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Sound and Vision: What is Samsung’s issue with Dolby Vision?

OPINION: It’s been a week of announcements in the TV market with Samsung, Sony and LG laying their cards down for the coming year.

As usual, some things have changed while others have stayed the same. And one thing that belongs in the “hasn’t changed” column is Samsung’s reluctance towards Dolby Vision. Given it’s now one few TV manufacturers to not support it, what is the issue?

It’s a question that pops up regularly, but the answers aren’t always the most convincing. If picture quality and respecting the filmmaker’s vision are key drivers behind your picture quality philosophy, why wouldn’t a TV manufacturer support Dolby Vision?

For Samsung, I think it’s down to a few things. Samsung has always pursued a high brightness approach with their QLEDs and now their OLEDs. The philosophy has been hitting a high level of brightness and subsequently colour volume that produces a wide array of colours that approaches something close to the colours we see in everyday life. I’d make the case, that it’s not always the most accurate, especially if you don’t have the required number of dimming zones to bring that high brightness under control. It is an area that Dolby Vision, ironically, would help.

Another reason is that Samsung does not want picture quality standards dictated to them by a ‘black box’ inside their TV that decides how an image is meant to look. After all, an argument against having Dolby Vision is that if your picture ends up the same (or similar) as everyone else, how are you different?

Samsung S95C OLED Frankfurt
S95C OLED – Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

This thought about picture quality came to me during Samsung’s Tech Seminar held in Frankfurt in February. There was a still-to-be-finalized S95C OLED alongside an LG G2 OLED, with HDR mastering expert Florian Friedrich on hand to present a tech comparison; a discussion I talk about in another article on this site.

And what he said about colour volume distortion (his term) was convincing. I could see in the footage on both screens the differences in colours between the two, some more clearly than others, but colours were a little off with the LG – a tint of green where there shouldn’t be, a lashing of a bluish white when it ought to be a darker blue. Of course, there’s a difference in processing and I can probably dispute whether some of the settings the TV was in, but the gist of the point was understood. But I still had a nagging thought in the back of my head.

But this was also taking into account Samsung’s high brightness approach. The footage on both TVs was in HDR10, meaning content was mastered to a maximum of 1000 nits, but would the LG still suffer from the ‘colour volume distortion’ issue if the footage was in Dolby Vision? I’d wager not as my experience is that Dolby Vision would correct the colours; last year I’d put an LG G2 next to a Samsung S95B and streamed Dr Strange in the Multiverse of Madness from Disney+ on both (Dolby Vision for the LG, Standard mode for the Samsung), and the results were near identical.

Another aspect to take into account is that content is not necessarily mastered at super bright levels. If anything recent trends have seen films and TV shows become darker, colourists are tapping into the darker end of the colour spectrum rather than the brighter end. If the Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon picture quality controversies have made clear, the emphasis should be to describe darker images with more clarity and detail, which again is one that Dolby Vision aims to do.

Samsung S95C QD-OLED demo
Samsung S95C – Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

The other elephant in the room is HDR10+, the rival to Dolby Vision that Samsung effectively created which is free and doesn’t require a license to use. The argument for HDR10+ is that it is less prescriptive in dictating what the image should look like, giving the display more leeway in producing an image that suits its processing capabilities. But that makes it more of a TV technology than one that preserves the intent of the creator, and is likely why more content is in Dolby Vision, whether streaming or physical media, given it is the de facto mastering standard.

So it’s reaching (if not reached) a point where not supporting the HDR format seems self-defeating. But if Philips, Panasonic and TCL can support both HDR formats, without sacrificing their philosophy to picture, why can’t Samsung?

Its refusal rather exposes the whole idea of offering the” best” picture quality as the likes of Disney, Apple TV+ and Netflix all believe Dolby Vision is how they want their content to be seen. Supporting Dolby Vision shouldn’t be viewed as a loss or defeat, HDR10+ can co-exist with it, and having Dolby’s HDR format would make it easier and better for the consumer, which is what any TV manufacturer should be striving. It doesn’t look as if Dolby Vision is going to make an appearance on Samsung TVs any time soon, though.

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