In Addition to 4K, Apparently We Also Need HDR

So 4K is all the rage, especially with the new PS4K coming (which, horn-toot, I totally called). But 4K apparently isn’t enough, we also need to ensure our new sets have HDR. This sounds like total platitudinal synergistic marketing-speak. But is it?

Here’s the wikipedia link for HDR. And here’s a good Wired article on HDR. TLDR; HDR provides a greater range of luminosity than legacy (standard?) imaging technology. Getting HDR images on a TV requires new technology to capture the higher ranges (new sensors with higher fidelity, as now found on many phones), and then new ways to present those images on LCD or OLED screens.

To my un-educated brain, the way we present the HDR videos on LCD screens sounds like a  combination of software emulation and brighter lighting (to allow for greater contrast), rather than a true new display technology. Of course, emulation can be done a ton of different ways, which naturally leads to standards issues, but wikipedia tells me that  on August 27th of 2015 a standard was adopted–but that’s not quote right, there are actually quite a few standards including “Dolby Vision” (which is proprietary) and “HDR10” which is an open standard. They’ll probably, eventually, both be adopted by TV makers.

OLED screens may help here, since they can rely on true blacks to obtain high contrast, but perhaps they can’t get as bright as an LED backed LCD screen? I haven’t found an answer to this, but I do know there are OLED HDR screens on the way already here. And I just found the answer in the Wired article, I’ll just quote it here:

For an LCD, a qualifying TV must have a peak brightness level higher than 1,000 nits and a black level less than 0.05 nits. For an OLED to qualify, it must have a peak brightness of at least 540 nits (remember, OLEDs cannot get super bright) and a black level less than 0.0005 nits (remember, OLEDs can get super dark).

One more aspect of HDR we should call out: the color space is increasing from the old standard of 8-bit, to a new 10 or 12 bit color space. This increases the amount of colors we can see. I’m guessing this will make a true technological difference.

So what’s the verdict? Is HDR a marketing gimmick or is it actual new technology? Per for former, of course it’s marketing, but per the latter, I’d say it’s somewhere between “sort of” and “yes”. New, better technology allows us to capture higher luminosity videos, and new technology increases our display of color space dramatically, but we’re still emulating the luminosity on the TV. I’m guessing HDR video will look much better, but also, I do not think HDR means what TV marketers think it means.