What’s HDR for TVs, and why must you care?



HDR can ship brighter highlights, as seen on the TV on the correct.

Geoffrey Morrison

HDR, or high-dynamic vary, is the present “must-have” TV function. TVs that help it may well often provide brighter highlights and a wider vary of colour element, for a punchier picture general.

HDR-compatible TVs at the moment are quite common. Practically all midrange and high-end TVs have HDR. On the similar time HDR TV exhibits and films have gotten extra frequent, each on streaming providers like Netflix and Extremely HD Blu-ray disc. 

Is that this new know-how definitely worth the hype? In two phrases: largely, sure. I’m fairly jaded on the subject of new TV tech, and I am actually enthusiastic about HDR. 

  • HDR requires each a TV that helps it and particular HDR content material.
  • HDR photos can obtain brighter highlights with extra distinction.
  • Many HDR TVs even have large colour gamut, leading to deeper, richer colours with content material that helps it.
  • HDR on a finances HDR TV and HDR on an costly HDR TV can look very totally different. With some finances TVs, HDR may even look worse than non-HDR.
  • Nearly all HDR content material at present can be out there in 4K decision.
  • There are quite a few HDR codecs, together with “generic” HDR (aka HDR10), Dolby Imaginative and prescient, HDR10+ and extra.

What’s high-dynamic vary?

The 2 most essential components in how a TV appears are distinction ratio, or how shiny and darkish the TV can get, and colour accuracy, which is mainly how intently colours on the display resemble actual life (or no matter palette the director intends). This is not simply my opinion, but additionally that of practically each different TV reviewer, individuals who have participated in multi-TV face-offs at shops and for web sites/magazines, and trade consultants just like the Imaging Science Basis.

In the event you put two TVs aspect by aspect, one with a greater distinction ratio and extra correct colour, and the opposite with only a larger decision (extra pixels ($280 at Amazon)), the one with larger distinction ratio can be picked by just about each viewer. It can look extra pure, “pop” extra and simply appear extra “actual,” regardless of having decrease decision. 

HDR expands the vary of each distinction and colour considerably. Vivid components of the picture can get a lot brighter, so the picture appears to have extra “depth.” Colours get expanded to indicate extra shiny blues, greens, reds and all the things in between.

Vast colour gamut (WCG) is alongside for the trip with HDR, and that brings much more colours to the desk. Colours that, to date, had been inconceivable to breed on any tv. The reds of a fireplace truck, the deep violet of an eggplant, even the inexperienced of many avenue indicators. You might have by no means observed earlier than that these weren’t precisely how they seemed in actual life, however you certain will now. WCG will carry these colours and tens of millions extra to your eyeballs.

For a bunch of background data on how colour works on TVs, take a look at Extremely HD 4K TV colour, half I: Purple, inexperienced, blue and past, and Extremely HD 4K TV colour, half II: The (close to) future.


Dolby Imaginative and prescient is one in all a handful of HDR codecs.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Picture HDR is not TV HDR

One of the vital essential issues to find out about HDR TVs is that TV HDR shouldn’t be the identical as photograph HDR. Each article I’ve written about HDR has feedback from individuals complaining concerning the hyper-realistic look frequent with HDR images. These are two very various things that, sadly and confusingly, simply occur to share the identical title. Like soccer and soccer.

I wrote a whole article concerning the distinction, however the primary takeaway is that HDR for TVs shouldn’t be a picture-degrading gimmick (akin to the cleaning soap opera impact). It’s undoubtedly not that.

TV HDR: Increasing the TV’s distinction ratio and colour palette to supply a extra reasonable, pure picture than what’s doable with at present’s HDTVs.

Picture HDR: Combining a number of photos with totally different exposures to create a single picture that mimics a larger dynamic vary.


Picture HDR: Taking two or extra photos (left and heart) and mixing them to indicate some features of each (proper).

Geoffrey Morrison

HDR for TVs goals to indicate you a extra reasonable picture, one with extra distinction, brightness and colour than earlier than.

An HDR photograph is not “high-dynamic vary” on this sense. The picture does not have the dynamic vary doable in true HDR. It is nonetheless a regular dynamic vary picture, it simply has some more information in it as a result of extra exposures.

A TV HDR picture will not look totally different the best way a photograph HDR picture does. It merely appears higher.

I hate to belabor the purpose, however as a result of two processes sharing the identical title, this understanding is admittedly the largest hurdle HDR faces. These with an open thoughts may search out HDR to seek out out what it’s, and be blown away by a demo — and the demos are superb. These satisfied HDR is not value their time will not ever trouble to see the demo and can poison the properly (so to talk).


On this colour gamut graph, the smallest triangle (circles at corners) is commonplace SDR colour. The following two largest characterize P3 and Rec 2020 colour, each a part of HDR.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET/Sakurambo

How does it work?

There are two components of the HDR system: the TV and the supply.

The primary half, the TV, is definitely the simpler half. To be HDR-compatible, the TV ought to be capable of produce extra gentle than a traditional TV in sure areas of the picture. That is mainly similar to native dimming, however to an excellent larger extent.

Tied in with HDR is large colour gamut, or WCG. For years, TVs have been able to a larger vary of colours than what’s doable in Blu-ray or downloads/streaming. The issue is, you do not really need the TV simply creating these colours willy-nilly. It is best left to the director to determine how they need the colours of their film or TV present to look, not a TV whose colour increasing course of may need been designed in just a few days 6,00zero miles from Hollywood. Extra on this in a second.

After all, making TVs brighter and extra colourful prices cash, and a few HDR TVs will ship higher image high quality than others. Simply because a TV is HDR-compatible does not essentially imply it may outperform non-HDR TVs. The one factor the HDR label actually means is that the TV will be capable of show HDR films and TV exhibits. It has nothing to do with how properly it may well present these photos.

The content material is the arduous half. To really look good, an HDR TV wants HDR content material. Happily, the quantity of HDR content material is rising quick. The foremost 4K streaming providers like Netflix and Amazon each have HDR content material. As do many others.

One other supply of HDR is bodily discs. Extremely HD Blu-ray is the newest bodily disc format. You may want a brand new 4K BD participant to play these discs, however your present Blu-ray and DVDs will play on the brand new gamers. Most 4K Blu-ray discs have HDR as properly.

HDR content material (the important thing)

When a film or TV present is created, the director and cinematographer work with a colorist to provide this system the correct look. Take the muted, chilly colour tones of Winterfell in Recreation of Thrones versus the richness and heat in King’s Touchdown. In the event you’ve been residing in a cave with out HBO or the Web, here is what I imply:



It is solely doable that in the event you had been on set for these two scenes, they might have seemed the identical, color-wise. Put up-production tweaking can imbue a scene with a sure aesthetic and feeling, simply with colour.

When making films, the staff is ready to use the large palette of the Digital Cinema P3 colour area to create attractive teals, oranges and violets.

However then comes time to make these films work on TV. To be able to do this, that staff basically “dumbs down” the picture, eradicating dynamic vary and limiting colour. They get it to look the best way they need, given the confines of the HDTV system, and that restricted model is what you get on Blu-ray or a obtain.


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In case your TV is ready to the Film or Cinema mode, that is roughly what you may get at house. In the event you’re within the Vivid or Dynamic mode, the TV will then exaggerate the colours as it sees match. It is creating one thing that is not there, as a result of on the mastering stage, the director and her staff needed to take that every one out. Is the “Vivid” model near what they noticed or what was within the theater? Uncertain, and there isn’t any approach to know since it is your TV’s creation.

Due to the extra storage and transmission capacities of 4K BD and streaming video from Amazon, Netflix and others, extra information, known as metadata, may be added to the sign. It tells HDR/WCG TVs precisely how they need to look, precisely what deeper colours to indicate, and precisely how shiny a given spotlight, reflection, star, solar, explosion or no matter must be. This can be a large development in how we’re in a position to see photos on TVs.

One instance of how that is down is Technicolor’s Clever Tone Mapping device for content material creators. It is design to let creators extra simply (as in, extra affordably) create HDR content material. I’ve seen it in motion, and the outcomes are very promising. This can be a good factor, because it means it isn’t labor intensive to create HDR variations of flicks and exhibits. If it took tons of time, and time equals cash, then we might by no means get any HDR content material. This is only one instance of the method.

What about cables and connectors?

You will not want new cables for HDR… most likely. Even in the event you do want new cables, they’re very cheap. Present Excessive-Velocity HDMI cables can carry HDR. Your supply machine (a 4K Blu-Ray participant or media streamer, say) and the TV have to be each be HDR-compatible, no matter what cables you employ. In the event you use a receiver, that too have to be HDR-compatible, to have the ability to move the alerts from the supply to the TV. 

In the event you’ve purchased your gear in the previous few years, it is most likely HDR-compatible. In the event you’re undecided, put the mannequin quantity into Google with “HDR” after it and see what comes up. 

The following era of HDMI connection known as 2.1, and it provides plenty of new options, together with some enhancements to how HDR is dealt with. It is one thing to remember in your subsequent buy, however it does not make your present gear out of date and can largely be backward appropriate (aside from the brand new options). 

Backside line

Most consultants I’ve spoken steadily say one thing alongside the traces of “Extra pixels are cool, however higher pixels can be superb.” Which is to say 4K and 8K resolutions are wonderful, however HDR and WCG are way more attention-grabbing. What we have seen, now that we have had just a few generations of HDR TVs to type out the bugs, is a normal enchancment in general picture high quality, although maybe not fairly to the extent many people (myself included) initially anticipated. That stated, a well-performing HDR TV, exhibiting HDR content material, will look higher than the TVs from just some years in the past. In some circumstances they’re considerably brighter and with a a lot wider vary of colours, which is kind of a sight to see. Take a look at our opinions for which is the perfect TV proper now.

In the event you’re interested by how HDR works, take a look at the aptly named How HDR works.

Notice: This text was initially revealed in 2015 however was up to date in 2019 with present data and hyperlinks.  

Received a query for Geoff? First, take a look at all the opposite articles he is written on subjects like why all HDMI cables are the identical, TV resolutions defined, LED LCD vs. OLED and extra.

Nonetheless have a query? Tweet at him @TechWriterGeoff, then take a look at his journey images on Instagram. He additionally thinks it’s best to take a look at his best-selling sci-fi novel and its sequel. 


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