Every few years, manufacturers come up with a whole bunch of new tech, most of which has a confusing acronym. UHD and 4K. HDCP. OLED. And those are just the first few that come to mind. The latest? HDR. But what is it and why it will make your video pictures look better than ever?
What does HDR mean?
‘HDR’ stands for High Dynamic Range, and it is the next big thing in the video world, primarily when it comes to the latest TVs. The term originates in photography, and refers to a technique that heightens a picture’s dynamic range – the contrast between the brightest whites and the darkest blacks.
What’s so good about HDR?
The first reason is your TV’s limited dynamic range, its inability to illustrate the finest differences in brightness. That means you miss out on all the nuances that really ought to be there.
The idea is to let you see more of what is recorded. You’ll get more details in the shadows and highlights. Sunlight will gleam properly off windows. Colours will be richer and more lifelike, with more delicate gradations and greater shifts in tone. Basically, your picture will look more natural and more real.
HDR and 4K Ultra HD
HDR should not be confused with the other big TV buzzword of the moment: UHD (Ultra High Definition, also known as 4K). Both HDR and UHD are meant to improve your viewing experience, but they are hugely different technologies with almost no overlap.
It’s a matter of quantity and quality: UHD is all about bumping up the pixel count, while HDR wants to make the pixels you have more accurate, regardless of resolution. Whether you’ve got a 32 in unit in the bedroom or a 75 in monster in the living room, HDR could make a visible difference.
Of course, while UHD and HDR are different technologies, they can still work together. All the early HDR-compatible TVs are also 4K Ultra HD TVs.
How can you watch HDR?
First of all, you’ll have to get a new display device. Whether you’re after a television, a projector, a mobile phone or tablet, it needs to be HDR-compatible.
LG, Samsung, Sony and Panasonic all have their own take on ‘HDR-compatible’ TVs, many of which are already in your local shop. The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is the first
HDR-compatible mobile phone.
The next step is to get something to play it on. If your HDR film happens to be on a disc, i.e. an Ultra-HD Bu-ray, you’re going to need an Ultra HD Blu-ray player to play it on. Currently, the Panasonic DMP-UB900 and Samsung UBD-K8500 are the only two dedicated players on the market, but Microsoft’s recently announced Xbox One S games console also doubles as a 4K Blu-ray player and includes HDR support too.
What about mobile HDR?
With the launch of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, we now have HDR smartphones. Will mobile HDR be worth it on a screen the size of the phone? That remains to be seen.
Nevertheless, Samsung and Amazon have announced a partnership to allow HDR video streaming on the Note 7, just download the Amazon Video app to get started.
What HDR content is available?
HDR material means content that is filmed or mastered in HDR – playing ordinary footage on an HDR TV alone won’t cut it. Amazon Prime Instant Video was the first service to stream ‘HDR’ footage, but Netflix has just launched its first HDR series in the shape of Marco Polo and promised more than 150 hours of 4K HDR content by the end of 2016.
The future of HDR
There’s no denying HDR is a very attractive idea and when we’ve seen it in action, the results on the whole have been highly impressive.
HDR content will continue to hit the mainstream via streaming services and the fledgling Ultra HD Blu-ray disc format, which combines Ultra HD with HDR on one disc. For many enthusiasts, this could be the complete AV package. And now it’s coming to mobile devices too.
Combining 4K and HDR on a TV means a super-sharp, super-dynamic picture – and from our experience it’s a clear step-up from the HD that most of us have come to know and love.
2016 looks set to be the year that HDR becomes a reality for more consumers. We, finally, have the displays, the sources and the content to complete the HDR chain – the future of video looks very bright indeed…
(With input from What Hi Fi)