Notice the more detailed darks and the subtle, realistic brights in this HDR image of Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.
What took forever to perfect and can photograph everything from the faintest star to the blinding rays of the Sun? The human eye. With your eyes you can experience life in a vast range of lighting conditions and colors. The human dynamic range can see everything from starlight (.0003 nits, with one nit equal to the light of one candle) to sunlight (1.6 billion nits), as well as 10 million colors.
Understanding the limitations of your eyes helps you appreciate why each leap in the evolution of the TV leads to a more natural TV viewing experience.
TV Screen Color Advancement: From Boxy to Brilliant
Old-school box TVs have a standard definition range (SDR) of between .1 nit and 100 nits. When you turn the darks darker you lose detail; while turning up the brightness tends to blanche the screen.
In the 2000s, LCD HD TVs displayed up to 300 to 400 nits and 257 colors. However, the screen still appeared washed out; the brights were blurry, the darks were blocky and still lacked detail.
When 4K TVs first arrived the difference between a quality HD (1080p) TV and a 4K TV wasn’t that apparent. With HDR, 4K TVs now deliver the wow factor that makes for a night-and-day difference between the HD TV and the 4K HDR TV.
Today, a 4K HDR TV delivers more than 10 times the brightness of SDR – 1,000 to 4,000 nits and up to 4,000 colors delivered via 8.3 megapixels – providing the kind of eye-popping contrast and color range that make the viewing experience more vivid and life like. ‘While 4K is about more pixels, HDR is about getting better pixels to give viewers a much more realistic and exciting TV viewing experience,’ explains Neil Hunt, the chief product officer at Netflix. ‘Put simply, HDR is a way to bring even higher tonal range and variation of color to images.’
As a result of this added value, the Consumer Technology Association expects sales of 4K TVs to more than double in 2016.
The HDR TV Difference is in the Details
If you’re planning to invest in a HDR TV, there’s a few things you should know. First, the TV has two types of screens and two types of HDR platforms.
The most popular screen, the LCD, features liquid crystals sandwiched between layers of filters and polarizers. Since it is backlit, the LCD can display brighter brights but can’t totally turn off the pixels, which limits the darkness potential.
Thinner and more flexible (as well as more expensive), organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screens lack backlighting assemblies. While not as bright as an LCD screen, the screens can turn pixels off to get the darkest of darks. With their high adaptability, the screens now adorn everything from smartphones to tablets to TVs; the OLED market is expected to hit $16 billion this year and $57 billion in 10 years.
Second, most of the 4K HDR TVs feature the open-source HDR10 system, which is capable of delivering 1,000 nits. Meanwhile, the Dolby Vision system, found in LG, TCL, and Vizio TVs, can play both HDR10 and Dolby Vision. Dolby Vision optimizes the detail, color, and contrast of each image in each scene and leverages the advanced features of each TV model, such as OLED, to optimize viewing. It offers an ultrahigh peak brightness of 4,000 nits.
Despite Bandwidth Challenges HDR Goes Global
Now whether or not you see these improvements depends on your bandwidth. Streaming movie content accounts for more than half of the bandwidth used in the United States, and traffic’s only getting worse with the streaming of more 4K files (which average 100GB). If 4K files are huge, 4K HDR files are huger. According to Netflix, a 4K HDR file requires an additional 10 to 20 percent bandwidth to account for the extra color metadata; most streamers recommend that the viewer have at least a 25 Mbps connection to watch the movies.
Regardless, 4K HDR is trending. Companies from the U.S.-based Amazon, Netflix, and Vudu to Latin America’s Globo have invested in streaming 4K HDR. In Britain, traditional broadcasters BBC and Sky have been collecting HDR content and expect to create HDR TV channels in the near future.
As you can see, the world is ready for HDR…but is the world’s bandwidth infrastructure?