When you are buying a TV in 2017, it makes sense to get a model with HDR (High Dynamic Range) video. It’s a must-have feature now, but within it, there are two formats: Dolby Vision and HDR10. Before you pull out your credit card, understand the difference and buy what’s right for you.
What Is Dolby Vision and HDR10?
Dolby Vision and HDR10 are both types of HDR for televisions. This technology enables the TVs to display brighter images, more accurate colors, and deeper black or dark spots. Dolby Vision requires a special chip and is available on only a few TVs, while HDR10 is supported by all HDR TVs.
That’s a simplistic explanation of the two formats and their differences. But there’s a lot more going on under the hood.
Dolby Vision Is Technically Better Than HDR10
If you go by specifications alone, then Dolby Vision holds the edge over HDR10. There are two aspects where HDR improves picture quality: brightness and color accuracy.
- Dolby Vision supports 12-bit color depth (i.e. a total of 68 billion colors) while HDR10 supports 10-bit color depth (i.e. a total of 1 billion colors).
- Similarly, Dolby Vision supports 10,000 nits of brightness while HDR10 supports 4,000 nits of brightness.
But while this extra range is great, these are theoretical limits. Currently, no movie or video game takes advantage of the theoretical colors or brightness. Heck, in its latest HDR TV, Samsung is boasting about 1,000 nits of brightness.
So while Dolby Vision is technically superior, know that it doesn’t translate into better real-world pictures at the moment. Still, that can change in the future, which is why Dolby Vision is a better bet for long-term buyers.
See Movies the Way Directors Intended
While the technical limits are one thing, Dolby Vision still has one feature that makes it better. Its claim to fame is something called dynamic metadata control.
Dynamic metadata lets a filmmaker control the HDR color and brightness enhancements for each frame. In simple terms, this means a filmmaker can say, “Hey, I want this scene to look X level of bright, and I want the next scene to look X+5 level of bright.” Once that is coded into a Dolby Vision movie, the TV will apply those enhancements when the scenes play.
HDR10 has only static metadata control. This means there is only one HDR setting of color and brightness applied to the whole movie. It doesn’t change based on the scene.
The bottom line is that if you are watching a Dolby Vision movie on a Dolby Vision TV, you are seeing exactly what the director intended. Your TV’s settings and other factors aren’t coming in the way.
Why HDR10 Is More Prevalent
So Dolby Vision seems pretty cool, right? If a director has end-to-end control over how each scene looks, that’s obviously better. And you’re right, it is. So why is HDR10 more prevalent? Simple: money!
Dolby Vision is a proprietary system. Dolby requires TV makers to put a Dolby Vision chip into the television set (or the 4K Blu-ray player). And the manufacturers pay a fee to Dolby for it.
In turn, Dolby is using these fees to strike deals with movie studios so that directors use Dolby Vision while making the film. It’s a controlled system meant to boost quality, but it also comes at an extra price.
On the other hand, HDR10 is an open standard. All TV manufacturers as well as filmmakers can use it for free without paying anyone license fees, or putting in extra chips for it.
Naturally, this makes HDR10 more appealing to TV makers, movie studios, and content distributors. That’s why it’s the default standard when any TV says it supports HDR10.
Dolby Vision Doesn’t Matter for Gaming
Right now, video game developers aren’t too bothered by the format wars. In fact, HDR for gaming is only in its infancy. Most games available in HDR support HDR10.
Only a select handful so far have used Dolby Vision’s advanced technology for HDR. Even with that, you’re talking about support only on PC graphics cards, not video game consoles.
The bottom line is, if you’re buying a 4K HDR TV for gaming, forget about the Dolby Vision vs. HDR10 debate and just buy an HDR10 TV.
HDR10 vs. Dolby Vision: Without Jargon
To sum up, here are the main differences between HDR10 and Dolby Vision that you need to know as a buyer.
- All Dolby Vision TVs can support HDR10. An HDR10 TV can’t support Dolby Vision. This is true for non-TV video equipment too.
- Dolby Vision is technically superior to HDR10. But you will need a complete Dolby Vision kit (i.e. display and video source) to take advantage of it. Miss one part and it will downgrade and play at HDR10.
- To find out which movies released in Dolby Vision, check out this list on AVSForum. Remember, a Blu-ray disc with Dolby Vision will have the Dolby Vision logo on it.
What Should You Buy?
Depending on what you expect to do with your TV, there’s a fairly easy choice to make right now. Get a TV with Dolby Vision. There are enough good cheap TVs with Dolby Vision, so why not be future-proof?
In our recent round-up of the best cheap 4K HDR TVs, we saw that the TCL 55P607 fits the bill perfectly. It supports both formats, isn’t too expensive, and has full-array LED backlighting. You can’t go wrong with this one. But do check out the full article if you want a TV for HDR gaming instead.
The Future: HDR10+ and HLG
While the dust hasn’t settled on Dolby Vision vs. HDR10, we are already seeing the next wave of HDR formats.
HDR10+ is the next open format, a successor of HDR10. Again, it will be free, but the technical specifications remain the same. However, HDR10+ adds dynamic metadata control to give you “what the director intended” scenes.
HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma) is a new HDR format that is meant to work with non-HDR TVs. Your standard TV right now might have some display features like HDR, but cannot read the metadata from an HDR video file. HLG bridges that gap so that existing TVs can give you some of the benefits of HDR TVs, so long as they have the capability to.
Which TV Do You Have?
So what should you, a person who just wants to buy a TV, do today? Should you stick with HLG, go for HDR10, or upgrade to Dolby Vision? Here’s a quick if-then decision maker:
- If you don’t have a TV, or are buying a TV no matter what, then buy an HDR TV with Dolby Vision support. Don’t go for anything less.
- If you have a non-HDR TV and don’t mind it, stick with it for as long as you can. Let the format wars settle down before you buy.
- If you have an HDR10 TV, again, stick with it. It isn’t necessary to upgrade to Dolby Vision right now. Other factors, like TV panel quality, matter more.
- If you have a Dolby Vision TV already, congratulations. Start looking at buying a good 4K Blu-ray player with Dolby Vision support.
Which TV do you have? Do you plan to upgrade to HDR or Dolby Vision?