HDR (High Dynamic Range) Explained (2022)

My experience covering home video extends back to the early days of DVD. But of all the new technologies and formats I've covered in that time, none has generated as much confusion as high dynamic range (HDR). In this article, I will attempt to demystify the subject of HDR, a technology that I find to be the most significant development to hit home video in years.

Lifelike Defined
Dynamic range in audio or video describes the difference between the lowest and the highest levels of information available in a signal. So, to describe something as having “high dynamic range” is to state that it offers a wider dynamic range than was previously available. What are the implications for the viewing experience? In simplest terms, it means there is an increase in the number of brightness levels the display is capable of reproducing. This results in a more “true to life” image: no more muted headlights on dark highways, or dim stars against the black of space. But it doesn't stop there.

(Video) HDR10, Dolby Vision, and HLG: How does high dynamic range video work? | Upscaled

While HDR photography is well established, HDR video is relatively new. Much of it results from work done by Dolby Laboratories, which first launched HDR in theaters with Dolby Cinema and later brought it to Ultra HD Blu-ray and streaming via Dolby Vision. The most common HDR format is HDR10, a bare-bones version derived from the work the company did with Dolby Vision that was provided to the industry royalty-free. Additional HDR formats include Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG), Technicolor's Advanced HDR, and HDR10+, but all of these are either in early development or have limited available content. I'll touch on them more in a bit.

HDR (High Dynamic Range) Explained (1)

Figure 1: HDR formats like Dolby Vision bring the dynamic range of the video delivery infrastructure closer to that of the human eye. Credit: Dolby Laboratories

Light, Bright: SDR vs. HDR
What does HDR bring to the table? HDR's key benefits include an ability to render much brighter highlights, deliver vastly increased color volume (both saturation and brightness), and boost video fidelity through higher bit depths. The standard dynamic range (SDR) provided by the high-definition format—the one we are used to watching—is mastered with a peak video brightness level of 100 nits. HDR, in contrast, can reach up to 10,000 nits! An early bit of misinformation surrounding the format was that HDR's added brightness would create eyestrain, but that isn't how it works. Much of the brightness range in the video image remains in the same range as it does with SDR, but HDR provides additional headroom for brightness “peaks” (streetlights, or the sparkle of sun reflected off chrome, for example). It's these peaks, also called specular highlights, that give images a natural look that more closely matches what we see in the world around us every day. While new digital cameras used for cinematography are responsible for much of HDR's impact, older film-based content also contains sufficiently high dynamic range to allow for mastering in the format.

(Video) High Dynamic Range (HDR) Explained

A Wider World of Color
Color is the next key component of HDR. The Ultra HDTV format uses a color gamut called BT.2020 that's notably wider than the Rec. 709 one used for standard HDTV. However, the added brightness provided by HDR extends the volume of color as well. While color in the A/V world is traditionally represented in two-dimensional space with data points for saturation and hue, it also extends out in the vertical direction with luminance. It's the increased luminance, or light output, HDR provides that delivers a wider color range.

HDR (High Dynamic Range) Explained (2)

Figure 2: HDR vs. SDR color volume. Credit: Dolby Laboratories

Another HDR component is higher video bit depth. HD/SDR video content was limited to 8-bit resolution, with video from black to white (100 nits) divided up into 256 levels. But the HDR10 format uses 10-bit resolution, which increases the range to 1024 levels. The main benefit here is the elimination of banding artifacts (typically seen in the blue gradients of skylines, or in dark scenes with subtle tonal variations). The use of 10-bit encoding allows for more precise rendering of near-black tones, which create a particular challenge during the video mastering process.

(Video) HDR or High Dynamic Range as Fast As Possible

Beyond Gamma
While the benefits of HDR are substantial, it doesn't come without caveats. First off, HDR doesn't employ the traditional gamma system used by HDTV and the earlier NTSC video format, which takes into account the display's peak brightness and lowest black level capability and then adjusts the values in between to create a desired balance. HDR instead uses an absolute system called Perceptual Quantizer (PQ) where each video level is mapped one-to-one with the display. PQ makes the bold assumption that the display will provide enough range at both the high and low ends to map content directly, meaning that it should be able to reproduce the same peak brightness and black level the content was mastered at. Unfortunately, that isn't always the case, and the display needs to determine how to handle content that goes beyond its capabilities using a process called “tone mapping.” With tone mapping, any extra brightness gets, to put it bluntly, crammed into a smaller amount of space at the upper limit of the display's range. The same thing also happens at the low end as near-black tones get mapped to the display's measured black point. While the Dolby Vision system has its own tone mapping standards, HDR10 does not, so each display manufacturer is left to their own devices to handle HDR10 tone mapping—something they do with varying degrees of success. Ideally, a display would handle tone mapping consistently for all content, but that's not the case yet. What we are starting to see is solutions that help to mitigate the problem, such as the built-in tone mapping feature of the Panasonic DP-UB-820 Ultra HD Blu-ray player that I reviewed in Sound & Vision's October/November 2018 issue.

HDR (High Dynamic Range) Explained (3)

Figure 3: PQ vs. the light output capability of a typical flat-panel TV. Credit: Florian Friedrich, Quality.TV

BT.2020 vs. P3 Color
Another confusing issue with HDR is the BT.2020 color space that it's associated with. No current consumer video displays can provide full coverage of BT.2020, a color space that was designed to allow headroom for future technology developments. Movies are largely mastered in the P3 format, which is wider than the REC. 709 one used for HDTV, but not as wide as BT.2020. However, P3 is not a consumer format, and it's incompatible with the color matrix used for consumer video. So, while it's common to see color in HDR content referred to as P3, the reality is that all HDR content is mastered using the BT.2020 color profile, which contains its own P3 color coordinates. (If you were to calibrate a consumer display directly for P3 and then use it to display HDR content, there would be significant color issues since the color coordinates are completely different.) While HDR always uses BT.2020 color, the content can range from black-and-white to images with saturation levels that barely exceed REC. 709, P3, or any color space within the gamut envelope of BT.2020. To put it another way, just because a car can do 200 mph (BT.2020) doesn't mean it will go that fast; we are limited to 65 mph (P3) because that is what the road infrastructure currently supports.

(Video) How Does HDR Work? | High Dynamic Range Explained

HDR (High Dynamic Range) Explained (4)

Figure 4: BT.2020 (UHDTV/HDR) vs. Rec. 709 (HD/SDR) color gamut.

HDR Flavors
Now that I've summarized what HDR is, let's discuss the various formats mentioned above in more detail. HDR10 uses static metadata to communicate information about the content being fed to the display. This includes the specs of the display monitor originally used to master the content (black level, peak brightness level, and color gamut) as well as the content itself (the highest value for any single red, green or blue sub-pixel, along with average pixel level). While this data does provide a snapshot of the content, it only represents the extremes. Dolby Vision, in contrast, supplies per-frame metadata. This helps enormously with flat-panel TVs since information is available for each video frame to guide the display's dynamic contrast processing. (The same information would go far to improve performance with lower light-output systems like projectors, which require much more aggressive tone mapping than flat-panel TVs require, but consumer 4K projectors are currently limited to HDR10 support.) Dolby Vision also uses color metadata that provides 12-bit precision to eliminate color banding, although this typically gets processed at 10 bits since most displays are not 12-bit-capable.

HLG uses a variation of gamma similar to what's seen in more traditional video playback systems. It permits greater flexibility to accommodate a range of production environments and display capabilities, which is why HLG is being employed by TV broadcasters. DirectTV and Dish are also using HLG to provide HDR for certain sports events being transmitted in Ultra HD.

(Video) Was ist HDR? - High Dynamic Range erklärt

HDR10+ is a format introduced by Samsung that, similar to Dolby Vision, delivers frame-by-frame metadata and should provide benefits with the company's TVs that use dynamic processing to increase contrast performance. So far, HDR10+ has appeared on a handful of Blu-rays and has also been implemented by Amazon for its streaming content.

HDMI and HDR
The final thing to consider with HDR is our old friend (or enemy), HDMI. You'll need gear with HDMI version 2.0a connections to pass Ultra HD video with static HDR10 metadata. Be careful when selecting HDMI cables though, since not all provide the 18Gbps bandwidth needed to pass full 4K/60p signals. Look for cables that actually carry the certification symbol to ensure sufficient bandwidth for your required cable length. You'd be surprised how many cables (including ultra-expensive boutique versions) don't provide the bandwidth needed to pass signals properly.

Conclusion
Many sources—Ultra HD Blu-ray, Amazon Video, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, satellite, and more— now support HDR, and the range of compatible hardware and content will only continue to grow. It's an exciting time for video as more displays hit the market with performance levels we've only dreamed about, and also at incredible prices given the advanced technology that's onboard. If you haven't yet experienced HDR, I highly recommend doing so to see what the future of video is all about.

FAQs

Is High Dynamic Range worth it? ›

HDR can deliver brighter highlights, as seen on the TV on the right. Keep in mind that with the non-HDR screen you're reading this on, the brighter highlights won't appear as bright to you. HDR, or high-dynamic range, can elevate the image of your TV to an entirely new level.

What is HDR in simple words? ›

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and refers to contrast (or the difference) between the brightest and darkest parts in an image. The idea is that your eyes can perceive whites that are brighter and blacks that are darker than traditional SDR displays had been able to show.

What is a good HDR level? ›

Better-performing HDR TVs typically generate at least 600 nits of peak brightness, with top performers hitting 1,000 nits or more. But many HDR TVs produce only 100 to 300 nits, really not enough to deliver an HDR experience.

Is HDR better than dynamic? ›

High Dynamic Range (HDR) is the next generation of color clarity and realism in images and videos. Ideal for media that require high contrast or mix light and shadows, HDR preserves the clarity better than Standard Dynamic Range (SDR).

Is 4K HDR better than 4K? ›

4K HDR vastly improves the quality of the image over standard 4K UHD. The definition and depth of the image are enhanced and the picture becomes more realistic. The enhanced color is due to the wide color gamut technology used in 4K HDR. It packs a much bigger visual punch.

Is HDR better for your eyes? ›

HDR displays hold particular promise for low vision testing, since many functional impairments are exacerbated by extreme lighting conditions.

What is HDR and how does it work? ›

An HDR image is usually obtained by capturing three images of the same scene, each at different shutter speeds. The result is a bright, medium, and dark image, based on the amount of light that got through the lens. The image sensor then combines all the photos to stitch together the entire image.

What is HDR good for? ›

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, a color technology that enables a monitor to display a broader spectrum of colors and contrasts. Basically, this means that an HDR monitor more realistically displays nuances and color tones, and shows more detail when it comes to light and dark.

What is the function of High Dynamic Range? ›

It removes the limitations presented by older video signals and provides information about brightness and color across a much wider range. HDR-capable displays can read that information and show an image built from a wider gamut of color and brightness.

Is HDR same as 4K? ›

HDR delivers a higher contrast—or larger color and brightness range—than Standard Dynamic Range (SDR), and is more visually impactful than 4K. That said, 4K delivers a sharper, more defined image. Both standards are increasingly common among premium digital televisions, and both deliver stellar image quality.

Which is better HDR or Dolby Vision? ›

Dolby Vision is better than HDR10 because of its modern properties. It has dynamic metadata, allowing tone mapping to apply to each scene frame. Today, many TV brands have started producing their products in favor of Dolby Vision.

Which HDR is best for gaming? ›

The LG OLED48C1 is the best 4k HDR gaming monitor we've tested. It's an excellent display, and even though it's actually a TV, the 48-inch model is widely used as a monitor, so we tested it as such.

Why does HDR look so dark? ›

4K HDR is so dark because HDR is trying to achieve a higher contrast between dark and bright scenes. HDR stands for high dynamic range. Since HDR makes dark places look even darker, it tends to become too dark to see anything. Additionally, 4K is harder to illuminate than HD in general.

Why does HDR look washed out? ›

In most cases, this means that it's not color strength (color saturation) that needs adjustment, but more likely the brightness or gamma. One other thing to mention, please make sure that you don't have night mode enabled which can also cause a dimmed and washed out look with the lack of blue.

When should you not use HDR? ›

In contrast, you should avoid HDR when: Wanting to capture movement: When you want to capture motion, such as in sports photography. HDR increases the chance of a blurry photo since it always takes three photos.

Which is better Full HD or HDR? ›

High Dynamic Range (HDR) creates contrast in images, providing a wider range of brightness and colors between the brightest whites and darkest blacks. HDR images tend to better render what the human eye perceives.

Is HDR necessary for 4K? ›

Right now the only TVs with HDR capabilities are Ultra HD "4K" TVs. So the narrowest of answers to the question posed by the article is yes, you need 4K TV to get HDR.

Is Dolby vision better than 4K? ›

Dolby Vision vs 4K: The Conclusion

Any content with Dolby Vision is a significant improvement in depth and color accuracy over 4K. The 68.7 billion color palette is something you need to see to believe and is a definite upgrade over HDR, which is 10-bit at around a billion colors.

Can HDR cause headaches? ›

Are you sure it's the HDR? Eye strain is usually caused by motion-related artifacts/issues such as flicker, judder, etc. OLED has almost zero inherent motion blur due to the lightning-quick pixel response time (similar to CRT), so if you display low framerate/Hz content, it will give you eye strain, headaches, or both.

What type of TV is easiest on the eyes? ›

To sum it up, OLED displays are better for your eyesight. They have more natural lighting, better color contrast, and a wider color range. However, no matter what type of display you have, you will hurt your eyesight if you don't practice safe TV viewing.

What TV is easiest on the eyes? ›

Eyesafe® Certified OLED TV emits lower amounts of blue light compared to traditional LCD TVs, while maintaining perfect black, high contrast characteristics and excellent picture quality. The result is a more comfortable experience with optimal color integrity, eye comfort and viewing experience.

What are the different types of HDR? ›

High Dynamic Range (HDR) is a video technology that enhances the picture quality compared to regular content (see HDR vs. SDR). There are three main HDR formats: HDR10, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision, and they each display HDR content differently and have their advantages and disadvantages.

What does higher dynamic range mean? ›

Also known as HDR photography, high dynamic range photography is a post-processing technique that involves combining photos taken with multiple exposures into a single optimized image. To execute an HDR photo, shoot the same photo at several exposures to capture the entire range of light intensities.

How many bits is HDR? ›

While SDR uses a bit depth of 8 or 10 bits, HDR uses 10 or 12 bits, which when combined with the use of more efficient transfer function like PQ or HLG, is enough to avoid banding.

Does HDR make that much of a difference? ›

Does HDR really make a difference? Yes. By increasing the brightness of any on-screen image with a monitor with HDR support, HDR for monitors increases the contrast. Contrast is the difference between a television's brightest whites and darkest blacks.

Does HDR cause input lag? ›

You wont notice any difference in Input lag using HDR on that TV. They use to. But from about 2016 on TV's got better at reducing the lag when using HDR.

Does HDR slow fps? ›

Aside from the aforementioned input lag, enabling HDR in your games has the potential to reduce your frame rates. Extremetech analyzed data on AMD and Nvidia graphics cards to see the differences in performance between gaming with HDR enabled and disabled, and it found performance hits with the former.

Should you use HDR for gaming? ›

Awesome HDR gaming is still difficult to achieve on a Windows PC. Yet it's a goal worth pursuing. At it's best, HDR is a rare example of a true game-changing technology. HDR can smack you straight across your face with the single most noticeable gain in gaming visuals.

Should I use HDR on my monitor? ›

In short, if you are into gaming, both in your console or on Windows, you will experience superior video quality on an HDR monitor. However, if you want to watch other forms of media on your PC (streaming videos and movies, for example), then you are better off watching on your HDTV.

What is HDR on my phone? ›

What is HDR? HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, in photography terms, Dynamic Range is the difference between the lightest and darkest elements of an image. HDR is a process that helps increase this dynamic range beyond what is normally captured by a smartphone lens.

Do all 4K movies have HDR? ›

A I can't speak to all 4K discs on the market, but virtually all 4K/Ultra HD Blu-ray movies do feature some version of HDR in the HDR10, Dolby Vision, or, to a much lesser extent, HDR10+ format. While there are plenty of titles with Dolby Vision HDR, not all discs by default offer that feature.

Which is better HDR or UHD TV? ›

In a nutshell, High Dynamic Range (HDR) and 4K UHD resolutions are two completely different concepts, and can both exist in the same television. HDR focuses on improving the color depth and contrast levels, while 4K UHD increases the TV's resolution to 4-times higher than 1080p HD resolution.

Is HDR noticeable? ›

With HDR, that highlight is noticeably brighter, closer to what you see in real life. HDR is usually (but not always) paired with wide color gamut (WCG) technology in today's 4K TVs.

Do you really need Dolby Vision? ›

While it's not the be-all and end-all of TV technology, Dolby Vision is an important feature worth investing in. When equipped with local dimming, high brightness and a wide color gamut, a quality Dolby Vision-enabled TV makes for the best possible home theater experience.

What is better HDR10 or HLG? ›

While the “bottom” of the curve can be interpreted by normal (non-HDR) displays, the top of the curve can be interpreted by the HLG-capable displays. This is why HLG is preferred over HDR10 by broadcasters. HDR10 is not compatible with non-HDR displays while HLG is.

Why does Dolby Vision look dark? ›

So why is so much new TV so dark? In part, because filmmakers are making the most of the expanded contrast that HDR (High Dynamic Range) allows, grading content with the dark depth they see fit.

What is needed for HDR gaming? ›

HDR specs should really require a minimum 1000 cd/m2 for LCD screens, but you'll find the DisplayHDR 400 standard tops out at 400 cd/m2. That's not really much brighter than most SDR panels, and in fact some SDR gaming monitors were in the 300/400 cd/m2 range long before DisplayHDR was around.

Is HDR supposed to be bright? ›

The highlights of HDR content on HDR TVs are much brighter than "normal" standard dynamic range TVs (Image for illustrative purposes only. Actual HDR on an HDR TV will be physically brighter).

How bright does a monitor need to be for HDR? ›

A monitor with 600 cd/m² peak brightness — a measure of how much light can be emitted by the screen — should be considered a minimum for true HDR output. Most entry-level HDR monitors have a brightness level of 400 cd/m².

Does High Dynamic Range affect FPS? ›

No, HDR does not lower your in-game FPS numbers on console, meaning you can still get those silky smooth frame rates that you are used to. While we don't recommend using HDR in fast-paced, action-packed, highly competitive multiplayer games, you technically could get lower FPS.

Should you use HDR for gaming? ›

Awesome HDR gaming is still difficult to achieve on a Windows PC. Yet it's a goal worth pursuing. At it's best, HDR is a rare example of a true game-changing technology. HDR can smack you straight across your face with the single most noticeable gain in gaming visuals.

Does HDR mean 4K on Netflix? ›

To find 4K HDR content on Netflix, you need a 4K TV and/or a 4K HDR capable device that supports Netflix. For the best picture quality, devices need to be compatible with HDR10 or Dolby Vision HDR, with Netflix producing a chunk of its original programming in 4K Dolby Vision HDR.

Is HDR 400 better than HDR10? ›

In short, the difference between HDR10 vs HDR400 is that HDR10 supports 10-bit colors and specifies the color sampling of the monitor, while HDR400 is a sub-standard that specifies a minimum 400 nits of peak brightness plus a certain color uniformity.

Which HDR is best for gaming? ›

The LG OLED48C1 is the best 4k HDR gaming monitor we've tested. It's an excellent display, and even though it's actually a TV, the 48-inch model is widely used as a monitor, so we tested it as such.

Does HDR slow framerate? ›

Aside from the aforementioned input lag, enabling HDR in your games has the potential to reduce your frame rates. Extremetech analyzed data on AMD and Nvidia graphics cards to see the differences in performance between gaming with HDR enabled and disabled, and it found performance hits with the former.

Why does HDR look washed out? ›

In most cases, this means that it's not color strength (color saturation) that needs adjustment, but more likely the brightness or gamma. One other thing to mention, please make sure that you don't have night mode enabled which can also cause a dimmed and washed out look with the lack of blue.

Does HDR cause input lag? ›

You wont notice any difference in Input lag using HDR on that TV. They use to. But from about 2016 on TV's got better at reducing the lag when using HDR.

Is HDR supposed to be bright? ›

The highlights of HDR content on HDR TVs are much brighter than "normal" standard dynamic range TVs (Image for illustrative purposes only. Actual HDR on an HDR TV will be physically brighter).

How do I test my HDR? ›

The easiest HDR app to use is the DisplayHDR Test Tool, available from the Microsoft Store. If you minimize this tool's window, you can easily compare Notepad's SDR white versus the DisplayHDR Test Tool's HDR white. HDR is working if you see a difference.

Which is better HDR or Dolby Vision? ›

Dolby Vision is better than HDR10 because of its modern properties. It has dynamic metadata, allowing tone mapping to apply to each scene frame. Today, many TV brands have started producing their products in favor of Dolby Vision.

How do I know if Netflix is playing in HDR? ›

If you have an HDR10-capable TV and the 4 Screen Netflix streaming plan, available titles will display an HDR logo next to their description. If you have a Dolby Vision-capable TV and the 4-screen Netflix streaming plan, available titles will display the Dolby Vision logo next to their description.

Is HDR better than HD? ›

Is HDR better than HD? One is not better than the other, as HD and HDR are totally separate concepts. HD refers to resolution like 4K does, while HDR works in the context of contrast, colors, and brightness.

Is HDR10 true HDR? ›

HDR10 is referred to as "generic" HDR, which is a slightly derogatory term, but HDR10 really refers to the baseline specifications for HDR content. HDR10 is a 10-bit video stream, over 1 billion colours, and if you have HDR-compatible devices, it will support HDR10.

Is 400 nits enough for HDR? ›

Color and brightness

Displays that support HDR should start at 400 nits peak -- at the very least -- and currently run as high as 1,600.

Is HDR10 the same as HDR 1000? ›

HDR-1000 (HDR 10+):

HDR-1000 is the same as HDR-600, except it claims to have a peak brightness of 1000 nits. If you need a bright screen, you should consider an HDR-1000 display. These are the most expensive but artists and other creative professionals benefit more from them. It's also called HDR 10+.

Videos

1. Dolby Vision & HDR (High Dynamic Range) Explained
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2. What is HDR? How to use HDR? High Dynamic Range Explained!
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3. HDR EXPLAINED - Everything You Need to Know About High Dynamic Range for TV's and PC Monitors #HDR
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4. What is HDR mode in Camera? High Dynamic Range Explained!
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5. HDR Photography Explained - High Dynamic Range
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6. HDR....HIGH DYNAMIC RANGE ...EXPLAINED
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