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What is HDR TV? High Dynamic Range explained


High Dynamic Range: Everything you need to know about the TV world's hottest new trend, including Samsung's recently announced HDR10+.

It's the feature that the best TVs boast about but why is HDR the future of TV? Here we'll explain all the ins and outs and answer some common questions, including:

  • What is HDR?
  • How do I know if a TV is HDR compatible?
  • What makes an HDR TV?
  • Where can I find HDR TV content?
What is HDR? It stands for High Dynamic Range. Basically, it means better contrast, greater brightness levels and a wider colour palette. It's about making your films and TV shows look that bit more like real life. The idea is that your eyes can perceive brighter whites and darker blacks – greater dynamism – than traditional TVs have been able to display. HDR aims to improve on that.

HDR content preserves details in the darkest and brightest areas of a picture that are lost using old standards such as Rec.709. It also allows for more natural, true-to-life colours that are closer to how we see them in real life.

HDR10 is the standard form of HDR and has been around for a while, competing with Dolby's own version of the technology, Dolby Vision. But now Samsung has its own standard, known as HDR10+ which Amazon Video has just announced it will be supporting, and which we'll tell you more about later in the article.

Now you know the basics, it's worth keeping in mind that contrast and colour are the two key things to consider when thinking about HDR. Here's a full breakdown:

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How do I know if a TV is HDR compatible?

The safest way is to look for the Ultra HD Premium logo. This is a stamp of approval by the UHD Alliance, a group made up of technology firms and content producers. The idea is to limit the amount of confusion when it comes to buying new kit, as chaos is easy to abuse.

Previously, HDR was rushed out to consumers before anyone had really agreed on a set of standards to define it, which led to many TVs having an HDR sticker on the box, regardless of specs or quality. TV manufacturers and content providers had very little in terms of clearly defined specs to work to when creating HDR screens and content.

With the UHD Premium label, we now know the precise, minimum specifications a TV needs to be considered truly HDR compatible.

Our guide ‘What is Ultra HD Premium?’ provides an in-depth breakdown of the logo and what it means, but read on for a condensed explanation.

That said, not all TVs that say they are 'HDR' have the UHD Premium certification. In these cases, you will get some of the benefit of HDR content, but these TVs won't offer the best possible experience. The UHD Premium system isn't perfect, but generally it's safer to buy a UHD Premium TV.

Related: What is 4K and Ultra HD?

Ultra HD Premium

What makes an HDR TV?

There are two things that define an HDR TV. Their contrast performance and the number of colours they can display. Let’s start with the first.

Contrast: Contrast is one of the most important factors in how good a TV picture looks and it’s a key part of what makes an HDR TV. It refers to the difference between light and dark. The greater the difference, the greater the ‘contrast’.

There are two components to consider here. One is peak brightness, which rather unsurprisingly, refers to how bright a TV can go, measured in what’s known as 'nits'. Think of one nit as the equivalent of one candle's brightness. TVs must meet a specific number of nits in order to be given the HDR label.

The other measurement is black level. Similar to peak brightness, black level refers to how dark a TV image can appear and is also measured in nits. So, for example, a TV could have a peak brightness of 400 nits and a black level of 0.4 nits.

The difference between the peak brightness and black level is known as the contrast ratio. HDR TVs have to meet specific standards for peak brightness and black level which helps give them the dynamic appearance.

Colour: This is the second of the most important aspects of HDR. When it comes to colour, a TV must be able to process what’s known as 10-bit or ‘deep’ colour. 10-bit colour equates to a signal that includes over a billion individual colours. In comparison, Blu-ray uses 8-bit colour, which amounts to around 16 million different colours. With 10-bit colour, HDR TVs will be able to produce a vastly expanded range of colour shades, reducing overtly obvious gradations between shades. Subtle shading helps to make a scene look far more realistic.

However, as is always the case with these things, it isn’t quite as simple as this. In order to be considered HDR compatible, a TV doesn’t need to be able to display all the colours in a 10-bit signal. It just has to be able to process the signal and produce an image based on that information.

And it doesn’t stop there. If you’re still with us, there’s more colour stuff to go over. An HDR TV must be able to produce a certain amount of what’s known as ‘P3’ colour. P3 colour refers to the range of the colour spectrum which is included. The best way to think about this is imagine an overall colour spectrum, and within that a set of defined spaces. The P3 colour space is a larger than the what standard TVs use, Rec. 709, which means it covers more colours.

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Colour space

Essentially, HDR means a TV can cover a wider space within the colour spectrum, and within that space, the various gradations of shades will be much smoother than on current TVs.

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So, what's HDR10+?

As mentioned, there are two competing standards when it comes to HDR: HDR10 (the dominant standard) and Dolby's own, more advanced version, Dolby Vision. You can find out more about Dolby Vision in our guide. But now, Samsung's own take on the technology, HDR10+ is gaining some attention, with Amazon announcing it will be supporting the standard. So, what is it?

HDR10+ is an open standard, created by Samsung and available on all the company's 2017 TVs (it'll be coming to 2016 models via a firmware update sometime later in 2017). It improves on HDR10 by using dynamic metadata instead of the static metadata used by HDR10. That means it can dynamically alter the brightness of individual scenes and even individual frames throughout a particular TV show or film. For example, if a scene was meant to be shown at lower brightness, HDR10+'s dynamic approach will drop the brightness level in real-time to match what the director intended.

Commenting on Amazon's adoption of the technology, Greg Hart, Vice President of Amazon Video, worldwide added: "At Amazon, we are constantly innovating on behalf of customers and are thrilled to be the first streaming service provider to work with Samsung to make HDR10+ available on Prime Video globally later this year."

HDR10+'s use of dynamic metadata brings it closer in line with Dolby Vision, which also uses the dynamic approach. Whether the HDR10+ will become the dominant standard is entirely unclear at this moment, but stay tuned as it seems the technology is increasing in popularity.

What’s all this OLED vs LED talk and does it affect HDR?

The two big display technologies in the AV industry are OLED and LED LCD. For a full explanation of these two approaches check out our ‘OLED vs LED LCD’ feature. In short, LED TVs use lights to illuminate the pixels in a traditional LCD screen, while the pixels in OLED displays produce their own light.

LED TVs are capable of producing high peak brightness and as such, offer the best way for manufacturers to create HDR compatible TVs. Many argue that OLED technology isn’t a great option for HDR due to its difficulties in producing a very bright image versus LCD/LED.

So how can OLED, with its brightness issues, qualify for HDR compatibility? Well, the UHD Alliance has got around the problem by introducing two standards, either of which qualifies you for UHD Premium status:

STANDARD 1: More than 1,000 nits peak brightness and less than 0.05nits black level.

STANDARD 2: More than 540 nits brightness and less than 0.0005 nits black level.

While standard one demands higher brightness and tolerates a higher black level, standard two tolerates a lower brightness and demands a lower black level. This means manufacturers looking to make LED HDR TVs, which most are, will abide by standard one, while OLED TVs will be able to gain the Ultra HD Premium label by conforming to standard two. Ultimately, it's not about how bright you get, but how much of a jump there is between light and dark.

And that’s it. In the grand scheme of things, it won’t matter which type of TV you have as to whether it will be HDR compatible or not. LED TVs will give you an HDR image with better peak brightness but less deep blacks, whiled OLED TVs will give you an HDR image with lower peak brightness but deeper blacks.

So if I have an HDR TV, everything I watch will be in HDR?

If only it were that simple. Content has to be mastered for HDR in order to work with the standard. In other words, both the source, and the TV have to be HDR compatible. Luckily, with the advent of Ultra HD Blu-ray and advancements in online streaming from Netflix and Amazon, content creators will be able to deliver HDR content more easily.

Related: Ultra HD Blu-ray Explained

How do I start watching HDR content?

You have two options: buy a new Ultra HD Blu-ray player or stream HDR video from the likes of Netflix and Amazon. Your TV must also comply with the HDMI 2.0a standard, though any TV with the Ultra HD Premium label will do so by default.

UHD discs, with their greatly improved storage capacity, can now contain extra information which tells HDR TVs how to interpret colours and brightness levels. This metadata is not provided with standard Blu-ray discs and as a result, the picture on the TV looks somewhat different in terms of colour and brightness to how the creators intended it.

With UHD Blu-ray, the metadata can be included, allowing the disc to effectively tell the TV exactly how to display each image. That doesn’t mean that all UHD Blu-rays will be HDR – most of them are – it just means the creators now have the option of including the metadata to make the content HDR.

Related: How to find 4K HDR content on Netflix and Amazon

Ultra HD Blu-ray 9

UHD Blu-rays are now officially available in both the US and UK. All of the titles currently available come boasting the HDR logo, meaning if you have an HDR-ready TV and UHD Blu-ray player, such as the Panasonic DMP-UB900 or Oppo UDP-203, you'll be able to watch these films in HDR.

If you're looking to buy an Ultra HD Blu-ray player, one of the best options is the Xbox One S games console, which has a player built-in. It's one of the cheapest players currently available, and of course also plays all the latest games on the console.

And when it comes to streaming, Netflix is making big strides. The company has previously stated that it believes adding HDR will only add around 2.5Mb/s to a consumer’s broadband requirements, versus the 12Mb/s or so of extra broadband speed you need to enjoy 4K over HD. That’s good news as it means that extra metadata can be relatively easily streamed along with the video.

Netflix now has plenty to watch in HDR. Marco Polo was the first available, but since then we've had Daredevil season 2 and most recently Iron Fist, plus some delicious food shows like Chef's Table.

Rival streaming service, Amazon Prime Video, has already jumped on the HDR bandwagon, releasing season one of its original series Mozart in the Jungle in the format.

The Grand Tour, the show from former Top Gear presenters Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, is also available in 4K and HDR.

Netflix has also said it believes a significant number of films can be remastered for HDR. So as the format takes off, we’ll likely see more and more options to stream our favourite shows and films in HDR.

Samsung K8500 UHD Blu-ray player

So should I buy an HDR TV or not?

Now that there’s an official HDR standard, in the form of Ultra HD Premium, the danger of buying a rubbish TV claiming to be HDR compatible has been minimised. If you buy a Ultra HD Premium TV you’ll know you’re getting a TV capable of meeting the HDR standards set by the UHD Alliance.

It’s still worth doing some research on the product before you buy, just to ensure you’re getting the specs you need for a true HDR experience.

That said, now is a better time to invest in HDR than ever. Although 4K has been the big thing thus far, the combination of the relative ease with which HDR content can be produced (versus data-heavy 4K) and (because it’s less data intensive) distributed to consumers really seem to be exciting content producers in a way 4K struggled to do.

Put simply, content creators have more reasons to produce HDR content than 4K, so buying an HDR TV this year is a smart move. And, if you're ready to make the move to HDR, go take a look at our best 4K TV guide for the best options.

Is there anything you'd like to know about HDR? Let us know in the comments section below


February 14, 2015, 1:25 pm

An interesting article. I would like to know more about what I regard as the big question - will superior HDR on LED be better or worse than superior black contrast on OLED.


February 14, 2015, 5:23 pm

Excellent read - many thanks. I think the TV's that are going to really do HDR justice are going to be very expensive and you are always taking a chance buying into new tech like this ... then of course you have the limitations of the LCD panels themselves.


February 14, 2015, 8:44 pm

It'll probably be the same story as now. LCD's better in a bright room, OLED's better in the dark.

Saturns Eye

February 16, 2015, 9:28 am

I can't stand HDR, even in photography. Just more false forced crap tv's don't need.

Prem Desai

February 17, 2015, 11:08 pm

Potentially great technology. No doubt, some companies will come up with a half-baked version in order to be 'the first'.

Once all parties involved get their act together, it'll be worth reviewing. Not till then ....


February 23, 2015, 2:35 pm

The contents issued by the tv are not of the quality that can deploy these tv's are staying far behind vs. oled screens tv's or 4k, the main problem is how to make all content high quality look that is a lot to do in terms of upscaling or better bitrate...


April 8, 2015, 1:16 pm

Remember when 3D TV's were a huge thing in the past? you see how nowadays you NEVER hear about 3D TV's anymore?

yes? well now you know how i feel about this article...
this whole thing screams the word "fad" to my ears

Nagy Bertalan

May 13, 2015, 4:29 pm

We all have to put food on the table.


June 11, 2015, 1:59 pm

So what is the Goldilocks zone for the ideal Peak Nit count for an HDR tv? For example Samsungs claim for the 2015 model JS9500 is 1000 Nits, Panasonic AX900 is 700 Nits, and Sony X940/930C did not mention any numbers. As far as I know there is no standard yet from the UHD alliance.

Dr. MKhalil

July 21, 2015, 1:54 am

I fully agree ,, HDR produce more details than natural look ,, its let me feel fake ,,, i found 4K TV with high contrast and inky black better . Save you money .

Dr. MKhalil

July 21, 2015, 1:56 am

OLED just enough in dark and normal bright room ,,, i think its no need HDR to give more contrast . 😊


August 31, 2015, 9:59 am

What is your problem with HDR in photography?

In many situations camera struggles to have the same dynamic range as your eyes. For example, the sky often tend to be blown out, so you can't see clouds, even though you could clearly see them with your own Eyes.

And in dark enviroments, where there is a relative bright light, that often gets overblown as well.

What HDR does, is that it takes 2 or more pictures, at different exposures, and them mix the result to get a picture, where the dynamic range is closer to what your eyes can see.
You have to hold the camera very still, in order for it to work, though.

This has been done for man years, with so called bracketing, only that then, the photographer had to mix the result between the picture, him/herself, with the help of software.

Here HDR is something else. Cause that multiple exposure thing, would have already been taken care of (if they really did that when they filmed movies).
So it's not extending the dynamic range by multiple exposures.
And this HDR I don't really get.
Cause there have for a long time been TV's that did better and TVs that did worse with shadow details.
HDR support will probably end up on TVs that does worse in shadow details.
So HDR will not really tell us anything.


September 22, 2015, 9:16 am

"dark scenes look hugely more convincing in HDR than they do on normal LCD TVs because of the stunning amount of extra greyscale and shadow detail information HDR makes possible."

That sounds just plainly wrong. HDR means "High Dynamic Range", which by definition is not present in dark scenes.


September 22, 2015, 9:25 am

You didn't get what HDR TVs really are, how could you know you can't stand it, if you've never looked at it ? (your screen is most likely unable of displaying HDR content).

What you say you don't stand, is (HDR + tone mapping) which allows to unrealistically get a feel of the content of an HDR source on a non-HDR display.

Any picture of a screen displaying HDR content, where you can see the whole range from bright to dark (= no underexposed / overexposed part), has necessarily been tone-mapped.

Do you see the light ? It's not forced-crap, it's TVs that are finally able to display HDR content correctly (i.e. in a natural way) !!!


October 3, 2015, 9:06 pm

Will HDR compatible tv's improve gaming on Xbox One?


October 4, 2015, 10:55 am

Another gimmick to keep up with the Joneses, foolish really. I can understand UHD, and even then its a stretch that most won't take to upgrade in the current economic climate. I'm happy with my Sony HX850, and my Panasonic VT60 plasma, I'll keep them both, and baby them till they eventually die of old age. They both work great for games and movies, and the calibrated picture is to die for on both. I haven't seen a UHD tv yet ,that wasnt OLED, that could hold a candle to the VT60.

Bottom line is preference. Im spoiled to a correctly calibrated screens. Alot of people don't like, or could care less about a screen calibration. If you like punchy, overly crisp, super sharp pictures, you'll love HDR from what I've seen so far. To me HDR just looks fake, almost cartoon looking in comparison to a well calibrated reference set, but hey, if you like HDR, enjoy it. Im sticking to 1080p, with good calibration till I'm forced to move forward, the content for UHD and especially HDR just isn't real mainstream as of yet, its better to wait it out till its either perfected or forgotten.


January 28, 2016, 6:36 pm

I would disagree where 3D is concerned. Pick up a Best Buy ad and look at just about any of the higher end TVs. Most advertise 3D. And any movie that is released in 3D in the theaters is offered in 3D on BluRay. We own several.
I will acknowledge that broadcasters have not picked up on 3D and more's the pity. I think sports in 3D would be excellent. With all the 3D TVs out there, I think it would be justified. Plus, if they started to broadcast all the football games and NASCAR races in 3D, think about how fast sales of 3D TVs would pick up.


January 29, 2016, 4:37 am

yes i see what you mean... im not sure if it was the lack of sales or bad marketing in the past, but 3D TV's didnt really become a standard nowadays. Most people dont own one. It's mostly a "niche" of sorts. It could have been due to the higher price, or maybe the need for the glasses.. but all in all, you dont really hear much about it anymore. It's like how Bluray took over its competitor: "HD DVD". Didnt take off at all..

Sure sports or games could be nice in 3D, but now with Virtual Reality devices, i think the 3D age is surpassed anyways. Virtual reality immersion is where it's at right now. Sure it's in games mostly so far, but maybe it'll be compatible with TV's sometime later.


February 3, 2016, 5:40 pm

Although technically correct by stating "now is a better time to invest in HDR than ever", I still don't really think NOW is the best time to buy.
There's literally no content available. Why buy now before the content is even there?
I mean, if you're buying a new TV then sure go for it, but other wise wait at least 6-12 months before upgrading. You'll get a much better value set that won't be first gen and there'll be content to go with it.
Other new tech like OLED and quantum dots may even be more mainstream too.

Bob BirkenheadtheBall

February 9, 2016, 8:21 pm

No you will need a HDR Compatible GPU....maybe XPlops 2 if you lucky.

Bob BirkenheadtheBall

February 9, 2016, 8:24 pm

3D tv's here....where you been??...lol

Bob BirkenheadtheBall

February 9, 2016, 8:34 pm

I agree.....HDR should be Standard not a Set costing extra £1000 odd

Bob BirkenheadtheBall

February 9, 2016, 8:37 pm

I....this needs to be done right with use of software aswell as hardware

Bob BirkenheadtheBall

February 9, 2016, 8:37 pm

Again if done right


February 28, 2016, 5:48 pm

Is my sony 65in 850c definitely HDR?

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