Most Samsung, Philips and others each have different ways to create HDR video. In theory, they can all coexist inside your TV, though that's rarely the case. Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, along with , can also support multiple formats, though often they only have one or two.have high dynamic range capability, which can improve picture quality. Unfortunately there are multiple formats and your TV likely can't decode them all. Companies like Dolby, Technicolor,
How do these multiple formats affect you? Well, just about every HDR-capable TV supports the most popular format, HDR10 or "generic HDR." Many also supportand , while other formats, namely and , are just getting started.
In CNET's TV reviews, both the capabilities of the TV itself and the way HDR is used in the movie or TV show have a greater impact on image quality than the specific HDR format. But knowing your way around the different formats is still worthwhile. Here's a tour of the HDR landscape as it stands today.
- It's not a full-fledged "format war," it's more like a slap fight.
- Multiple HDR formats can exist in a single TV.
- Everything supports HDR10, but many TVs and sources will also have at least one of the other formats.
- One format might look "better" than another on paper, but in the real world the biggest factors are the TV's overall performance and the content itself.
Most new TVs have the ability to display HDR content, which has more detail in the bright and dark areas of the image, for a greater "dynamic range" compared to non-HDR content (i.e. pretty much everything you've ever watched). Older content is now referred to as "SDR," or standard dynamic range. HDR content on an HDR TV can look far more punchy and vibrant than traditional content.
For a more detailed look at HDR, check out.
Just having an HDR TV isn't enough. You have to watch specific HDR content. Without HDR content, your HDR TV doesn't really know what to do with itself. Sure, it will look good, and maybe even artificially expand SDR content for perhaps a slight improvement. But to get the most out of your HDR TV, you need real HDR content. Thankfully, there's now a lot of it out there. Chances are your favorite new programs are available in HDR.
- Supported by everything
- Better image quality potential than SDR, but perhaps not as good as HDR10 Plus or Dolby Vision
- Static metadata
HDR10 is as close to a standard as we've got. It's free to use for manufacturers, so it's available everywhere. Every HDR TV can decode it, every HDR streamer can stream it. Pretty much all HDR content has an HDR10 version, in some cases along with a more "advanced" HDR format like Dolby Vision, which we'll discuss in a moment.
HDR10's issue, if you can call it that, is that it has "static" metadata. This means that there's one HDR "look" for the entire movie or show. This is certainly better than SDR content, but it doesn't allow for, say, a really bright scene to look its absolute best, nor a dark scene its best, within the same movie. This one-size-fits-all aspect of static metadata is fine, but doesn't let the content nor the TV live up to its full potential. You need dynamic metadata for that, which most of the other formats have.
Static metadata is sort of like if a football team all had to wear the same sized shirt. Maybe it looks good on the quarterback, and OK on the big linebacker and the diminutive kicker, but surely they'd all look better with a shirt in their own size.
HDR10 isn't backward-compatible with SDR TVs, so it's no good for broadcast. You'll find it available with streaming content and on Ultra HD Blu-ray.
- Championed by Samsung
- Not widely supported
- Dynamic metadata
- Potentially better image than vanilla HDR10
As you probably figured from the name, HDR10 Plus is like HDR10… but plus. The plus in this case is dynamic metadata, improving on HDR10's static. This means that on a per-scene -- or even per-image -- basis, the content can provide the TV with all the information it needs to look its absolute best.
The catch is… this is a Samsung format. They're pushing it hard, and despite promising no licensing fees (so anyone can use it basically for free), this is a bit of a stumbling block. Hard to imagine a world where LG willingly supports a fledgling format backed by Samsung. Other TV companies are likely hesitant to back it for the same reason. Yes, consumer electronics is as petty as junior high.
Right now, beyond Samsung, Panasonic is the only hardware manufacturer supporting the format in the US, though TCL and Hisense support it in China. On the software side, there's Amazon, Warner, Universal and Fox. It's unlikely this will become the standard dynamic metadata HDR format, and it seems right now it's only giving Samsung an excuse not to include Dolby Vision on their TVs.
For more details, check out.
- Widely supported
- Potentially the best image quality of all the formats
- Less content than stock HDR10
Dolby Vision has made a big push for HDR. Like HDR10 Plus, it can have dynamic metadata. Streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, Vudu and Apple's iTunes support it, and you can find it on some Ultra HD Blu-rays. Aspects of Dolby Vision, like how it handles dynamic metadata and color, are optional for HDR formatting in the upcoming .
The issue with DV is that companies have to pay Dolby to use it. On the plus side to that, Dolby will then show them how to make their TVs look best when showing DV content. So for some companies, this is an easy way to get their TVs to look better than perhaps they would on their own. For larger companies (like certain Korean companies that begin with S), they don't need such assistance and would rather dump money into their own HDR format, thank you very much.
After HDR10, this is the most popular HDR format, but that doesn't mean it's universal. Samsung is the biggest holdout, for reasons mentioned above. Some companies might only offer Dolby Vision support on certain models. Content-wise, there's support from Sony, Universal, Paramount, Lionsgate and the Swiss of every format war, Warner, plus others. That said, there is far less Dolby Vision content than there is HDR10 content. Not a huge issue, but something to keep in mind.
- From BBC and NHK
- Free to use
- Broadcast friendly
Hybrid Log Gamma was created by Britain's BBC and Japan's NHK. Unlike the formats we've discussed so far, it's actually backward-compatible with SDR TVs. One signal that works on both older TVs and newer is a huge deal for broadcasters. Though as you can imagine, it's not without drawbacks. Mainly, that's in terms of picture quality. Like HDR10, HLG is likely better than SDR, but perhaps not quite the picture quality of the other HDR formats. It's part of the upcoming ATSC 3.0 standard.
There's already wide TV support. Content is still in the early stages, however. If you can get the BBC's iPlayer (as in, you're in the UK), that has HLG support. DirecTV and YouTube also support HLG, but there's just not a lot of content so far. Since it's free, and fills an important niche, expect to see more HLG in the future.
For more info, and why it's so different from other methods, check out.
Advanced HDR by Technicolor (SL-HDR1, 2 and 3)
- Not widely supported
- Each "flavor" has its own niche
- Potentially useful, but we shall see
Technicolor's Advanced HDR comes in multiple flavors: SL-HDR1 is similar to HLG, in that it's fully backward-compatible with SDR TVs, allowing for one signal to rule them all; SL-HDR2 has dynamic metadata like HDR10 Plus and Dolby Vision; SL-HDR3 uses HLG as a base, but adds dynamic metadata.
There's no content available for general viewing at the moment, but its inclusion in the upcoming ATSC 3.0 standard could mean we'll see some soon.
For more info on this, check out
There can be only one. Or three. Or maybe five
A few things here are pretty easy to guess. HDR10 is the de facto base format. Nothing is likely to change that. Dolby Vision, with its wide industry support, especially on the content side, is likely to remain the "step-up" format. HDR10 Plus and SL-HDR2 could remain or gain in acceptance, especially since DV costs money to implement, but they're both long shots.
The wild card is broadcast, which is going to be an important factor in getting HDR content to a broader audience. HLG and SL-HDR1 (and maybe SL-HDR3) both offer the backward-compatibility required by broadcasters. Which of those will gain traction remains to be seen.
And in reality, the long-term outlook is, ideally, one of universal playback and irrelevant content format. Do you care if your TV is showing Dolby Vision or HDR10 Plus, as long as it looks as good as possible and just like the other format? Since a TV's HDR performance is almost entirely based on its physical hardware, as long as the content looks good and can be shown properly, its specific language doesn't matter. Well, doesn't matter as long as your TV can speak it, of course.
Originally published last year. Updated with new information about each format.