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What is HDR TV and why you should care: High dynamic range explained
HDR is set to make a huge difference to all our TV- and movie-watching habits over this year or so; here's is what you need to know
The answer is rather simple. Forget about the world of cameras and smartphones for a moment, where HDR is all about expanding on the limited dynamic range the camera’s sensor is capable of capturing. HDR for TVs is VERY different: all it means, in fact, is that it’s capable of producing pictures with a far greater range of brightness and more colours.
Essentially, HDR gives you a greater contrast ratio and a richer colour palette – both important factors in creating image quality that wows. On an HDR TV versus a regular TV, colours will look more vibrant, almost seeming to leap out of the screen. In fact, as far as colour reproduction goes, HDR uses the same DCI colour space as digital cinema projectors, rather than the outdated rec.709 colour space that applies to the 1080p standard, and the larger luminance range this brings with it opens up a much wider colour palette.
Arguably, these factors are more important than the increased resolution that 4K brings with it; after all, even if you buy a 55in TV, you’ll need to sit around 2.5m away from it to tell the difference between it and 1080p. Whenever someone pops by to ask if it’s worth upgrading to 4K, the answer is always yes, but only if you a) buy a bigger set and b) sit closer to it.
Otherwise, things like contrast, colour gamut and accuracy are far more important for your enjoyment – and that’s exactly what HDR delivers.
HDR: What you need to know
Of course, you’re not guaranteed to get great picture quality just because your TV is HDR capable. Every model has different specifications and capabilities, with different levels of brightness and colour reproduction capability. And you’ll also need HDR content, otherwise your shiny new HDR-equipped TV won’t perform to its full capabilities.
HDR10 vs Dolby Vision vs HLG: What’s the difference?
Of course, it doesn’t matter what a standard dictates if your TV can’t match it. This is why we have certification schemes such as UHD Premium, which guarantee a minimum level of specification. In order to print the UHD Premium logo on the box, for example, a TV must be able to produce peak brightness levels of 1,000nits and a maximum black luminance of 0.05 (or 540nit peak brightness with a maximum 0.0005nits black luminance), support 10-bit colour depth and be able to reproduce more than 90% of the DCI P3 colour gamut.
In my experience, however, even TVs capable of reproducing upwards of 500 nits can deliver a convincing HDR image, as long as it has a 10-bit panel, and decent colour accuracy and coverage. Other aspects such as local dimming can help out here, so even sets without the UHD Premium badge can look great with HDR content.
HDR for TVs: Yes, you should care
It’s a bit of a moot point, given that HDR (at least HDR10) support is built into most TVs today, but if you were wavering on whether to upgrade to a 4K TV because, well, you’re not convinced as to the benefit of those extra pixels, then know this: HDR IS the reason you should make the change.
It makes a far bigger difference to the way movies and TV shows look and, now that consoles like the Xbox One X and the Sony PS4 Pro are getting in on the act, your games will look better than ever as well.