What is HDR TV? Does it really improve the image on my screen? Do I need it?
HDR TV is short for High Dynamic Range Television and it's the next big thing in TVs. Well, that is what the manufacturer's propaganda will have you believe but is it worth the hype? Or is it the latest gimmick like curved screen TVs (see Curved TVs: To Buy Or Not To Buy) just because they want to sell more televisions? Let's dig into it a bit deeper.
What Is HDR TVHDR or HDRI itself is nothing new, at least in the world of photography. The ideas is that you take the same photograph multiple times in a row, each with their own exposure setting. The images are then combined together into one. That single image retains the best of all of the exposure ranges. The end result will have the brightest parts and darkest parts of a scene that would otherwise be lost. This technique allows the camera to take an image that is closer to what your eye could see in the real world.
Apply that idea to video and, in theory, you end up with a more vibrant final picture with greater luminance. It's all about getting the colors to be more lifelike so they pop off the screen more. Rich reds, shinier chromes, deeper blues, and so on.
Does It Really Make A Difference?HDR TVs actually can offer a better picture than conventional flat screens. The problem is that it's a new technology and with any new technology come issues. Right now, the top issues are:
There's No Kill Like Overkill
Some screens are over doing the whole HDR effect. Just like photos on social media sites that have been over processed, we're seeing that on some sets. It can even be so overly bright that it makes you want to look away at times.
There isn't really any standard for what HRD is and isn't yet. This may be an issue if manufacturers all start calling their sets HDR Ready. What if HDR Ready on one screen is very different from HDR Ready on another set? Will there be a standard range in color levels and brightness levels that decide what is and isn't a true HDR set? Will the TV you buy now that claims to have HDR functions end up not being within the final standards whenever they come out?
Right now, Dolby is one company that's trying to create a standard with their Dolby Vision Tech system. Dolby Vision appears to be on the very high end of what HDR could be. But if that becomes the standard will all other HDR sets out now be incompatible with HDR media in the future?
Lack Of Content
HDR is neat but a lot depends on how the original content is shot. With photography, you can take a single non-HDR image and process it with a "fake" HDR conversion. It makes the image look pretty and vibrant but it's not the same as a photo properly shot with multiple exposures.
The same is true with HDR sets. They can take a regular video and process it into a "fake" HDR video. It may help a bit but you're not seeing the true benefits of HDR unless the video was originally shot using an HDR Ready camera. That means there isn't a lot of HDR content to watch right now. It's kind of like the original HDTV sets that could upscale a non-HD video into an HD resolution 1080p video. It made things a little better but at some point you're just polishing a turd.
Should I Buy an HDR Set?HDR isn't worth dumping your current flat screen for just yet. But what if you're buying a new TV? Is it worth upgrading to an HDR Ready set? Considering the issues we mentioned above, I can't suggest upgrading to an HDR TV over a regular TV unless the cost was minimal. Unfortunately, with any new TV technology the price won't be minimal for a while.
You're really better off waiting a year to see if the technology takes off. That will let standards come along, prices will drop, and more content will come out to take advantage of the HDR features.
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