Amazon beats Netflix to deliver HDR video

Amazon has struck a blow against Netflix in the battle for streaming supremacy, beating its rival to the punch with the first HDR (high dynamic range) content. It's available now on select 2015 Samsung TVs.

David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
David Katzmaier
2 min read

"Mozart in the Jungle" is the first content widely available in HDR. Sarah Tew/CNET

Netflix may have a lot more content available to stream in 4K than Amazon, but Amazon's Instant Video streaming service now offers infinitely more HDR content than anybody else.

Amazon has announced that its original series "Mozart in the Jungle" Season 1 is available to stream today in high dynamic range (HDR) to Samsung's SUHD televisions. An Amazon rep we spoke with said the pilot episode of "Red Oaks," another Amazon original, is also available in HDR, and that the company will continue to add more in the future.

This is the first instance of any HDR movie or TV show becoming widely available.

HDR video, not to be confused with HDR for photography, promises better picture quality thanks to brighter, more realistic highlights and other improvements. It's widely viewed as the next step beyond 4K, which addresses only resolution, or picture sharpness, and not contrast or color. In our tests of 4K TVs and video, we've found it difficult to appreciate any difference compared to high-definition TV. With the HDR demos we've seen, the improvement is more evident, so we're excited to see HDR in the real world.

Netflix says it will begin its own HDR streams later this year, but hasn't made any further announcements as far as timing or which shows will be available. Samsung also says that a forthcoming "UHD Content Pack," would offer two HDR Hollywood movies, but pricing and availability (and which movies they are) have not been announced. HDR will also be supported by 4K Blu-ray.

To watch Amazon's HDR shows you'll need a Prime subscription and you'll need to use the Amazon Instant Video app built into one of Samsung's 2015 SUHD TVs, namely the JS9500 , JS9000 or JS8500.

In a separate announcement, LG also promised an upgrade soon: "Amazon HDR streaming will be available on this year's LG OLED 4K ULTRA HD TVs in the coming weeks."

Update Monday July 13: I tested Amazon's HDR content as part of the review of the Samsung JS8500 . It didn't look better, and often looked worse, than the same video in non-HDR on other TVs. It suffered from relatively washed out black levels without the punchy highlights I've seen on other HDR demos.

The issues have a lot to do, as far as I can tell, with the TV's own display technology and implementation of HDR. Higher-end TVs than the JS8500, including Samsung's models, might do the content more justice, but I haven't tested those yet. My early findings aren't an indictment of HDR in general or Amazon's HDR in particular--it's still very early days for HDR.

For more details, check out the HDR section of CNET's JS8500 review.