vs non-HDR content are simply emulated in order to illustrate the point.
However, the emulated pictures are not far off. HDR extends the color gamut, contrast, and brightness which greatly improves details in the highlights and shadows of the image.
There are two main formats of HDR: HDR10 and Dolby Vision.
Dolby Vision offers a better image quality as it offers 12-bit color while HDR10 is limited to 10-bit. Although there aren’t any 12-bit color TVs, Dolby Vision uses down-sampling to deliver the superior 10-bit colors.
Furthermore, Dolby Vision implements its metadata on a scene-by-scene or frame-by-frame basis, also referred to as Dynamic HDR, which provides a more immersive and realistic viewing experience. A TV with Dolby Vision also supports HDR10.
HDR10, on the other hand, has a static metadata which applies to the content as a whole rather than each scene individually. However, HDR10 is an open-standard and royalty-free which is why more content, including video games, support it whereas Dolby Vision is more expensive.
HDR10+ is the next-generation of HDR10 which brings support for dynamic metadata while still being free and limited to 10-bit color.
Is HDR Worth It?
If you are buying a new and expensive TV, HDR is definitely worth it.
Keep in mind though that some TVs are HDR-capable but can’t really do it justice. This means that they can accept the HDR signal, but the TV’s color depth, contrast, and brightness won’t be able to do much with it.
Ideally, you should look for an HDR TV with the Ultra HD Premium certification which ensures the ‘true’ HDR viewing experience. The Ultra HD Premium requirements are that the TV’s has a 4K resolution, 10-bit color depth, and at least 1,000-nit peak brightness and 20,000:1 contrast ratio.
If you are interested in HDR for monitors, you can learn more about it here.
Rob is a software engineer with a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Denver. When he’s not writing, he works part-time at a marketing agency.