4K Ultra HD may have started a resolution revolution in TV picture quality, but the arrival of HDR (which stands for High Dynamic Range) in 2016 promises an even bigger leap in image quality.
HDR pictures offer a higher peak brightness than conventional TV images, greater contrast and more deeply saturated colours.
HDR has been exciting movie makers for some time now. Many Hollywood studios believe that it’s actually a more significant picture upgrade than Ultra HD, because improvements in brightness and contrast are often much more obvious than increased resolution at typical viewing distances.
In cinemas, new laser projection systems are already offering filmgoers an HDR viewing experience. Over the next 12 months, a new generation of HDR TVs from Panasonic will bring that experience home.
So what makes HDR such a big deal?
Standard LCD tellies typically boast a peak brightness of around 450 nits (aka candelas per square meter), but HDR LED TVs can deliver over 700 nits. HDR TV aren’t just designed to dazzle. By expanding the dynamic range, you get far more shadow detail in an image, and a greater range of colours.
HDR technology isn’t just for movies and TV drama, it’s great for sports too. Imagine a football stadium split evenly between shadow and strong sunlight. A standard dynamic range broadcast will struggle to cope, because the producer must expose cameras to reveal detail either in the shadowed area, thereby causing the sun-bathed side of the pitch to bleach out, or the sunlit area, causing the shadowed area to darken. That same football match shown in HDR would have enough image range to cope with both extremes of lighting. You’ll miss nothing.
The world around us is natively HDR. The daylight that streams through the window on your journey into work is around 170,000 nits. Direct sunlight is about 2 billion nits, while Shadows can be as low as 15 nits. Yet movies released on DVD and Blu-ray use a mastering standard designed for TVs of just 100 nits. No wonder High Dynamic Range pictures look so different.
While HDR is a obvious partner to 4K, and is part of the evolving UHD TV standard, it can also be implemented with Full HD 1080p resolution content. HDR will be available on next generation Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray discs and via streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Video. Expect premium TV broadcasters to follow suite.
We think interest in HDR 4K screens will be huge. According to research carried out by the market analysts GfK, picture quality remains the number one criteria for consumers when it comes buying screens, just ahead of price.
The future of TV picture quality is looking very bright indeed!