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Dolby Vision on TV: Should your next TV have Dolby Vision?

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Dolby Vision

HDR, which stands for High Dynamic Range, is the TV trend of 2016. The industry has one standard known as Ultra HD Premium – HDR 10 for short – but Dolby also has its own take. Andy Vandervell has already seen it at the cinema, which you can read on page two, but recently John Archer saw the first serious Dolby Vision demos for TVs. Here's how that went.

Before CES 2016, AV journalists increasingly felt that Dolby’s seemingly histrionic "Dolby Vision" take on high dynamic range (HDR) video might become sidelined, at least where home AV was concerned.

As impressive as its limited cinema screenings are, the recently adopted Ultra HD Premium logo and standard – dubbed HDR 10 in the industry – seems to make Dolby Vision unnecessary.

But CES is over now and while there are still challenges for Dolby Vision, my time with nearly two hours watching Dolby Vision in action – and learning how it works – has convinced me it’s more than an also ran, but a serious step-up over the standard HDR experience.

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Strong support from studios and the industry

For starters, my new optimism is bolstered by the startling number of TV brands, video streaming services and film studios that used CES to publicly proclaim their support for Dolby Vision. On the TV side there’s TCL, Vizio and, of most importance to the UK, LG, which has adopted Dolby Vision for its 2016 generation of OLED TVs.

On the streaming side you have Vudu and Netflix, while on the film studio side Universal, Warner Bros, MGM and Sony Pictures have all announced their support for Dolby Vision.

Related: HDR TV: What is it and should you care?

Dolby Vision

This is impressive, and I strongly suspect there will be other additions to the Dolby Vision roster in the coming months.

Given that Dolby Vision support requires the integration of a full silicon solution into screens, though, the million dollar question has to be: what does it bring to the party over and above the HDR 10 standard?

Dolby Vision vs HDR 10 – What’s the difference?

The main specification differences are that masters of movies are done at 12-bit, rather than HDR 10’s 10 bits. Also, peak brightness can go – in theory, at least – right up to 10,000 lumens. In reality, most Dolby Vision masters seem to be targeting 4,000 nits – which remains a very big step up from the 1,000 nits that HDR 10 masters work to.

But most significant is how Dolby Vision uses frame-by-frame metadata to manage HDR performance. This helps to deliver the best results as it adapts the source material to the performance of your TV.

Related: What is Ultra HD Premium? New HDR standard explained

Dolby VisionIt may be a rubbish films, but Pan is streaming in 4K with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos

This is why Dolby Vision requires extra hardware, and why HDR 10 / Ultra HD Premium will be more prevalent, but the Dolby argument is this hardware will deliver better picture quality.

Of course, this also means any players you use must support Dolby Vision as well. As yet, the two Ultra HD Blu-ray players announced by Sony and Panasonic don’t, but presumably LG must have a Dolby Vision player in the works to go with its TVs.

And, in case you were concerned, anything that supports Dolby Vision supports HDR 10 by default, it just doesn’t work in the reverse.

Dolby Vision on TVs – How does it look?

Dolby Vision appears to have come a long way since the slightly "wild west" demos available at 2015's CES. As such, I was keen to visit its large stand in The Wynn Hotel at 2016's CES to see it working in a more real-world environment. I'm pleased to say I wasn't disappointed by what I saw.

For starters, it was impressive to see Dolby Vision now being shown on not one but a series of "real world" TVs: the Vizio R series, an upcoming model from TCL, and most significantly from a UK perspective (Vizio and TCL don’t currently operate here), LG.

LG’s announcement at the start of CES that its latest OLED TVs would be Dolby Vision-compatible initially raised eyebrows. This is because OLED TVs, while certainly more than capable of displaying HDR, aren’t known for their brightness compared with LCD TVs. However, seeing a Dolby Vision demo featuring Pan, predominantly running on an LG 65G6 Signature OLED on Dolby’s stand, was a simply gorgeous experience.

Related: Best TV 2016: Best 32, 40, 55 and 65-inch+ TVs

Dolby VisionNeedless to say this photo isn't representative of the experience

Colours looked incredible – richer and more nuanced than I’ve ever seen colours look on a TV. The dynamic range of the image was clearly superior to any standard dynamic range footage.

Dolby Vision’s dynamic metadata did a better job of mapping the HDR images to the OLED TV’s screen characteristics than HDR 10 feeds, especially when managing the LG OLED’s potential to lose black-level response when displaying content containing just-above-black image content.

The incredible black levels of the G6 OLEDs do an excellent job of making Dolby Vision images look stunningly dynamic, despite the screen’s lack of raw brightness. To me the image appeared more balanced, nuanced and controlled than other HDR images I’ve witnessed, especially in how the brightest luminance peaks feel more integrated with the rest of the image.

This makes for a more immersive experience. You find yourself taking in the HDR image as a whole, rather than having your attention drawn to stand-out peaks, as can happen with less carefully considered HDR images.

The Vizio LCD screen delivered a markedly more brightness-led version of Dolby Vision than the LG. Images were radiant, but crucially still very controlled. Although they didn’t deliver quite such rich blacks as the LG, images certainly contained impressive shadow detail, colour finesse and dynamism.

It was interesting to note, too, how Dolby Vision seems to achieve better black levels from the Vizio screen than standard dynamic range content. Dolby Vision claims this is partly a result of the way its format essentially takes over control of the way a TV’s pictures are reproduced, thanks to its dynamic metadata and the way it adapts to the capabilities of any TV it encounters.

The least impressive demonstration of Dolby Vision came from the TCL screen, which suffered with backlight blocks around bright parts of Dolby Vision images. To be fair, however, the TCL model is still a few months away from launch, so there’s time for this issue to be improved.

Final Thoughts

Overall, while it was a shame not to see a Dolby Vision vs HDR 10 demo running on Dolby’s stand – or anywhere else at the CES, for that matter – I left the stand feeling confident about Dolby Vision’s future.

While it has the potential to confuse consumers at a critical moment in TV development, it brings more than enough extra quality and movie experience to make it a potent and worthwhile addition to the next generation of television.

It's unlikely to dominate given the extra requirements and the fixed standard of HDR 10, but anyone who craves the absolute ultimate movie experience at home shouldn't rule it out.

And even if you can't afford a Dolby Vision TV, it's worth seeking out the cinema experience, as Andy relates in his take on the following page.

L4lefty

December 1, 2015, 7:59 pm

I agree with you on the average cinema experience. I went to see Spectre this week, and as much I enjoyed the film I couldn't help thinking that the picture was awful! Dull, washed out, appalling black/contrast levels and no sharpness. In fact, apart from the sound being impressive these days, not much has changed since I was a kid in that regard. In the era of HD it's not really value for money, given that tickets aren't exactly cheap. Bring back the Ice-cream lady at half-time too I say! ;-)

Andy Race

December 1, 2015, 11:16 pm

Just forked out £2k for a Samsung JS9000 SUHD 4K TV that is HDR compatible. Does that mean it will be Dolby Vision compatible though?

L4lefty

December 2, 2015, 12:42 am

Does Bargain Hunt look as good on that? £2k well spent if the action/fight scenes are as epic as I imagine them, Andy.

Luke Grossman

December 5, 2015, 7:47 am

No. It's not Dolby Vision compatible, only baseline HDR. All ultra HD blu-rays must contain basic HDR (your tv can handle), but they are also able to include Dolby Vision. Dolby Vision is something more. It's by far the best version of High Dynamic Range, it's HDR on steroids. Along with OLED 4k, it's the most interesting thing in TV in 2016. Regular HDR like what your tv can do is nothing special. 2016 LED/OLED willl keep focus on HDR improvements. 4k tvs are still in their infancy. Next year, it's all about getting an oled or getting a LED with Dolby Vision playback. A true Dolby Vision tv must be able to produce at least about as many nits as your tv (1000 nits), but the most important part, if it is dolby vision capable it can read the meta-data for the Dolby Vision movies that are part of the video streams, and not a tv that is simply able to read the baseline HDR. Dolby Vision has much more improvements in the video's picture than without it. Vudu already has some films with Dolby Vision along with Dolby Atmos too, your tv is not able to read Dolby Vision, but next year many models of new TVS and A/V receivers should have dolby vision, because they are now mass producing the soc, system on chip dolby vision that they can slip into tvs and blu ray and 4k media players and stuff, but if your tv cant handle dolby vision, then you cant take advantage of the dolby vision upgrades that are already going to be in your ultra-hd blu rays. your disc will downgrade your stream, and simply default to what your tv can handle, baseline HDR. . In 2016 we will see how the 2016 model OLED tvs will compete with Dolby Vision tvs. OLED is not yet capable to produce Dolby Vision because OLED is not yet bright enough, at about 400 nits in 2015 model. but it can produce perfect black levels that are better than dolby vision LED tvs, but OLED also has fast motion refresh and latency, uniformity and burn in issues. Let's just see where 2016 gets us. Sony should have dolby vision tvs in 2016. right now, Vizio is the only tv maker with a tv, it's in USA only. Your tv is technically bright enough to do Dolby Vision, but doesn't have the propitiatory tech to make it able to produce Dolby Vision, sorry. Companies have to pay Dolby to include it, so they would rather keep their $$$ for the most part, and cheap out and only include baseline HDR.

Leo Ontiveros

December 13, 2015, 5:58 am

So, comparing it with an oled tv, was this better? also, do you think it looks way better than max with laser? i´d love you to write a review of max with laser! thanks.

godisafairytale

December 17, 2015, 9:32 pm

Nope. You just wasted 2k.
Just kidding. You do have a fantastic TV, but it won't do Dolby Vision. That's why I'm waiting. I read about Dolby vision early this year (2015) and screamed into a pillow. It's yet another format war these stupid companies are foisting on us. So I'm waiting until the spring when the 2nd generation HDR TVs come out (including Dolby Vision), so I don't make the wrong choice. I might have to wait even longer to see if Dolby Vision even sticks around. Buyer beware.

cmdrdredd

January 2, 2016, 10:25 pm

The standard for UHD Blu-Ray is HDR10. Dolby Vision is an optional layer that a studio can add to the metadata. Every movie will support HDR10 but it is up to the studio to add in dolby vision if they want. Nobody will be left behind. I think it's ridiculous for someone to argue that dolby does HDR better than the HDR standard already in use in many films and TV shows available today. Dolby Vision is just Dolby Labs marketing it's way into getting licensing agreements for their tech. It's not vastly superior for TVs nor is HDR10 a "cheap alternative". It's all in the grading in the post-production and mastering process. There is no magic button that makes Dolby Vision look so much better. I'm sorry but that's outright false if someone says that.

cmdrdredd

January 2, 2016, 10:26 pm

Dolby Vision is mostly marketing. Having watched many movies and shows with HDR10 there is no way Dolby is doing anything that is that much better. You may have better TV panels, but the quality of the HDR isn't going to be dramatic.Do you know how bright 1000nits is? It's uncomfortable to watch. HDR doesn't need 1000 Nits. Dolby cinema grades HDR for 100nits at pure white. The idea that you need sunlight like brightness at home is rubbish.

cmdrdredd

January 2, 2016, 10:33 pm

You're fine, HDR10 is the standard that every movie mastered for UHD Blu-Ray will adhere to. Every current available HDR TV can read that metadata. The quality of the HDR is in the grading process when making the master. There are already many TV shows and Movies using HDR10 that look absolutely stunning. Dolby Vision is optional and not every movie will use it. Might it be better on paper? Sure it's possible but will you care? I don't think I would seeing as I've already been blown away by some of the HDR content on Amazon and MGo.

godisafairytale

January 7, 2016, 2:24 pm

Thanks for the clarification. Still, there are TVs with and without Dolby Vision. If it turns out that the tech is noticeable and worthwhile, I'd prefer a set that has it. And in the time since my comment, LG has announced their 2016 line of OLEDs at CES, which will have Dolby Vision support baked in. I was waiting for them and planning to get one anyway, so all the better now. I'm thinking the E6.

andyvan

January 12, 2016, 3:26 pm

I can't really compare directly, but laser cinema projection should be better. Maximum brightness, specifically, is much higher than OLED.

andyvan

January 12, 2016, 3:30 pm

There's an update to this piece coming soon from John, our TV guy, who saw some Dolby Vision material at CES. You're basically right on most of that detail, but the main difference is the extra hardware for Dolby Vision TVs which is designed to better match the performance characteristics of your TV against the source.

As you say though, it's not a case of one is rubbish and one is much better. John feels, at the moment, that Dolby Vision does offer something over HDR10, but the difference isn't light and day.

Jon_Irenicus

January 13, 2016, 4:31 am

Will any gpus be able to output 12bit hdr? Sorry if this is a dumb question, but a month or two ago AMD announced a big push for HDR capabilities in both their latest gpus and the soon to be released POLARIS gpus this year. But They specifically mentioned 10 bit color, not 12 bit.

Does this mean that even if I got a tv capable of 12bit color, if it was being fed content from the new amd gpus the most color it would be able to provide would be 10 bit from the amd gpu source?

I ask because most of the content I view comes from my computer and ideally I'd like to be able to get a display that can support the best my computer can output. Will the HDR tvs that are coming out later have different color capabilities?

I saw another video where panasonic made it clear that they were supporting hdr10, so 10 bit, and that they thought that was "clearly" where the industry was headed. Can someone who knows more details clear this up?

Is there an hdr format war? And what are the implications of going for some displays over others, or some content sources over others?

andyvan

January 13, 2016, 11:07 am

I can't really speak to the GPU issue I'm afraid – I'd need to read into a bit more.

I wouldn't really consider it a format war, though. The industry is very much behind HDR 10. That's the way things are going. Dolby Vision is kind of an extension of that, but it won't dominate.

You'll probably see more Dolby Vision in cinemas, potentially, and it may be restricted to only the very top-end TVs.

iFrank

January 14, 2016, 2:27 am

I can remember the Classic cinema chain ( Roxy Brixton was one) at 'half time' a tea lady came round and they had cheaper prices for standing.

Small wonder entire families went to "the flicks"!
'Long John Silver' in Technicolor with the seascape images of the Hispaniola were thought breathtaking.

L4lefty

January 14, 2016, 11:30 am

Really? That made me laugh, Frank. Standing up, wow!

soldierboy001

January 15, 2016, 9:33 pm

Don't you think all these different processes coming out all over the place will just confuse the general public and make him/her hold back on his/her next purchase upgrade to let things settle down for a few years first just stalling sales. Come on manufacturers lets take a breath, please.

The_Magic_M

February 17, 2016, 1:02 pm

> but it won't do Dolby Vision. That's why I'm waiting

And then you'll be waiting some more when Dolby Vision Pro is announced? Then Dolby Vision 2? Then Dolby Vision 2 Ultra?
By that time, we will probably see the first consumer-grade 8K TV's.
It never makes sense to wait long because there's always going to be some better tech around the corner.

godisafairytale

February 17, 2016, 6:57 pm

Wrong. It absolutely does makes sense to wait. Buyer's remorse comes when you make an expensive purchase, only to discover something significantly better is about to be released shortly, and if you'd waited only a bit longer you'd be in the clear. *Significantly better* is the key phrase. Significantly meaning it provides markedly higher performance at an equal or slightly higher price, provides equivalent performance for markedly lower price, and/or introduces some new, important technology critical to longevity and futureproofing that didn't exist on the old model.

In this case, I'm about to drop $3000 on a TV. I will not be getting a new set for at least 5 years, maybe 7. Waiting another 6 months for a set that will be guaranteed to be able to play the vast majority of UHD content in the highest quality with two major HDR standards is worth it, IMO. The difference between Dolby Vision and Dolby Vision Pro/2/Ultra/Partystyle is likely to be not as significant or noticeable as the difference between the introduction of Dolby Vision and no Dolby Vision; it's iterative, not revolutionary. It's the difference between Dolby Digital and no surround sound of any kind; waiting for the next version of Dolby Vision is the difference between Dolby Digital and Dolby Atmos.

I waited to purchase a new drive for my computer because the new NVMe SSDs were coming out. It was absolutely worth it. The performance gains are staggering; more than quadruple the random read speeds and 2.5x the random writes versus a standard AHCI SSD. There will be new NVMe drives flooding the market with all kinds of new small iterative gains, all of which are irrelevant. AHCI was the standard for over a decade, and now the new standard was coming to unseat it. Why would I knowingly buy into a dying standard?

Getting a TV today (2/17/16) would be foolish, since the HDR10 Media Profile wasn't even finalized until mid-2015, after all the flagship TVs had already launched for the year. Last year's models don't have 10-bit displays with Rec.2020 colorspace, HDCPI 2.2 and sufficient contrast and brightness levels to meet the new standards. Waiting for this year's models is the wisest choice in the long run.

godisafairytale

February 17, 2016, 7:18 pm

Jon, this is definitely not a dumb question! It's a great one and one I've been researching myself. No GPUs will be able to output 12-bit color, but some professional ones already do process in 12 bits, or even 16 bits for greater precision (like the Quadro and FirePro cards). TVs and monitors are available in up to 10 bit. The upcoming AMD Polaris - releasing in mid 2016, and Nvidia Pascal cards - coming out Q3 2016, will likely be the first consumer grade cards with 10 bit per channel output and HDR. Not sure about Dolby Vision, that might be down the road for GPUs.

Of course, it's still up to developers to make games and software that outputs in 10 bits per channel. Currently, Alien: Isolation is the only PC game I'm aware of that does this. So the content isn't there yet. For movies, we have yet to even hear word of a UHD Blu-ray drive for PCs in the pipeline. Typically we'll hear about it a few months or even years before it launches. Streaming and downloading UHD content with HDR10 is going to be the only distribution channel for a while. I assume Netflix, Vudu, Youtube and others will be ready with content by the time we can get a hold of one of the compatible GPUs.

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