One of the major decisions to make when purchase a TV, especially an LCD TV is based on HDR. So what is HDR, how will you use it and do you need it on your TV?
Major points to understand HDR
Major points to understand HDR
- HDR (High Dynamic Range) in the TV tech world is a means to add data to a video source which contains information allowing a TV to display a wider range of colours and more striking peak brightness. The result is increased contrast, depth and impact to picture quality It arguably is a bigger improvement in picture quality than UHD itself, and unlike UHD resolution, can be benefited from regardless of how close you sit from the TV.
- HDR, despite what it may seem is not a new feature that is available on newer TVs which you can turn on and off with the remote control. Buying a TV that has HDR on the box does not mean that TV is going to be able to polish everything you throw at it and make it "HDR quality". In order for HDR to be used you need to use content that includes that information. If you do not use content with HDR data added then you are watching SDR. (Standard Dynamic Range).
HDR is not the same as HD (High Definition) and SDR is not the same as SD (Standard Definition)
- HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and is a separate technology from HD (High Definition).
- SDR stands for Standard Dynamic Range and is a separate technology from SD (Standard Definition)
- Both HD and SD, or even UHD are simply the resolution (the amount of pixels) and play no part it improved contrast, nor are they linked to HDR or SDR.
- As it happens, most HDR content is available in UHD, whilst most non-UHD content is SDR.
So what content is still mainly only SDR?
- HD Blu-Rays
- Catch up TV
- Regular broadcast TV, including Sky Q/Virgin/BT
The difference between cheaper and more expensive LCD TVs is now almost exclusively how they reproduce HDR.
Years back the difference between buying a cheap LCD TV and a more expensive model was almost exclusively in overall picture quality. That is not the case now. Now if you spend more money on an LCD TV you are almost exclusively paying extra money for HDR performance, you are not paying extra for better picture quality with every source like you used to.
Mid range, and in many cases low range TVs can be 90% as good as more expensive models at displaying material that isn't in HDR yet.
So if you are thinking about upgrading your TV, consider keeping what you have, or buying a cheaper TV rather than a more expensive one until you know you'll use more HDR content!
HDR makes huge demands on TVs.
Every TV now can accept HDR information, but how the TV displays it depends heavily on the hardware that is equipped on the TV. Do not assume that because a TV supports HDR that automatically when you use HDR the picture will improve. In the case of cheaper TVs, using HDR can actually result in adverse effects and worse picture quality than playing the SDR version of the same video!
To display HDR to an acceptable level on an LCD TV, you need a higher end TV. Cheaper LCD TVs just won't cut it!With LCD TVs things like high peak brightness, a wider range of colour reproduction and local dimming are required to deliver HDR video to a high standard. If you lack high peak brightness, you don't receive the striking bright highlights that HDR is famous for. If you lack a wide range of colour reproduction you won't see an improvement with lush colour available at all stages of brightness and if you don't have good local dimming on the TV, you won't be able to separate those bright bits of the picture from the dark ones, resulting in very poor screen uniformity and poor light control. In the HDR world, these are the 3 main factors you need to display HDR to an acceptable level. If you lack these in a TV, then you can get problems displaying HDR content such as a darkened image or crushed highlights making the picture look washed out. This is very common with HDR on cheaper TVs...or TVs that do not make the "cut" with HDR. Contrary to what people may think, the panel bit depth does not contribute to HDR picture quality at all compared to the aforementioned demands. Do not think about panel bit depth when shopping for a capable HDR TV.
HDR10+ & Dolby Vision HDR
Being able to accept both HDR formats can be important to displaying HDR too, but don't get carried away if you find a cheaper TV that is able to accept both these formats.
Having HDR10+ and Dolby Vision HDR supported by the TV can be beneficial in the sense the TV will manage and be able to display HDR without as many problems, but it still doesn't take away if the TV has poor HDR hardware to begin with, it will not be able to deliver HDR as intended. In short, having a TV that accepts these two dynamic HDR formats is a nice-to-have, but not really worth paying for in most circumstances. Instead of setting your eyes on TVs that support all HDR formats, instead look at raising your budget to afford a TV with capable HDR hardware instead. You are better off not supporting either of these formats and having a TV that is more capable with HDR than you are supporting both and having a TV that isn't capable with HDR.
HDR10 - The basic, non dynamic layer of HDR meta-data. This data is added to a source and stays the same throughout the entire duration of the video or game. This is the only HDR format used in computer games and in many cases, lots of HDR video too. HDR10 is always included as a "backup" layer in case your TV doesn't support HDR10+ or Dolby Vision, so if you find a title with dynamic HDR that your TV does not support, do not worry, HDR will still work. The downside to HDR10 is that it will cause problems playing back on TVs that do not include good HDR format support. Every TV now supports this HDR format.
HDR10+ - The dynamic version of HDR10, open source so anyone can use it and able to change brightness levels according to each frame. This results in a more refined HDR experience. Cheaper TVs supporting this format, when playing back content that includes this format can display HDR with less issues.
Dolby Vision HDR - A royalty based HDR format, works the same way as HDR10+ but companies have to pay Dolby to master titles with this information, it may cost money to license TVs and content with this format, but at the moment its more widely used than HDR10+.
HLG HDR - This is the broadcast HDR format used by the BBC amongst others in their Nature HDR/Sport trials. Every TV now supports this HDR format.
Technicolor HDR - There's currently no content available in this format, but may be in the future. Currently only supported by higher end LG TVs.
Sources that support HDR and the Content Available In HDR
How much importance you place on HDR will depend on how often you intend to use content that includes the HDR metadata. It also depends how much you care about not having problems displaying HDR content on the TV. If you don't intend to use much HDR, but when you do, you don't want issues. You need to spend more money on a more capable HDR TV. If you watch HDR lots, you need to spend more money on a capable HDR TV. If yu don't use HDR at all and don't care how it looks if you do use it, you don't need to spend more on a capable HDR TV.
Remember, HDR is not something you simply turn on and off..and in the case of Netflix, if you use the UHD plan you can't avoid using it, even if the TV can't display it without problems!
- Netflix - Uses exclusively Dolby Vision HDR on certain titles. See a list here: List of 4k/HDR/Atmos Movies & TV Shows on Netflix – HD Report note that if a show is available in UHD, its not necessarily HDR.
- Amazon - Uses mainly HDR10+ HDR on certain titles, they have also started to introduce certain HDR shows, see: Everything on Amazon Prime Video in HDR10+, Dolby Vision, and/or Dolby Atmos | High-Def Digest - again, make a note that not all shows available in UHD include HDR data.
- Apple TV - Mostly Dolby Vision HDR content, but some shows are only vanilla HDR10+ List of 4k, HDR, & Dolby Atmos Movies on Apple TV – HD Report
- UHD Blu-Rays - Most titles now support Dolby Vision HDR, with many still being HDR10 and some being HDR10+. More rarely there are some movies supporting both, see: List of 4k Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc Titles – HD Report for a list of movies, but you'll have to google the specific movie to find out exactly which format it accepts. Different production companies back different formats.
- Other streaming servives and misc HDR use - There are sometimes trials, or other streaming services that offer HDR data, in the USA there are a few streaming services apart from the ones listed where you can purchase HDR content and there can also be broadcast trials offering HDR content such as the last Football World Cup. Broadcast HDR will almost exclusively use HLG HDR so every TV supports that now.
- HDR games consoles, see below.
HDR games on both HDR consoles and PCs currently only support the HDR10 static format, but almost every newly console released game is now available in HDR.
Since there's no current dynamic meta data support in games, this means gaming with HDR enabled on the console can be very troublesome on cheaper TVs without ample HDR hardware. Unless the game has a way in its settings to reduce the peak light output level of brightness, you may find you have to disable HDR on the console to enjoy some games on cheaper TVs without problems.
In the future its possible for games to support Dolby Vision and HDR10+ formats, it will be at that point where HDR gaming will be more viable on cheaper TV hardware.
Q. What are the cheapest TVs that can display HDR to the highest standard?
A. You can expect to pay near to £1000 for a capable HDR TV. At the moment starting models would be the Samsung Q70R, Sony XG9005, XG9505, LG B9 or Philips OLED754.
Q. What are the smallest, capable HDR TVs?
A. The Sony 49XG9005 and Samsung 49Q70R are the smallest TVs that can display HDR to a decent standard.
Q. What about bit depth, or panel bit depth?
A. Bit depth is not really important for HDR. There are more important factors when choosing a TV than its bit depth. Even the UHD premium certification for HDR TVs dictates that TVs only have to accept a 10 bit signal, not display it. Remember, more bits does not mean more colours, but only a smoother transition from one colour to the next. Not only that, but there are TVs with 8 bit panels that have a smoother transition from one to the next than 10 bit ones! Forget about panel bit depth when it comes to HDR.