HDR: what is it and what should you look for?

If you don’t know much about the tech, HDR can seem like an unnecessary mess, abstractly promising “better picture quality,” much like 3D TVs promising to be immersive. HDR is actually an amazing technology that can accomplish visually spectacular things, but it can also be a lot more complicated than it needs to be. There are a number of confusing certifications for HDR and many other products that simply list HDR as a feature without any additional easily accessible information.

We’re here to tell you what you need to know about HDR, not only to understand cool technology, but so that you can make an informed purchase of products that don’t make it easy to understand what HDR support really means.

What is HDR?

HDR, or high dynamic range, is probably the most important development in video quality since the switch from SD to HD. The technology allows both video and still images to have much higher brightness, contrast and color accuracy. When watching HDR content, what catches the eye is the internal contrast: the ratios of white to black on the screen. This is because the darker parts of an image will appear incredibly dark, while the lightest areas will appear brightly lit.

As you might expect, HDR is largely a function of brightness, contrast, and color depth, though the technology gets complicated with dimming areas and OLED panels.

HDR specs, like HDR10, HDR10 +, or Dolby Vision, don’t mean much on their own, largely corresponding to maximum brightness, not specifying minimum barriers for a quality experience, and aren’t always provided.

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HDR 10 vs. HDR 10+ vs. Dolby Vision

Right now, the main version of HDR available on most TVs is called HDR 10, with the 10 referring to the 10 bits of color that HDR is capable of displaying. But just like the format wars that have raged since the days of VHS vs. Betamax or Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD, this time around there are competing technologies that are doing all they can to make your money’s worth. entertainment.

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The main competitor right now is Dolby Vision, which offers many of the same benefits as HDR 10, while also including the added bonus of dynamic scene-by-scene color shaping. While the two technologies are inherently the same (providing better contrast between light and dark while enhancing color), Dolby Vision allows filmmakers and colorists in the film industry to change the level of HDR applied to each scene from dynamically, rather than a single consistent color specification. throughout the show or movie.

Another important distinction is that while sets equipped with Dolby Vision are backward compatible with HDR 10 (and therefore are able to display both types of content), HDR 10 sets can only handle HDR 10.

That said, a new open standard is currently in the works called HDR 10+, which brings all of the same benefits you get with Dolby Vision (dynamic scene coloring) while being a cheaper technology for TV manufacturers to add to their. sets.

How do you see HDR?

Right now, the two main ways to watch HDR-compatible content are either through a 4K UHD Blu-Ray player (all 4K Blu-Rays must have it enabled by default) or through streaming services like Netflix. , Amazon and Vudu on a compatible device.

HDR-4k UHD-blu-ray TVHDR-4k UHD-blu-ray TV

Netflix has found itself embroiled in the midst of the format war before, with popular shows like Glow (a very colorful title in its own right) only working with Dolby Vision sets, while other Netflix originals do. displayed only in HDR 10.

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What to look for in HDR support

When examining a monitor or TV, many products will simply present themselves as supporting HDR, or maybe mention HDR10, but you will need to do a bit of digging to understand how HDR works on a specific screen.

An Amazon search for “hdr monitor” will appear BenQ Monitor Line, and scrolling down to look at the comparison table is confusing: One monitor supports HDRi, one supports HDR10, and one supports DisplayHDR 400. What do these specs mean? In short, not much.

Amazon Benq HdrAmazon Benq Hdr

A trip to the BenQ website shows only the following:

  • the monitor with HDRi support has a maximum brightness of 350 nits
  • the monitor with HDR10 support has a maximum brightness of 300 nits with poorer dynamic contrast
  • and the monitor with DisplayHDR 400 has a maximum brightness of 400 nits with the same dynamic contrast as the HDRi monitor.

As you can see, it doesn’t really matter which HDR specification a manufacturer decides their product supports, and monitors with what appears to be a higher HDR specification don’t actually deliver much. better HDR performance.

A good rule of thumb for determining whether a display will give you a good HDR experience is brightness: look for 1000 nits as the maximum brightness.

With 1000 nits, your screen can get bright enough to really take advantage of the HDR effect, simulating deep, dark blacks and amazingly bright whites. The easiest way to reduce angles with an HDR display is to limit the maximum panel brightness, which is why panels that manage to reach 1000 nits often come with the proper specs, like HDR10 + or Dolby Vision.

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Once you’ve taken care of your HDR needs, be sure to turn on the effect if you’re on a computer!

Are you disappointed with the way HDR is marketed? Have you been confused by displays promising HDR but not delivering noticeable improvements? Let us know in the comments below!

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Ruben Circelli
Ruben Circelli

Ruben is a writer at Make Tech Easier. Ruben holds a BA in English from the University of Massachusetts Boston, where he graduated with honors and highest honors. Ruben is, in fact, a pretty normal guy, even though his daily job is to write about tech!

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