Entertainment Technology Explained

HDR TV: What It Is & Why You’ll Need It in 2016

Joel Lee 24-03-2016

We saw a lot of cool previews and announcements Best of CES 2016: 6 Amazing Products That Are Coming Soon CES 2016 showcased thousands of awesome products, prototypes, and demonstrations. Here are some amazing ones that you might've missed and can expect to be released some time soon! Read More  at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, including a lot of stuff related to virtual reality Oculus Rift vs. HTC Vive vs. Playstation VR: Which Should You Buy? Virtual reality is right around the corner and there are three systems to choose from. Here's what you need to know to make an informed, smart decision. Read More  and consumer drone tech Drone Racing Is Here! 5 Things to Know Before Getting Started Drones are taking over every industry and sports are no exception. Here's everything you need to know about this up-and-coming activity and how you can get involved. Read More , but there was one area that really stuck out: trends in home entertainment 7 Home Entertainment Trends to Watch Out for in 2016 There are some key trends happening in the world of home entertainment in 2016. From 4K televisions to virtual reality headsets. And we have the details on them all. Read More .


4K resolution is a big buzzword these days, and pretty soon we’ll be moving onto 8K. Ultra HD Blu-rays are another area of interest, as are OLED screens — but the biggest advancement to be aware of is the new High Dynamic Range (HDR) feature that’s coming to TV sets later this year.

In fact, with every major TV manufacturer soon debuting the technology in their latest models, it would make sense for you to learn about it even if you don’t plan on upgrading your own TV anytime soon. Here’s everything you need to know going forward.

What Is High Dynamic Range?

Take a look at any still image. The “dynamic range” is the difference between the absolute darkest area of the image versus the absolute brightest area of the image. A “high” dynamic range means the darks are dark and the brights are bright.

If this sounds like it has something to do with contrast, then you’d be right — but it’s also related to color display as well. In order for a TV to be considered HDR-compatible, it must meet certain requirements for both contrast and color range.



Regarding contrast, there are two important specs: peak brightness, which is how much light the TV can produce at maximum, and black level, which is how much light is produced at minimum.

The difference between peak brightness and black level gives you the TV’s contrast ratio, and the greater the contrast ratio, the more “dynamic” the images will appear on the TV. This ratio is actually more important than the absolute brightness or darkness.

Which is why there are two contrast standards for HDR. The first standard requires a peak brightness over 1,000 nits and a black level under 0.05 nits. The second standard requires a peak brightness over 540 nits and a black level under 0.0005 nits.



Regarding color range, HDR-compatible TVs must support a new standard that allows for a greater variety of colors to be shown on screen.

Up until recently, most media devices — such as HDTVs and Blu-ray discs — have all adhered to a 25-year-old standard for an 8-bit color space, which can produce 16 million colors. HDR TVs must adhere to the 10-bit “deep color” standard, which can produce over 1 billion colors. (12-bit and 16-bit standards exist as well.)

Unfortunately, due to the additional information that must be included in a 10-bit signal, backwards compatibility likely won’t be possible.

What HDR TVs Mean for You

Basically, HDR TVs can produce darker darks, brighter brights, and a vastly wider range of colors from dark to bright. But what does this mean for you? Is it actually that much better than current TVs? Should you care about it or can you pass it off as a gimmick?


The real benefit of HDR is that it produces truer-to-life images on your screen. Display technologies are still trying to catch up to the human eye in terms of how much it can really see, and HDR is one step closer to that (though still woefully short).

To be clear, simply buying an HDR TV won’t magically allow you to watch every TV show and movie in wonderful HDR quality. The content itself needs to be mastered with HDR in mind, and then your media interfaces need to support HDR content.


That sounds confusing, I know, so here’s an example. Regular Blu-ray discs could actually support a film with 10-bit color, but your Blu-ray player wouldn’t be able to process it. Similarly, watching a Netflix show on an HDR TV won’t be any different unless that particular show has an HDR option.


This is the same kind of problem that has plagued the first generation of 4K TVs Why Buying A 4K TV Right Now Is A Waste Of Money With an obvious price difference between the new generation of 4K TVs, and older Full HD models - do you really need 4K? We think not, and here's why. Read More . Just because you buy a 4K TV doesn’t mean that everything you watch will be in 4K resolution. The content itself needs to be available in 4K for you to take advantage of it. After all, upscaling only works to an extent What Is Upscaling? How Does It Work? Is It Worth It? What is upscaling? How does it work? Is it all it's cracked up to be? Here's everything you need to know. Read More .

That being said, the overall image quality that you get from an HDR-compatible TV will probably be better than whatever TV you currently have thanks to the improved contrast ratios, peak brightness levels, and black levels. You just won’t be blown away until the content itself becomes ready for HDR as well.


Note: If you plan on streaming HDR content, you’ll need more bandwidth to handle all of the extra digital information that’s included in an HDR signal. Just bear that in mind if you have data caps Why Do Data Caps Exist and How Can You Bypass Them? ISP and mobile data caps are frustrating, but why do they exist? Here's how to bypass your data cap and enjoy limitless internet. Read More .

There’s one more thing you need to know: it doesn’t matter if the TV is LED or OLED. Sure, OLED screens can’t reach the same brightness levels as LED ones, but because there are two contrast standards, HDR is still possible — and worthwhile — on an OLED. If you want brighter, go LED. If you want darker, go OLED.

Obviously if you don’t really care about watching shows and movies in top-notch quality, then HDR TV probably won’t mean anything to you. If you’re the kind of person who still watches in 720p or below, then you probably won’t care enough about the benefits to invest in HDR TV.

Are You Excited for HDR TVs?

So far, it seems that HDR content will only be available in two forms: Ultra HD Blu-ray or streamed from an online service. If you aren’t keen about the Blu-ray option, then now might be the best time for you to start cutting the cord Considering Canceling Cable? The True Cost of Cutting the Cord When you add everything up, do you really save money by cutting the cord? We do the math involved with cancelling cable in favor of Internet services. Read More  if you haven’t already.

Our recommendation is that you wait a bit — maybe a few months — before diving in and buying an HDR-compatible TV for yourself, but don’t wait too long. This is real and it’s definitely going to happen. It’s just a matter of how long it takes for HDR content to come out.

The good news is that remastering old content for HDR isn’t too difficult. It’s not trivial, of course, but the relative ease should mean that HDR content will come sooner rather than later.

How excited are you for HDR TVs? Will you be an early adopter of it 5 Reasons Why Being An Early Adopter Is A Bad Idea Are you the type of person who pre-orders the newest tech gadgets as soon as they’re available? Then you’re an early adopter. Is there a downside? Let's find out. Read More  or will you wait and see how it plays out? Let us know what you think in the comments!

Image Credit: TV with Bicyclist by Sergey Kohl via Shutterstock

Related topics: 4K, Television, Ultra HD.

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  1. Dave
    August 14, 2016 at 10:37 pm

    Thanks for the useful explanation, muo is becoming a regular stop over for me.

    • Joel Lee
      August 19, 2016 at 7:57 pm

      Very happy to hear that! Thanks Dave. Glad we could help you out. :)

  2. Col_Panek
    March 25, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    People stopped buying new PCs and phones because they do everything they need to do; so we have to buy new TVs because.... wait, are the shows better? No??

    • Jason
      March 25, 2016 at 8:03 pm

      What people stopped buying PCs and phones? I work at Best Buy, first in Home Theatre and now in Computers. There are plenty of people upgrading from 720/1080 TVs, and they still buty PCs. Laptops, 2in1s, and tablets are becoming more common but desktops and all-in-ones still sell. I've also done enough phone activations in our mobile dept to know people still upgrade every 1-3 years.

    • Joel Lee
      March 25, 2016 at 8:53 pm

      As of now, HDR computer monitors are not a thing yet. Heck, even OLED monitors have yet to take off in the mainstream. HDR monitors will probably lag behind HDR TVs by a few years, so if you want the benefits of HDR any time soon, TV will likely be your only option.

  3. Anonymous
    March 25, 2016 at 6:01 am

    HDR is more desirable now that I've bothered to read a clear explanation of it. I'll make sure to include it in my next monitor upgrade.

    4K, >=120Hz, IPS or better, and HDR.

    • Joel Lee
      March 25, 2016 at 8:51 pm

      Glad to hear the explanation was clear and helpful. Thanks Axle!