What Is HDR?

There's actually five different standards for HDR, but this isn't the next Blu-ray vs. HD DVD technology battle.
Watching TV

While 4K has been a must-have TV feature for a couple years, HDR is only just now taking the spotlight. Check out our HDR guide to see what makes an HDR TV, and how much you can expect to pay for a 4K HDR set.

What Is HDR?

HDR stands for "high dynamic range," and it's a feature that upgrades your TV viewing experience by expanding the set's range of contrast and improving color accuracy. Why does contrast matter for TVs? According to Rtings, "contrast ratio is the ratio between the luminance of the brightest white and the darkest black that a TV can produce."

HDR is a feature that upgrades your TV viewing experience by expanding the set's range of contrast and improving color accuracy.

Another feature that vastly improves the way your entertainment looks is wide color gamut, or WCG. Often paired with HDR, it's responsible for bringing more colors to your screen. These are colors that were theoretically impossible to recreate on TV before. As CNET notes, you might not have noticed the lack of realistic color on your TV previously. But once you see HDR and WCG in action, nothing will ever look the same.

How Does HDR TV Work?

HDR is comprised of two different components. Obviously, the TV is a large part of it. A TV with HDR capabilities will be able to produce more light in certain areas of images, compared to a TV without that ability. However, HDR just means that the TV can display that kind of content, not that it will do it well.

Not All HDR Is the Same

If you've paid attention to tech specs in the last few years, you've likely seen HDR mentioned for smartphones as well as TVs. However, you should know that photo HDR and TV HDR are not the same.

SEE ALSO: What You Need to Know When Buying a New TV

Photo HDR works by combining multiple images to capture the best of the group. These different images are rolled together to create one picture that seems to have a greater dynamic range than it actually does.

However, TV HDR actually does have a greater dynamic range. A TV's contrast ratio and color palette are expanded to provide more realistic and natural images than what you'll see on ordinary HDTVs.

5 Types of HDR

There are five standards for HDR: HDR10, Dolby Vision, HLG, Advanced HDR, and HDR10+.

HDR10: A broader standard utilized by brands such as Samsung and Sony. According to The Verge, it's also the default standard for Blu-ray discs, as well as the the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One S consoles. HDR10 has a lower video-quality standard than Dolby Vision (which we talk about below). It has 1,000 nits maximum brightness and supports 10-bit color.

Dolby Vision: This HDR standard was, predictably, created by Dolby. TV sets and media devices either have to be specifically designed for a Dolby hardware chip, or manufacturers add support for it later on via software. The other main standard for HDR, it's also "more future-proof" when compared to HDR10. Dolby has a theoretical maximum of 10,000 nits and supports 12-bit color.

HLG: It stands for Hybrid Log Gamma and is one of the newer standards available. HLG was developed by the BBC and NHK broadcasting networks with the purpose of providing live video in an HDR format.

Advanced HDR: The main purpose of this standard is for broadcast media and upscaling SDR (standard dynamic range) video to HDR. (Read more about SDR below.) Additionally, it's made to be cross-compatible with different HDR hardware.

HDR10+: This format from Samsung draws comparisons to Dolby Vision. Both have dynamic metadata, which "allows TVs to adjust brightness on a scene-by-scene or even frame-by-frame basis," according to Digital Trends.

So which HDR standard is the best? The good news is that none of these formats are really trying to win a technology war — this isn't HD DVD vs. Blu-ray again. Instead, each version is trying to accomplish different things, and they're largely cross-compatible. This means that Dolby Vision videos will typically work fine on your HDR10 set. According to The Verge, HDR is a "spectrum of quality instead of a group of wholly incompatible mediums."

Beware of HDR8

HDR8 is a marketing term that typically refers to 8-bit TVs with HDR. While it might technically meet the definition of HDR, this standard has more in common with SDR than true HDR.

An 8-bit TV has 256 shades each of red, green, and blue. That comes to about 16.7 million colors in total. Compare that to a 10-bit TV, which boasts 1,024 shades of red, green, and blue, or about 1.07 billion total. Thus, TVs with 10-bit color should be able to produce an enormous range of color shades.

One way to ensure you're buying 'true HDR' is by looking for the 'Ultra HD Premium' badge.

One way to ensure you're buying "true HDR" — or at least better HDR — is by looking for the UHD badge. Wired points out that the UHD Alliance has begun issuing an "Ultra HD Premium" stamp of approval for certain TVs. How does a TV earn one of these badges? It must have 4K resolution, support 10-bit color, be able to handle sources that use Rec. 2020 color space, and be able to display at least 90% of the DCI-P3 color space.

If you're feeling overwhelmed, just know that opting for a TV that has the "Ultra HD Premium" badge is a pretty safe bet.

How Much Do HDR TVs Cost?

HDR TV prices will naturally vary by brand, size, and vendor. We've seen 40" HDR TVs as cheap as $300 outright, and larger sets (around 75") bundled with sizable gift cards for $1,500. Rtings, for one, divides their "best of" rankings for 4K HDR TVs into three price tiers.

Rtings' choice for the best budget HDR set costs approximately $550, while the top midrange set would set you back about $800. Its pick for the best HDR set costs around $1,600. Again, prices are largely dependent on brand and size, as well as the vendor and the TV's other features. Furthermore, buying a previous-gen HDR TV could result in even cheaper prices.

Readers, will your next TV have HDR? Do you think it's worth the added cost? Let us know in the comments below.

Julie Ramhold
Senior Staff Writer/Consumer Analyst

Julie's work has been featured on CNBC, GoBankingRates, Kiplinger, Marketwatch, Money, The New York Times, Real Simple, US News, WaPo, WSJ, Yahoo!, and more. She's extolled the virtues of DealNews in interviews with Cheddar TV, GMA, various podcasts, and affiliates across the United States, plus one in Canada.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).


Leave a comment!

or Register
Jay Tee Car Guy
I agree with Machine156 that HDR in whatever iteration or version, makes mostly blows colors into over saturation and does not present a natural looking display of an image. The effect is quite like cranking the Color setting on a TV up beyond the optimum level for an accurate image color level. Buy one of certain mid priced model 4K TVs from Samsung, Vizio or Sony with a good LCD full array back lighted panel and it will give Contrast Ratio, Black Level and Color without use of HDR which only presents an over saturated image.
A display or TV screen does not have to be "HDR" to make use of a 10 bit panel. So that is a misleading statement that only "HDR" panels could be 10 bit. Many HDTV 1080p TVs can and do have 10 bit panels.
As of the past 2 years or so, I've found there are quite a few mid priced 4K HDTV without "HDR" that offer superb, natural and realistic color and display and also offer superb Contrast Ratio and Black level without the HDR technology. HDR = marketing ploy.
@Machine156, it sounds like you are seeing HDR content that isn't being displayed correctly. Check forums for your model TV, sometimes it is as simple as changing a setting or ensuring your cables are up to spec. Good luck!

As for the article, fantastic! THIS is one of the reasons I love DealNews. Thank you, Julie, for this! We got a new 4k HDR TV for our HTPC and it has been awesome. Extremely vivid. A side note, if you are connecting a PC to a 4k HDR TV, be sure to check that your GPU is capable of rendering your content. Since TVs typically don't have DisplayPort inputs, and your GPU might, you can use an active DP to HDMI adapter as a safer alternative, although some people have no trouble with direct HDMI connections.

Coming from a mid range 1080p TV, the step to 4k HDR has definitely been worth it. Moar articles like this DealNews!
HDR video looks horrible! At least on my OLED TV... HDR makes all the colors look fake, and it is incredibly annoying that the TV is constantly readjusting the image while displaying HDR...

OLED has such great color and contrast; but with LCD technology (such as QLED), HDR may be useful due to the poor color and contrast of the TV...
Thank you for all this information, and all the informative columns you contribute to DealNews. I'm not sure how much any human eye (especially those as old as mine) can benefit from billions of colors rather than millions, and I wonder whether the additional data needed for 4K will hinder streaming. The reality is that unless a picture stands still, the human eye doesn't have time to scrutinize a screen closely so smooth action can hide a multitude of sins, and jerky action spoils everything. I've seen the big 4K HDR sets in the store, and I'm thunderstruck, but how much true 4K content even exists? Is there any way to evaluate the 4K upsampling capabilities of TVs? I would like to see reviewers factor real-world considerations like these. Personally, I am bummed out that the TV industry abandoned Plasma technology, though I realize the weight of glass limits size.
I recently bought a 39 ' Samsung TV with HDR and Upscaling, it has a great picture. You will be watching TV for several hours each day for many years. Pay a little extra for these features and you will not regret it.