HDR, not 4K, is the next big thing in TV technology.
My colleague Jeff Dunn has an excellent explanation of why, but the takeaway is that your next good TV will likely have both 4K, which is just basically more pixels, and HDR, which affects the colours and will have a much more noticeable affect on your experience.
What is HDR?
HDR stands for “high dynamic range,” and it boosts your TV’s contrast ratio. This means the difference between your TV’s brightest and darkest colours is greater, which allows for much finer detail for the shades in between. HDR also comes alongside another feature, wide colour gamut (WCG), which lets your TV produce more colours than most current sets are capable of.
With HDR, the colours are glorious, and the picture is more lifelike. “It’s not a gimmick so much as a straight improvement,” according to Dunn.
So HDR is great, but there are a few problems. First, the good TVs that support it right now will run you $1,500-$2,000. You’re probably better off waiting for the market to mature. But even if you are willing to plunk down the cash at this very moment, there is still the issue of what you are actually going to watch.
HDR10 vs. Dolby Vision
To get into this, it first helps to understand that there are two common types of HDR. The first is HDR10, which is a more open format. If you see something that refers to HDR on a TV, it’s most likely talking about HDR10. The second is Dolby Vision, which is also HDR, but is a proprietary format created by Dolby that requires a licensing fee from the TV manufacturer. I won’t get into the differences between them here, but know this: You can’t play Dolby Vision content on an HDR10 TV and vice versa, though there are TVs that support both.
This brings us to where you can find HDR shows and movies.
If you’re going to be dipping your toe into the HDR pool, chances are you’re going to be using Netflix or Amazon Video, the two major streaming services that currently support it.
Netflix will release a lot of original HDR content by the end of 2016, and made a splashy announcement about it this spring, calling the technology “the next generation of TV.” That said, it’s still a small fraction of the service’s overall library. All Netflix titles are available in both HDR10 and Dolby Vision.
Here is Netflix’s selection of current and upcoming titles, which the company says will hit “more than 150 hours” by the end of 2016:
- A Series of Unfortunate Events
- Chef’s Table
- Knights of Sidonia
- Marco Polo
- Marvel’s Daredevil
- Marvel’s Iron Fist
- Marvel’s Jessica Jones
- Marvel’s Luke Cage
- Marvel’s The Defenders
- The Do-Over
- The Ridiculous Six
Amazon, like Netflix, plans to release “more than 150 hours” of HDR content by the end of 2016. But right now, Amazon’s selection of original content is mostly limited to HDR10, so if you have a Dolby Vision TV, it’s slim pickings. Amazon does have some movies from Sony in Dolby Vision, however.
Here is Amazon’s selection, compiled by Lifehacker (HDR10 unless noted as Dolby Vision as well):
- Bosch Seasons 1 and 2 (Dolby Vision as well for Season 2)
- Mad Dogs Season 1
- Man in the High Castle Season 1
- Mozart in the Jungle Seasons 1 and 2
- Red Oaks Season 1
- Transparent Seasons 1 and 2
- Good Girls Revolt
- One Mississippi
- The Interestings
- The Last Tycoon
- Z: The Beginning of Everything
- Coral Reef Adventure
- The Living Sea
- Van Gogh: A Brush with Genius
- After Earth (Dolby Vision as well)
- Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Dolby Vision as well)
- Chappie (Dolby Vision as well)
- Elvis and Nixon
- Elysium (Dolby Vision as well)
- Fury (Dolby Vision as well)
- Hancock (Dolby Vision as well)
- Men in Black III (Dolby Vision as well)
- Pineapple Express (Dolby Vision as well)
- Salt (Dolby Vision as well)
- Smurfs 2
Beyond Netflix and Amazon, Vudu, Walmart’s movie rental service, also offers a bunch of HDR titles, though they are only Dolby Vision (sorry, no HDR10). See a full list of titles there.
Lastly, if you are trying to stretch into the physical realm, you can pick up Ultra HD Blu-rays. These, however, only support HDR10 currently, and consequently there aren’t any players compatible with Dolby Vision either. The new Xbox One S supports only HDR10.
So the main moral of the story is that watching HDR content is going to be a little convoluted until the whole HDR10 versus Dolby Vision war settles down — or until all TVs just start supporting both by default.
Additional reporting by Jeff Dunn.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through hispersonal investment company Bezos Expeditions.