Every couple of years, a new technology emerges that pushes a sea change in consumer electronics. For a time, it was an HD picture. Then, it was followed by 4K Ultra HD. And next, well, nobody is 100% sure what comes next. But, based on upcoming releases and consumer demand, we have a pretty good idea about where the market is headed.
Just like with phone cameras, TVs are always striving for more quality, better picture and more accurate colors. On cameras, we've managed to achieve this with higher pixel density, greater low-light sensitivity and a processing technique called High Dynamic Range. Now, the same technology powering the camera on your phone is making its way to the center of your living room.
If you've been waiting for the right moment to upgrade your TV, you might want to hold on just a little bit longer. Once this technology hits the mainstream, you won't look at your TV the same way again.
What is HDR? How does it improve my picture quality?
HDR stands for "High Dynamic Range" and by the looks of it, the next big wave of TVs and media consoles will be equipped to take full advantage of the standard.
HDR deals primarily in the realm of color and how accurately a screen can display it. Ordinary 4K offers excellent clarity and sharpness, but for darker blacks and crisper color, you'll want to make sure there's an HDR sticker on the box.
The way it works is fairly straightforward: Each pixel on an HDR TV can create up to 1,024 shades of red, blue or green. This is a massive increase from the color range found in standard definition TVs or even 4K Ultra HD TVs.
This produces more than a billion possible color combinations and far more life-like results in terms of image quality. HDR images can even look like a printed photo due to how accurate the color appears. So what may have appeared as a shade of gray on your current TV will be rendered as a deep, rich black on an HDR set.
Currently, two standards are duking it out for HDR dominance: HDR10 and Dolby Vision. HDR10 is an open standard that any manufacturer can include on their device, while Dolby Vision can be considered an even more "upgraded" form of HDR, with over 68 billion possible colors in its range.
Unfortunately, you'll need to see content that's specifically engineered for Dolby Vision in order to see the full results and ordinary HDR10 won't cut it. More likely, these competing visions will result in a single standard claiming dominance, just like how 4K did in recent years.
Combine HDR's color range with the prominence of OLED pixels in modern TV sets and you have a recipe for some of the highest quality home cinemas on the planet. It's no wonder that movie theater attendance is on the decline. And if entities like Disney+ have anything to say about it, we might be seeing more people choosing to stay indoors on movie night.
How can I get HDR on my TV set?
Right now, the only way you can get HDR quality on your TV set is to have a compatible TV. So if you already plunked down some cash on a 4K Ultra HD set, you should check the box to make sure the system is HDR compatible.
The good news is more manufacturers are offering access to the new technology, so it's a solid bet that new units coming out in the next few years will be able to adapt to the change.
But a TV set isn't the only thing you need. You'll also need access to HDR-compatible content. Thankfully, several major content providers like Amazon and Netflix already offer collections of their shows in 4k HDR quality. You'll typically see it labeled when you make your selection, so keep your eyes open if you want to experience this visual treat for yourself.
If you don't have access to HDR just yet, there's no need to despair. Content providers have pledged to deliver more HDR content as time goes on, but keep in mind, only the cream of the crop TVs are offering this feature as of now.
As HDR becomes more common, expect to see it integrated into more sets and streaming platforms. Until then, it might be worth heading down to your closest electronics store to get a sneak peek at the future of video. It's truly breathtaking to behold.
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