High dynamic range (HDR) is one of the best features to appear on televisions in recent years, and it has become a key feature to consider when purchasing a new television. But there sure is a lot of new jargon that goes along with the show.
There are several competing formats, such as Dolby Vision, HDR10, and HDR10 Plus. So what is the difference between them and which one should you look for when shopping for a new TV?
What is HDR?
High dynamic range content, often referred to simply as HDR, is a term that started in the world of digital photography and refers to adjusting the levels of contrast and brightness in different sections of an image. Along with the ability of modern televisions to provide higher luminance and more targeted backlight control, the addition of HDR is a new level of picture quality.
Compared to older standard dynamic range (SDR) content, HDR provides a more nuanced and realistic picture. Details are easier to see, colors are richer, and subtle gradations of color and lighting can be reproduced more accurately to the viewer. It’s a small but significant change that can dramatically improve image quality.
And with today’s televisions, which have more powerful video processors and often displays that can dim one part of the screen while brightening another, it’s the best way to take advantage of the full capabilities of a television. It’s even more pronounced on premium TVs, which feature discrete dimmable zones or even (in the case of OLED TVs) the ability to brighten or darken individual pixels.
But enjoying that HDR goodness requires both an HDR-capable TV and content that has the added brightness information that makes HDR work. This additional information, called metadata, provides information for a movie (or even individual movie scenes) that adapts changes in brightness to the content. When done right, the difference is marked.
The problem is, there are actually several different versions of HDR, each with different hardware requirements and data types, as well as technical strengths and weaknesses. Let’s take a look at the HDR versions you need to know about.
The basics: HDR10 and HLG
At the most basic level, there are two forms of HDR that are freely available, open standards that will work with any HDR-compatible TV or device.
The closest thing there is to an official HDR standard is called HDR10. Developed by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), manufacturers do not have to pay any license fees, so it is included in all televisions that meet the minimum specifications for basic HDR support.
HDR10 is probably the simplest format as well. It uses what is called “fixed” metadata, which means that it sets HDR optimization once for an entire show or movie. That’s great for the most part, as it offers a huge improvement over SDR content, but it’s somewhat limited for being static, especially if a movie has one or two scenes that are especially dark or bright. The fixed metadata cannot be adjusted to fit those individual scenes.
All HDR-capable TVs will support HDR10, and the same goes for HDR content, to some extent. Content that uses another format, like Dolby Vision or HDR10 + also has that basic HDR10 metadata, but you won’t necessarily get the full experience without a TV that supports those additional formats.
This standard is used by all major streaming services, including Netflix, Disney +, and Apple TV. If a streaming service has HDR content, it will work with any TV that has HDR10.
The other widely supported format is called Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG). Developed by a partnership of Japan’s NHK and the UK’s BBC, the standard is made specifically for over-the-air, cable and satellite broadcasts.
While you won’t find it on Blu-ray discs nor will it be offered by streaming services, HLG is an important format for adding HDR to streaming content and is part of the ATSC 3.0 NextGenTV standard that broadcasters are rolling out across the country. And, like HDR10, it’s a free standard that costs TV manufacturers nothing to add, which is why it’s widely offered on almost every HDR TV you can buy.
In practice, HLG does not create the same intensity and quality as HDR10 or Dolby Vision, but it is a step up from SDR content and will be a noticeable improvement when viewed live.
The Rivals: HDR10 + vs. Dolby Vision
Starting with the basic standards, there are two prominent (and notably proprietary) HDR formats that offer better performance and a richer viewing experience. Defended by Samsung and Dolby, respectively, they are rarely found together. Some streaming services can offer both, and some TVs can support both standards, but most HDR media will use one or the other, and most TVs will support one of these formats, but not both.
One of the two most important proprietary HDR formats is HDR10 +, developed by Samsung. Despite the obvious name similarity to the free-to-use HDR10, Samsung’s HDR10 + is a licensed format and differs slightly from that basic standard.
HDR10 + is based on HDR10, supports higher brightness (up to 4000 nits), and offers dynamic metadata that provides scene-by-scene or frame-by-frame color and brightness adjustment information.
With HDR10 + content compatible with TVs from Samsung, Hisense, Vizio and Panasonic, it’s easier than ever to enjoy content that uses the proprietary standard. (Roku and Google streaming devices also support HDR10 + content.) Streaming services offering HDR10 + include Amazon Prime Video, Google Play Movies, Hulu, Paramount +, Rakuten. It can also be found on some 4K Blu-ray discs (see a full list on Blu-ray.com), but the format is not offered uniformly across 4K discs.
HDR10 + adaptable
There is an additional version of HDR10 + available on select televisions, which adjusts the HDR effect to look better in different lighting conditions. For TVs that have an ambient light sensor, HDR10 + Adaptive will automatically optimize the brightness and contrast of HDR10 + to look good in any circumstance, be it in a dark home theater or a living room with sunlight streaming in. the Windows.
The second most important proprietary format is Dolby Vision. Developed by the same company that brought you Dolby Surround Sound and Dolby Atmos, this technical standard has become the leading licensed HDR format. The biggest appeal of Dolby Vision is that it offers an end-to-end solution for film production, allowing video directors and editors to set the HDR conditions that match their intent, rather than adding metadata about the footage. existing.
Unlike HDR10, Dolby Vision uses dynamic metadata, offering scene-by-scene and frame-by-frame adjustments to get the best images out of every shot. It also features the broadest standards, allowing for higher resolutions, higher maximum brightness, deeper black levels, and a color gamut with 12-bit color that exceeds Rec. 2020 color space.
Dolby Vision IQ
Dolby Vision IQ is offered on some of the more premium TVs and offers an updated version of the HDR format from Dolby Vision. It offers an automatic setting that modifies the brightness and contrast of the TV to better produce the same HDR effect in various lighting conditions, whether in a dark room or a bright room. However, this ability is limited to TVs that have a built-in ambient light sensor, so many TV buyers are not yet aware of it.
Other HDR formats
If you thought those were the only HDR formats available, well, they aren’t. With the combined sweepstakes of TV maker licensing fees and the opportunity to stamp their mark on a new standard for picture quality, other big names have tried to enter the HDR boom. The two largest are Technicolor and IMAX.
Advanced HDR by Technicolor it is actually a bundle of different formats, all designed for different use cases such as streaming, live streaming, and a dynamic metadata format similar to HDR10 + and Dolby Vision. Technicolor’s HDR format had brief support on LG TVs, but it’s not gone yet, and the streaming aspects of Technicolor’s HDR are formidable. It is included in the ATSC 3.0 specification that broadcasters are beginning to implement, and Technicolor is equally invested in its own HDR-enabled broadcast production process, which could see wide-scale adoption as these standards come into use.
Enhanced IMAX it’s more than just a color and brightness standard like most HDR formats. Instead, it also encompasses a broader set of audio and video mastering standards, such as a higher aspect ratio and immersive DTS audio (similar in some respects to Dolby Atmos). So far this standard has only been adopted by Sony on its premium TVs, but Disney Plus has recently added IMAX Enhanced content for several of its Marvel movies, so there is no reason to rule out this format just yet.
What does this mean for TV buyers?
With all these different standards for HDR, which ones are the best to choose from when buying a new set?
HDR10 / HLG: These basic standards are a no-brainer. All HDR-compatible TVs will support them, so you’ll have these standards covered with any TV sold in the last three years.
Dolby Vision o HDR10 +? In general, we prefer Dolby Vision over HDR10 +, as the standard is more compatible. But if you’re shopping for a Samsung TV (like the one that tops our best TVs page right now), there’s no Dolby Vision support available, and that’s fine too. Either option will offer a richer and more immersive movie viewing experience. (And some TVs even support both, like the Vizio M-Series Quantum MQ6.)
Skip the extras: HDR10 + Adaptive and Dolby Vision IQ are great additions to their respective formats, but adaptive brightness isn’t a must. If the TV you’re interested in offers one or the other, great, but I don’t think it’s a feature worth paying more for.
Don’t forget the rest of your configuration: If you want to enjoy Dolby Vision or HDR10 + on your TV, you will also need to find media (and where necessary a media player) that supports the same standard.
Regardless of which TV you want to buy or which media source you turn to to watch movies and shows, there is a wide variety of HDR content and more TVs than ever support some form of these visual enhancement formats. Knowing what you want and what you have is the first step to getting a better TV experience.