HDR lands at CES – welcome to the future of TV

06 Jan 2016


Each year the CES tech show has a different television buzzword – in the past these have included Full HD, 3D, OLED and 4K.

This year in Las Vegas the word on everyone’s lips is HDR. It’s actually an acronym made up of 3 words – high dynamic range.

(credit: Associated Press)

All the big TV companies are talking about it, and tech journalists are writing about it. But what is it, and does it make for a sharper viewing experience? 

We take a look…


What is HDR?

High dynamic range comes from photography originally. With a higher dynamic range, an image captures more detail. It does this by creating brighter whites and darker blacks for greater contrast between the 2 colour extremes.

What about 4K? Don't worry, HDR isn't a replacement for 4K UHD - it works in tandem with it. So all HDR sets launched at CES were also 4K UHD. we'll explain more about this later. 


How can HDR improve watching TV?

Basically it improves the brightness, colour range and black colours of your TV – you can enjoy millions more colours.

These peak brightness and black levels are measured in ‘nits’. More nits create a more realistic and a more detailed picture.  HDR TVs can produce a peak brightness of around 1,000 nits – up from around 100 nits on non-HDR TVs.

‘Essentially it’s about making the dark bits of a picture darker and the light bits lighter - or in other words, increasing the contrast,’ says Marc McLaren, editor at Stuff.tv.

‘The human eye is already capable of seeing in HDR: walk into a room and you’ll be able to make out both the shadows and the bright spots. If TVs can do the same thing that can only be a good thing for the viewer.’


Which TV companies are behind it?

(credit: Associated Press) 

Samsung and LG announced at CES that all their flagship TVs for 2016 will be HDR compatible. Sony and Panasonic also made HDR a big part of their 2016 TVs.

Sony’s XDR93 combines 4K and HDR technology with a newly designed backlight that responds to the action on screen by making the picture light or dark.

LG meanwhile showcased its flagship G6 – an OLED TV with HDR. The TV is no thicker than 4 credit cards on top of one another.


How does HDR compare to 4K UHD?

The HDR TVs launching at CES 2016 all have 4K resolution too – as we said, 4K and HDR work together. 

Whereas 4K is all about dramatically increasing the number of pixels on your TV screen, HDR is about making the existing pixels better.

So if you buy a 4K TV with HDR, it’ll have the same number of pixels as a regular 4K TV (around 8.3 million). But those pixels will be made to work harder.

'If you team it (HDR) with 4K too on a 50-inch-plus whopper you’ll be in TV heaven,’ says Marc McLaren, Editor at Stuff.tv


4K UHD and HDR gets an official badge

(credit: Panasonic) 

To help you understand what you’re buying when looking for a 4K TV with HDR technology, a new set of standards has been developed.

TVs that meet these standards will carry an Ultra HD Premium sticker. The standards have been devised by the UHD Alliance – an organisation that promotes the benefits of Ultra HD.

TVs carrying the sticker will have met requirements for ‘resolution, high dynamic range, peak luminance, black levels and wide colour gamut' among others. 

The first TV to be handed the Ultra HD Premium sticker is the Panasonic DX900. This TV combines 4K, HDR and a unique honeycomb-style backlight. 

If you’re buying a new TV, the Ultra HD Premium sticker should you help youmake sense of the jargon and feature descriptions,’ according to an analyst at IHS.


Do I need HDR content?

Yes. In the same way as you need 4K content to get the best from a 4K TV, you need HDR-enabled content for a HDR TV.

But the TV manufacturers and content creators are more aligned than in the early days of 4K, when there was little content to watch on the first 4K sets.

You can already stream HDR video from Amazon. And at CES 2016, Netflix has announced that it too is to begin offering HDR content later this year.

And new Ultra HD Blu-ray players like the one Samsung launched at CES are HDR compatible. 

Follow our CES 2016 coverage at TechTalk