HDR TV: What is it? How can you get it?


High Dynamic Range (HDR) is the current Next Big Thing in the TV world, with manufacturers and content creators claiming noticeable leaps in picture performance.

Every few years, manufacturers come up with a whole range of new, cutting-edge technologies, most of which have acronyms guaranteed to give your keyboard’s caps lock key quite some workout.

UHD and 4K. HDCP. OLED. And the latest one, HDR, is arguably the most important, and the most confusing, buzzword in the TV world right now.

You’ve probably heard of HDR and its variants by now, but it’s a complicated subject, especially with manufacturers and content creators developing and implementing different varieties of HDR – which can be difficult to keep track of.

But what is it exactly, and how will it make your video pictures look better than ever? Read on for all you need to know about HDR video technology on 4K TVs, games consoles, mobile phones and more.

4K, Ultra HD, 4K Ultra HD – call it what you want, the ‘four times HD’ TV technology is here to stay.

The TV market is awash with 4K models; Ultra HD Blu-ray players (and discs) are rising in number and dropping in price, and we now have 4K broadcasts and on-demand Ultra HD content (of sorts) courtesy of BT, Sky and more recently, Virgin. Of course, you can also stream 4K content from Amazon, Netflix, iTunes, YouTube and more.

So, what’s 4K TV all about?

On this page, we’ll run through the basics of ultra high-definition video, and get you up-to-date with the latest 4K news and round-up all the available content.


HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, and is currently the Big Thing in the TV world. 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. The theory is that the higher the dynamic range, the closer a picture gets to real life. HDR for televisions is basically the same idea.

The theory is: the higher the dynamic range, the closer a photograph gets to real life. HDR for televisions is basically the same idea.

Look at the sky. The clouds may be white (or grey, or currently non-existent in the UK) but there should be definite layers. Around the clouds, you should be able to pick out varying degrees of brightness.

Now look at clouds on your TV. They tend to look flat by comparison, with white levels crushed and layers virtually indistinguishable. There are several reasons for this.

An HDR TV is all about contrast and colour performance.

And a TV must be able to deliver a certain level of brightness and black level to support HDR. The most readily available spec comes courtesy of the Ultra HD Premium badge, which requires that a TV delivers 4K resolution (3840 x 2160), 10-bit colour depth, BT.2020 colour space representation and, naturally, support for HDR video. This badge, therefore, claims to ensure the ‘ultimate 4K performance’.

The first reason is your TV’s limited dynamic range, or its inability to illustrate the finest differences in brightness. This means you miss out on all the nuance that ought to be there.

After all, your eyes can differentiate a lot more information than your TV feeds you. Then there’s all the processing that takes place along the chain after something is filmed.

It dramatically reduces the amount of information transferred in order to match the technical limits imposed by your TV.

Lately, though, TVs have become much more capable. And by that, we mean bright. A normal TV puts out around 100-300 nits of brightness, where one nit (from the Latin for ‘to shine’) is equivalent to the light provided by one candle. An HDR TV can, in theory, deliver up to 5000 nits.

Of course, that sort of light would be blinding at maximum brightness. This tech isn’t about searing your retinas, though – it’s about widening the range in order to display finer increments of shading.

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.




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