Many streaming services and devices boast the ability to show video in HDR (High Dynamic Range.) But what does HDR do exactly? Today, I’m going to explain everything you need to know about the HDR video standard.
Difference Between 4K UHD and HDR
Before we get into the HDR details, I want to explain the difference between 4K UHD and HDR. I briefly covered this in my article on the latest Roku devices, but it’s worth mentioning again. 4K video is a standard that dictates the number of horizontal pixels that are on the screen. 4K and 8K UHD TVs will have roughly 4000 and 8000 horizontal pixels respectively on the screen. Likewise, 720p and 1080p high definition TVs have 720 and 1080 horizontal pixels on the screen.
High Dynamic Range or HDR, is a standard that governs the quality of those pixels. Therefore, if you want a state-of-the-art TV, you will want a TV with 4K UHD and HDR. You could pay extra and get an 8K UHD resolution, but I think that’s a bit overkill.
Now you are probably wondering what effect HDR pixels have over picture quality. Well, it’s all about the color and the contrast.
HDR Means Better Color and Contrast
Contrary to what many consumers think, picture resolution isn’t a TV’s most important quality feature. How light or dark the TV displays (contrast ratio) and the accuracy of the colors play a much more critical role in how people judge an image’s quality.
Time and time again, people will judge a TV with higher contrast ratios and color accuracy as having higher picture quality, even against a higher resolution TV. The HDR standard increases the pixel’s range of both color and contrast. The increased range provides the ability to display the brighter parts of an image even brighter and the darker parts even darker, providing more depth to the image.
Also, the HDR standard includes another standard called the Wide Color Gamut (WCG). WGC allows each pixel to show more reds, blues, and greens, creating a more life-like video. An HD TV without HDR can show a little over 16.7 million colors (256 reds X 256 blues X 256 greens.) A TV with the HDR standard can display over 1 billion colors.
The additional colors and contrast allow the TV to make the screen objects appear closer to how they appear in real life. A good example is the color of street signs on TV. The red in a stop sign on TV never “pops” as it does in real life. HDR creates a more life-like video, which translates to better picture quality.
HDR10 Vs. Dolby Vision HDR
You didn’t think this would be as simple as just one HDR format, did you? Not to worry, one format encompasses the other, making this a little easier to sort out. HDR10 is an open-source HDR format that is based on 10-bit color depth. This depth provides 1024 reds, 1024 blues, and 1024 greens combining for over 1 billion colors.
Dolby Vision HDR is a proprietary format that doubles the contrast ratio of HDR and uses 12-bit color. This provides 4096 possibilities for each red, blue, and green, which adds up to over 68 billion colors.
Ultimately, a Dolby Vision HDR TV will have better potential picture quality than an HDR10 TV. However, it seems content producers are adopting the HDR10 format. The picture will only be as good as the content format allows. Dolby Vision HDR can display the HDR10 format, so there is no harm in buying a Dolby Vision HDR TV. However, you may not see a benefit to picture quality until more content adopts the Dolby Vision HDR standard.
Also be aware, that Dolby Vision also has the capability of Dolby Vision IQ. This feature can adjust the picture quality based on the light in the room. This feature is only enabled on certain Smart TVs.
HDR Streaming Devices and Content
If you want to take advantage of HDR’s benefits, not only will you need an HDR TV, but you will also need HDR content and a streaming device that supports HDR.
Streaming Device Support for HDR
Below is a list of popular streaming devices that support HDR.
- Roku Ultra – Supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision
- Roku Streaming Stick+ – Supports HDR10
- Roku Premiere – Supports HDR10
- Chromecast with Google TV – Supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision
- Apple TV 4K – Supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision
- Amazon Fire TV Cube – Supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision
- Amazon Fire Stick 4K – Supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision
- Fire Stick and Fire Stick Lite – Support HDR10
- Nvidia Shield – Supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision
Streaming Service Support for HDR
Below are the streaming services that support HDR and the standards they support. While these services support HDR video, the content also had to support the format. The title description pages in these services will indicate whether they support HDR or Dolby Vision.
Netflix – Supports both HDR10 and Dolby Vision Standards
Disney Plus – Supports both HDR10 and Dolby Vision Standards
Amazon Prime – Supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision. However, Dolby Vision titles are scarce.
Vudu – Supports both HDR10 and Dolby Vision Standards
No live streaming service currently supports HDR, except for FuboTV. They are currently beta testing live events in 4K/HDR. Surprisingly absent from the list of streaming services supported HDR is HBO, Max, and Hulu. While Hulu streaming library supports 4K video, it doesn’t support any HDR standards
Which HDR is Right for You
My recommendation is to save a bit of money and opt for HDR10. There isn’t a lot of Dolby Vision HDR content out there. That said, if you can find an affordable Dolby Vision HDR TV, I’d buy that over a similarly priced HDR10 TV. Just remember, if you opt for Dolby Vision, remember to get yourself a streaming device that supports that standard.