Super-sharp 4K TVs are becoming increasingly popular with around 2 million homes expected to have one by the end of the year. But for the best possible picture quality you want a 4K TV that can playback HDR. This cutting edge video format is being explored by the BBC, and is going to be huge for Netflix in 2017.
4K is a picture resolution that’s 4 times more detailed than Full HD. HDR takes those pixels and makes them better – adding much more detail between the darkest black and brightest whites and vastly increasing colour range.
‘Increasing the dynamic range of TV images makes a huge difference to how real the images appear to viewers,’ says BBC Research and Development’s Phil Layton. ‘It’s closer to looking through a window than watching a standard TV set.’ Samsung, LG and Sony all launched 4K HDR TVs this year and Netflix its first 4K HDR content, but 2017 is set to see major improvements.
Here’s why 2017 is going to be the year of HDR...
Netflix has already converted loads of its 4K content into HDR by sending it to effects studios. From Marvel’s Daredevil and Jessica Jones to foodie show The Chef’s Table.
But 2017 sees Netflix actually shooting new series in HDR.
Marvel’s Iron Fist will be the first Netflix show shot in 4K HDR. By adding HDR creators can ‘specifically control the brightness and contrast of individual areas of a frame,’ says Wired’s Matt Kamen – who spent time on location during a shoot for Iron Fist.
It means they can adjust individual pixels to make them brighter or darker. This enables them to create nuances in colour and shade that are ultra-realistic: think bright streetlights or neon signs popping against a dark, shadowy street on a rainy night.
You’ll be able to watch Marvel’s Iron Fist on your 4K HDR TV from March.
Planet Earth II is one of the biggest TV shows of 2016 but it’ll also have an impact on the biggest TV technology of 2017. The BBC shot parts of Planet Earth II in 4K HDR and is showing 4 minutes of footage as part of a trial on the BBC iPlayer.
The trial shows
- Jaguar stepping out from the shadows to track its prey
- Rain dropping on tiny animals and their habitats in mesmerising detail
- Frog in a shade of red never before seen on a TV
‘The redness of the frog is a really deep Ferrari red that you would never get in broadcast television at the moment,’ explained Phil Layton.
The BBC said the trial is an important step ‘toward streaming high-quality Ultra HD programmes on BBC iPlayer’. By running the iPlayer trial the BBC can ‘identify the various obstacles and challenges to streaming full length programmes,’ says a press release.
The only snag is the HDR used by the BBC is currently only available on certain Panasonic TVs. It uses a format called HLG or hybrid log-gamma.
‘We want to use this as a trigger to work with manufacturers to get their products updated so there's a pathway there for future on-demand BBC content,’ says Phil Layton. Here’s fingers crossed they do.
New TVs and HDR tech at CES
The first 4K HDR TVs were announced at CES 2016. Now we can expect a new generation of even smarter models at the Las Vegas tech show in January 2017.
HDR video comes in different formats, HDR10 and Dolby Vision. And how these two compare is likely to a big topic. Most TV manufacturers support HDR10. But Dolby Vision – the higher quality format – wasn’t supported by as many TVs.
With Netflix using Dolby Vision for Marvel Iron Fist, and Ultra HD Blu-ray using it too, CES 2017 could perhaps see more 4K HDR TVs compatible with Dolby Vision. Another topic will be whether TV manufacturers are making their 4K HDR TVs compatible with the HLG, another format used by the BBC to trial Planet Earth.
From CES 2017 throughout next year, HDR will be big news.
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