TV’s have so many acronyms these days it’s as if manufacturers are trying to be confusing – They’re not but the acronyms can be excessive. One of the most popular ones is HDR which stands for ‘High dynamic range’. While 4K is all about adding more pixels, HDR is about creating better, more dynamic-looking pixels by boosting contrast and brightness, and providing a wider range of colors than you can get with current 1080p content and displays.
What is HDR TV?
In layman’s terms, high dynamic range simply means there’s a greater difference in lumens (the unit of measure of brightness basically) between the darkest hue on the TV’s screen and the brightest. Here’s the secret no one is telling you though: Many less-expensive TVs simply can’t conjure up that difference. Poorly implemented HDR, typically caused by less-expensive TVs being outfitted with insufficient technology, can make HDR content less appealing, which is why it’s important to not get all googly-eyed over a product, normally a TV simply because it’s a HDR model.
What’s All the Buzz About?
With HDR content you’ll get a display with a wider range from black to white, so you can see more details in the very darkest and brightest areas of the picture. You’ll also see “highlights” in more details. These highlights momentary glints of brightness that appear on illuminated objects that make them look more real (or some might say cartoon-like).
Top-performing TVs with HDR are brighter than regular sets, but HDR isn’t just about increasing a TV’s overall brightness. Rather, it’s about being able to provide the necessary higher levels of peak brightness when the scene calls for it to make that scene more life-like and engaging.
White it’s not a prerequisite, HDR can give an extended range of colors greater intensity. Technically it’s not part of HDR, but most TVs with HDR also have wider color gamuts, meaning they can display a wider range of colors than regular sets. The combo of HDR and wider color gamuts brings you brighter, more dynamic-looking images with greater contrast lighting that appears more real.
The basic idea for HDR is nothing new. Where it refers to the difference between the softest and loudest sounds in a musical passage we’ve heard about it for years in still cameras. The difference is with TVs HDR is about improving the contrast between the darker and brighter parts of a scene.
How to Experience It
To savor an HDR experience, you need content, such as movies and TV shows, that have been mastered with HDR, as well as a display that can reproduce it. Much of the HDR-enabled content right now comes from streaming services such as Amazon and Netflix, or from new Ultra HD Blu-ray players and discs. The latter have a consistent 100 Mbps data rate, and provide the best 4K picture quality currently available. When you stream HDR, you do need a relatively fast broadband connection, of at least 18 to 20Mbps.
Different Types of HDR
There are two types of HDR technology: HDR10 and Dolby Vision. HDR10 has been adopted as a baseline standard, so it’s included in nearly every TV with HDR with the exception of some Vizio sets, and it’s the only format supported by Ultra HD Blu-ray players. Dolby Vision is positioned as an enhanced version of HDR10, meaning it’s your premium option here. TVs that support both formats, like many of those from LG, can accommodate different types of media meaning they can use Dolby Vision HDR when that content is available and HDR10 when the content is in that format.
The way TV manufacturers implement HDR matters – a lot. With HDR-10, HDR information is embedded in the material once, at the beginning of the program while with Dolby Vision, HDR information is embedded throughout the material, so that it can vary from one scene to the next.
Unfortunately, what constitutes the best possible picture is still up for debate which brings us to the next secret: HDR on the spec sheet doesn’t guarantee a good HDR experience on the TV. Generally good HDR experience remains expensive.
How to Get the Best Bang for your Buck
Some televisions have the hardware to really take full advantage of HDR but others can only read the HDR metadata, which is the information embedded in the digital signal that tells the TV how the image should be displayed. These sets, which are labeled “HDR-capable” or “HDR-compatible,” then try to accommodate the instructions as best they can, based on the TV’s capabilities. “HDR-capable” or “HDR-compatible,” generally don’t look much different than your standard non-HDR, or standard dynamic range sets. Thus read those TV details carefully before buying!
Right now the TV industry is promoting three features that didn’t exist a few years ago and these features are worth your time to stop and look for if you’re buying a TV. The features are: Ultra HD resolution (also referred to as 4K), wider color gamuts (WCG), and high dynamic range video (HDR). The best TVs will have these features at a reasonable price tag.
Bonus Tip: Because it’s simply confusing to tell if the TV you’re considering is able to deliver the full HDR experience, the UHD Alliance, an industry group, tackled the issue with a new “Ultra HD Premium” logo and certification program that’ll let you know you’re getting a TV that’s capable of a high level of performance. Sets that pass a certification process can use a new Ultra HD Premium logo on packaging, so you’ll know they can deliver top-level UHD (aka 4K) performance in various areas, including HDR.
The logo covers more than just HDR, but it’s a good place to get started. Note that the logo isn’t super heavily regulated so you’ll still, as always, want to check out industry expert and customer reviews.
The Bottom Line:
- Remember the ‘wow’ you experienced the first time you saw HDTV? You know, that time you had to take a step back or do a double look. Good HDR is that.
- To truly look good, the HDR TV needs HDR content. More and more content is HDR, thanks to the popularity of streaming services such as Netflix, and you can expect even more in the future.
- Buying the best HDR TV can be confusing to but in general stick with true ‘HDR’ models rather than HDR hyphenated anything.
- The better HDR quality the more the set will cost but you shouldn’t pay excessive amounts just for HDR – It’s simply not worth it.
- Look for the Ultra HD Premium logo to help ensure you’re getting a high quality HDR TV but don’t rely on only the logo. Check out industry expert reviews and other features the TV boasts.
- At the end of the day, the best HDR TV for you comes down to personal taste (how much does color vitality and darker darks really matter to you?) and what your budget looks like.