HDR: Everything You Need to Know About the New TV Technology

In an age of increasingly complicated technology, it can be easy to fall behind on the latest trends. That goes doubly for television tech, which is constantly changing while many of us go close to a decade between buying new sets. So if you’re in the market for a new TV, you probably aren’t up to speed on the latest selling features you’re going to encounter. One of the most popular new features — and the one that’s most likely to improve your viewing experience — is HDR, which stands for high dynamic range.

What is HDR?

An LG television that supports HDR

This LG television supports HDR | LG.com

That’s the million dollar question. HDR is a screen technology that broadens and enriches the colors that can be displayed on your TV. It can make the whites brighter, the blacks darker, and the whole spectrum of colors more vibrant and life-like. When HDR-optimized content is shown on a compatible HDR television, the improvement in picture quality is easily noticeable, regardless of the size of your TV screen.

That’s good news for anyone who’s become skeptical of other recent TV features, like 3D and smart TVs. HDR is a technology you’ll actually appreciate when you watch optimized movies and TV shows or play compatible video games.

But if it sounds like HDR is an easy no-brainer, it’s time for some bad news. Like many things in the world of television tech, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Format war

'The Martian' on UHD Blu-ray

The Martian on UHD Blu-ray supports HDR | 20th Century Fox

Unfortunately for perspective TV buyers, HDR isn’t as simple as a check box on a list of features. As with numerous video technologies of the past, there’s a format war going on in HDR, this time between HDR10 and Dolby Vision. Both formats offer similar improvements in color and brightness (at least for the moment), but they’re not both supported by all televisions or content makers. That means not all HDR TVs can display the visual improvements of all HDR content.

HDR10 is an open format nearly all HDR televisions support. Dolby Vision, on the other hand, is a proprietary format used by TV makers like LG, Vizio, and TCL, as well as by studios like MGM and Universal. The Dolby Vision format supports a much wider array of brightness and color than HDR10, but current TVs don’t have the hardware to take advantage of the limits. Still, Dolby Vision is capable of much more range than HDR10. For an in-depth look at the differences between the two formats, read the rundown at Rtings.

Not all companies are picking sides in the format war. While some production studios like Fox and Paramount only support HDR10, other content producers are going neutral and supporting both formats simultaneously. For instance, Amazon and Netflix support both formats with most of their recent original programming.

If you’re going to buy a TV before the dust settles in the format war, your best bet may be to get one that supports Dolby Vision, since those TVs can display HDR10 content as well. Might as well cover all bases, right?

Where to find HDR content

Luke Cage - Season 1 on Netflix

Luke Cage streams in HDR on Netflix | Netflix

Like all new TV technologies, it will take some time before HDR gets widespread support from content makers. For now, streaming services like Netflix and Amazon are a good bet, as are Ultra-HD Blu-ray discs. If any gamers are going to use the TV, you’ll be pleased to know that both Xbox One S and PlayStation 4 support HDR gaming and streaming.

It’s a complicated world out there on the frontiers of television technology. But now that you have a better idea about the ins and outs of HDR, you’ll be better equipped to future-proof your TV purchase. After all, HDR is one of the most promising new television technologies, and it looks like it’s here to stay.