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Curious about HDR? Here's everything you need to know if you plan to buy a TV in 2016

Jared Newman | Jan. 22, 2016
High dynamic range video promises to be the next big thing in TV tech, but you'll need to be careful when you shop for a new set.

The problem, at least for 2016, is that a lot of TVs will occupy a middle ground: They won't achieve the lofty criteria to be designated Ultra HD Premium displays, but they will able to handle the HDR aspect of Ultra HD Premium content. This raises the question of how TV makers can communicate those capabilities in a trustworthy way.

“Maybe there’s a way for TV manufacturers to say, ‘Okay, I can take a piece of Ultra HD Premium content and represent it well,’ but what the specific requirements around that are, whether there would be a logo for that, what the logo would say is all unclear,” Basse says.

What’s a TV buyer to do?

It's understandable if your eyes glazed over at all the HDR details above. Ideally, users shouldn’t have to do a ton of research to grasp what HDR is and what they need to enjoy it.

But it’s still an early-adopter technology, which means things aren’t going to be so simple in 2016. So before you head to the store, here are some key takeaways about HDR this year:

  • Getting the best picture from an HDR TV will require HDR content. Amazon offers HDR for some of its shows already, while Netflix, Vudu, and YouTube are planning to offer HDR this year. The first 4K Blu-ray players are also coming soon, and they’ll support HDR by default.
  • Some TVs will advertise themselves as “HDR-enabled,” but that alone is not an indicator of quality. Ideally, you can pick up a TV with an “Ultra HD Premium” label, but they’ll be expensive for at least a couple years.
  • Until Ultra HD Premium becomes more affordable, a TV that advertises Dolby Vision support should be a safe bet in terms of HDR quality, because Dolby plans to enforce some of its standards on TV makers. (“We definitely don’t want a TV with Dolby Vision to look like crap,” said Dolby’s Giles Baker.)
  • If all else fails, shoot for a TV that hits or comes close to 1000 nits brightness, which is what the UHD Alliance recommends for Ultra HD Premium TVs. (OLED TVs have lower nit requirements due to a lack of backlighting, but they’ll also be some of the priciest TVs you can buy.)
  • The HDR situation for cable, satellite, and telco TV services is a lot murkier compared to streaming and Blu-ray, which means it’s hard to say if an HDR television bought in 2016 will work with HDR content from these providers, whenever it arrives.
  • Currently, there are no game consoles or streaming boxes on the market with HDR built in, so users will have to access HDR content directly through their smart TVs. To prepare for future HDR set-top boxes, you’ll want an HDR TV that supports HDMI 2.0a.

 

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