Is HDR worth it?

Svetlana December 12 2021

Today many televisions come with HDR technology. What does it mean? What advantages does it have? Does it have any types and which is the best one? So, let's together answer these questions.

What is HDR?

So, High Dynamic Range (or simply HDR) is a video signal with unique metadata enabling to show wider colors' variety and contrast for HDR content. Several essential characteristics influence the HDR work – televisions' ratio of contrast, resolution, brightness, and color scheme. As for the formats, there are three the most widespread – Dolby Vision, HDR10, and HDR10+.

How does HDR technology work?

To produce HDR content, you need a camera with much more advanced capabilities for capturing light. The main requirement is that the camera should be able to distinguish much more details in highlights and shadows than in average models. Many companies are working on improving their models' quality in order to win this race.

Of course, it would be an overstatement to say that all recording equipment out there can show HDR content perfectly. The current standard is far from perfect in terms of color reproduction range and dynamics/quality ratio. So, even if your brand new TV has HDR technology but your video source doesn't have its metadata, these advantages will fall flat.

Audio

Synchronizing audio is just as important. If sound lags way behind the picture or vice versa, the synchronization will be broken. It's true not only for HDR but for all types of videos.

Once you've finished recording, you need to open your file in special software that extracts the metadata and adjusts the video quality accordingly. The best programs are expensive, so it might be an issue for many people who have just started working with HDR technology.

However, it's worth noting that these programs receive updates often enough so even if they aren't brand new now, there is a high chance they will support most formats soon enough.

Afterward, you can import your content into your video editor or directly upload it to YouTube via standard settings. As mentioned above, not all cameras' models apply the metadata equally well, so don't forget to check the result and readjust your settings if necessary.

Which HDR format is the best?

It all depends on what exactly you want to achieve. Some experts say that Dolby Vision is more superior to HDR10 and HDR10+, providing better color reproduction and contrast. However, other people are sure that HDR10+ is the most advantageous one as it allows dynamic metadata adjustment, which leads to images appearing differently depending on the device they are watched on.

What advantages does HDR have?

Primarily, HDR offers a higher dynamic range of luminance – this means brighter whites and darker blacks. Secondly, with HDR you get an expanded color gamut – a wider range of colors that can be displayed. Finally, due to the use of metadata, HDR creates a more realistic image with increased color depth.

HDR drawbacks

Since the technology is relatively new, there are not many things it can't do. The rest of the issues are due to lack of content or 'wrong' settings on the TV.

The main problem is that you have to choose which format your television supports otherwise standard dynamic range content will be shown in SDR instead of HDR quality. This means a good picture with limited colors and contrast.

Another inconvenience is that if some formats are supported by your device, some may not. Therefore, usually, two types at most can be used simultaneously while others will be ignored.

Also, sometimes HDR image appears too dim if set incorrectly for non-HDR content (like reading mode). Finally, different devices show pictures differently so they vary widely in quality even if they are HDR-enabled.

The color richness and brightness: comparing SDR and HDR

Let's take a look at the example of an apple. In SDR (Standard Dynamic Range) mode, its color will be reproduced using a limited 16-235 range – that is only 7% of RGB colors space. On the contrary, in HDR mode – with an extended 0-1023 range – you can see all three primary colors. As a result, you get a more realistic image as it delivers more than one billion shades of luminance.

It should be noted that HDR content isn't always brighter than SDR one as it heavily depends on the broadcaster preferences and specific implementation for each device model/software version. That's why sometimes dark scenes can appear brighter than normally while light ones don't change much or even get a bit darker.

Compatibility and price

HDR is backward compatible with SDR, so you don't have to worry about not being able to watch your old content. Also, most HDR devices are affordable and can be bought for a reasonable price.

Considerations before buying

Before buying an HDR television, you should understand that simply having it is not enough. There are three important things that you need to take into account. Firstly, it is content. HDR televisions work only with special-made content. And it does not matter what this content is – movies, games, or different shows. If it does not include HDR content, you will not get the content's entirely distinct and real colors.

The second thing you need to know is that not all televisions with HDR are equal. It means that HDR will not manage to make your picture better if the TV set does not contain a broad color scheme, a good ratio of contrast, and a great level of brightness. Actually, a low-cost television with HDR will provide a bad image compared to the highly-priced TV set without HDR.

And the third thing you should take into account is the HDR versions. As we have already mentioned, HDR has three formats. And here, we will discuss two preferable formats – Dolby Vision and HDR10+.

What TV should I buy to use HDR properly?

As for TVs, any model with 4K HDR Pro or at least HDR 10+ support is suitable for working with HDR10+, while only Sony TVs (or models of other brands manufactured by Sony) are compatible with Dolby Vision.

Even though it remains an emerging technology, High Dynamic Range definitely has its benefits like expanded color gamut and contrast. Any user that wants clear and crisp images should consider buying a device with this solution integrated. However, not all TVs have the same quality so you need to compare which one will be best for your needs before buying it.

What HDR manufacturer is better?

As we have mentioned, there are many manufacturers that support HDR. The most popular HDR manufacturers are Samsung, Sony, LG, Panasonic, Philips, Toshiba. However, it is a bit early to tell which one will prevail in the market because of their high prices and lack of content.

Samsung and Sony are two of the main manufacturers who support HDR10+ and Dolby Vision, respectively. Philips, Panasonic, Toshiba, and LG also have models that support one or both formats. If you are looking for a new device and are unsure which HDR format to choose, consult your device's manual to see which formats it supports.

If it does not support either format, it will still support HDR but not at the same level as devices that do support Dolby Vision or HDR10+.

In our opinion, if you want something cheap with great capabilities, look for an LG product. Their TVs offer more affordable prices while having the same features as higher-cost models from other brands.

What devices can I use to watch HDR content?

HDR is supported by TVs, home theaters (receivers and amplifiers), projectors, and video game consoles like PlayStation 4 Pro or Xbox One S/X. All you need to do is check your device's manual and see whether it supports HDR10+, Dolby Vision, or both. If it doesn't, you can still find devices that support HDR but not these two formats.

HDR10+ or Dolby Vision?

Compared to HDR10+, Dolby Vision provides a high-quality 12-bit color image. Yes, the TVs with 12-bit color do not exist, but Dolby Vision applies down-sampling to give the maximum 10-bit color. The color volume is also increased with a Dolby Vision TV. This gives you noticeably better color accuracy and more shades of gray in the dark scenes.

HDR10+ also supports dynamic metadata which can change what is displayed on HDR TVs, but it does not have the same level of deep color as Dolby Vision. To give the top realistic and fascinating watching experience, Dolby Vision format uses its metadata based on frame or scene concepts. Moreover, with a Dolby Vision TV set, you can also have HDR10+.

So, as it implies from the name, HDR10+ represents an advanced version of HDR10 format. It supports the dynamic metadata, but it still has limits regarding 10-bit color. Compared to Dolby Vision, its statistic metadata implements the content in the whole (and not individually to every scene).  Today, there is not much made-with-HDR10+ content, but it is constantly becoming more popular.

HDR price aspect - is it high?

It is worth mentioning that HDR technology, as we have mentioned earlier, can be found in high-end and low-end TV sets. The difference between these two types of TVs is that the high-end models usually have better image quality and more features, while the low-end models are cheaper. But even the cheapest HDR TV is still more expensive than a regular LED TV.

The price range for HDR TVs starts at around $300 and goes up to $5,000 or more for premium models. So, if you want an HDR TV set, you will need to spend more money than on a regular LED model.

Final verdict

After knowing all this, you can wonder – is HDR worth it? If you are going to purchase a new and highly-priced television, you should consider one with HDR.

Of course, it is best to look for a TV set with Ultra HD Premium certification because it can offer a real HDR watching experience. There is one thing you should know about Ultra HD premium certification. It has some demands that your television must have – 10-bit color depth, a resolution of 4K, the brightness of at minimum 1,000-nit, plus a contrast ratio of 20,000:1.

So, now when you know everything about HDR television, the choice is yours – whether it is worth it or not.