TV industry buzzwords come and go. The next fancy TV technology catchphrase is always waiting in the wings to lure early adopters and videophiles into shelling out for another upgrade.
We've seen 1080p, 3D, ultra-high refresh rates, smart TVs, and curved screens take their turn as the go-to marketing gimmick for TV manufacturers in selling their newer models.
For the last few years, it was the "4K TV" buzzword's turn to lord over retail electronic stores and TV showcase displays everywhere. There's nothing like those eye-popping 4K demo reels playing on loop, trying to convince everyone about how much better looking these new sets are compared to yer' old 1080p set.
Now that 4K TVs have gone mainstream and their prices have significantly dropped, what might be the new technology acronym that will usher in the newest generation of expensive TV sets?
The answer is High Dynamic Range or what is commonly known as HDR.
What are 4K TVs?
First things first, what exactly is a 4K TV?
4K (also known as Ultra HD), refers to the resolution or the number of pixels (tiny dots) that comprise a display screen.
Standard Definition (SD) screens have 640 x 480 resolutions, 720p TVs are 1280 x 720, and 1080p sets are 1,920 x 1,080.
4K sets, at 3,840 x 2,160, have about four times the number pixels of a 1080p display. 2160p would have been a more accurate term but the TV industry decided that 4K and Ultra HD are better buzzwords.
This larger number of pixels allows for sharper images and more detail, especially when paired with native 4K content.
Will your next TV be 4K?
With more and more 4K content made available from streaming services such as YouTube, Netflix, Vudu, and Amazon, is it finally the right time to buy a 4K TV?
If you're looking for a really large screen, 50 inches or more, then yes. With the current UHD TV prices, you might as well shell out a little bit more for that sweet 4K display.
On smaller sets, say 47 inches and below, unless you are planning on sitting real close to it, you might not notice that much of a difference between 4K and 1080p. But again, since UHD TV prices have been going down, if you could afford to spend a little bit more, then just go for the UHD set for future proofing.
Remember when 1080p was the premium feature and we had to spend more for it versus SD or 720p? Now, 1080p sets are dime-a-dozen and it appears to be the norm now even for plain TVs.
4K sets are likely to follow the same path. This means all decent TV sets in the months and years ahead will likely be 4K. 1080p sets, like 720p before it, will be reserved for the cheaper budget line of TVs.
What is HDR?
Now that 4K sets are becoming commonplace and are rapidly replacing 1080p sets as the mainstream standard, what is the next display technology that will warrant a higher price tag?
Nope, it's not 8K. Our current infrastructure could hardly support 4K so we don't need more pixels on our screens at this point.
What the TV industry is betting on is a better picture.
High Dynamic Range or HDR promises to deliver just that: a vivid, stunningly more life-like picture achieved with significantly better and higher light/dark contrast and a wider range of color.
This allows for more subtle, extra fine detail to be perceivable (not just sharpness) because of this enhanced depth of light, dark, and color. HDR is one of those "seeing is believing" affairs to fully appreciate what it could bring to the viewing experience.
In fact, experts are saying that the improvements of HDR are more apparent than what 4K brought over 1080p. Just last year, HDR movies were only able to be viewed in select theaters across the country and videophiles were raving about the eye-popping enhancements the new technology brought. Now, videophiles are starting to bring this new technology home.
Also, although HDR technically doesn't have to be 4K, it looks like HDR and 4K always go together hand-in-hand.
But again, like 4K before it, to watch HDR content, you will need an HDR compatible TV and video encoded with HDR data.
Netflix is rolling out HDR enabled 4K content like "Daredevil" and Amazon has a number of HDR 4K movies available for streaming. Also look out for HDR enabled 4K movies in other streaming services like Vudu and FandangoNow.
Another way to get HDR content to an HDR TV is through an Ultra HD Blu-ray player with an HDR encoded UHD Blu-ray Disk. These players are still on the expensive side so expect to spend a pretty penny if you want to have a complete HDR 4K UHD setup.
Be careful when shopping for an HDR UHD 4K TV, though. There are two standards out there right now, HDR10 and Dolby Vision. Make sure your set is compatible with both.
Also, some "HDR-compatible" TV sets could only read the HDR data but the TV's hardware capabilities can't really handle the wider and higher range of light and color only a true HDR screen could provide. These misleading sets merely approximate the HDR data with what its hardware could display.
To be absolutely certain that a TV is really displaying HDR content, you will have to look for the "Ultra HD Premium" label. These are UHD TV sets that have passed both the 4K and HDR specifications TV manufacturers have agreed on.
Still not convinced yet?
As we mentioned earlier, seeing is believing. Visit your local premium TV retail store and check out their "HDR-enabled Ultra HD 4K Premium TV" sets. Now, how's that for a TV buzzword?