Brace Yourselves: The 'HDR' Format War Is Coming

Another lounge room format war is looming as Samsung and Amazon Video unveil HDR10+ to rival Dolby Vision, backed by LG and Netflix. Here are the ugly details.

High Dynamic Range has been the Next Big Thing in home entertainment for the last few years, boosting the contrast to reveal more detail in the brightest highlights and darkest shadows. I'd argue that it's more important than 4K, as HDR dramatically improves the picture quality regardless of the screen size and resolution.

While HDR goes by a few names, until now the various formats have been backwards compatible so you wouldn't class it as a true format war. You haven't really been forced to choose between them, but that's about to change.

Heart of Darkness

HDR10 is the baseline HDR format, with metadata which sets the dynamic range – the difference between the brightest white and the darkest black – for the entire movie. Meanwhile Dolby Vision includes extra metadata which allows the television to adjust the dynamic range for each scene, plus Dolby Vision supports a wider 12-bit colour range and maximum 10,000 nits brightness. Put to the test you can clearly see the difference.

Dolby and LG cheekily describe HDR10 as "generic HDR" to goad their rivals, but the good thing is that Dolby Vision-compatible gear can still play HDR10 content – you still see the benefit of HDR, you just lose the extra detail which Dolby Vision brings to the picture. Likewise HDR10-compatible gear can still play Dolby Vision content, but it only looks as good as HDR10.

These days you'll find HDR10 on most Ultra HD Blu-ray discs and some streaming services, but we're still waiting for the first Dolby Vision-compatible Ultra HD Blu-ray discs and players – which should be on the shelves by the end of the year. Until then Netflix is Australia's only source of Dolby Vision content.

Dolby Vision is a closed standard, players and televisions require a built-in decoding chip and manufacturers must pay licensing fees to Dolby. LG has championed Dolby Vision and a few other major television makers are onboard, but fellow Korean tech giant and arch rival Samsung is not one of them.

There is another

Rather than jumping on the Dolby Vision bandwagon, Samsung has teamed up with Netflix rival Amazon Video to create the open HDR10+ standard. Building on the HDR10 baseline, HDR10+ adopts Dolby Vision's ability to optimise the dynamic range on the fly by embedding extra metadata for each scene. The new HDR10+ format still falls short of Dolby Vision when it comes to colour range and maximum brightness.

Presumably HDR10+ is backwards compatible with HDR10. The good news is that HDR10+ doesn't rely on a special decoding chip, it's already supported on all of Samsung's 2017 Ultra HD televisions and is coming to last year's models via a firmware update. It's an open standard, so other television makers are welcome to get onboard.

Meanwhile Amazon Video is committed to start streaming in HDR10+ across the world this year, although there's no word as to whether HDR10+ is coming to Ultra HD Blu-ray discs.

So where does that leave us? It's unlikely television makers in the Dolby Vision camp like LG will add HDR10+ support, while it's pretty certain those in the HDR10+ camp like Samsung won't embrace Dolby Vision. Until now Dolby Vision was your safest option, but now you risk missing out on the improved picture quality when watching HDR10+ content, and vice versa. Each format will downgrade rival content to standard HDR10.

The good news is that Amazon Video already supports Dolby Vision, so with the addition of HDR10+ it will cover all the bases – although it remains to be seen which Amazon content features which HDR format. It also remains to be seen whether Netflix, one of Dolby Vision's key partners, will embrace HDR10+.

Only time will tell whether one format turns out to be a dud, the HD DVD or Betamax of High Dynamic Range. Anyone burned by the format wars of the past is advised to watch this space carefully.

How Netflix Uses HDR To Guide Your Eyes

Netflix has declared 2017 the year of High Dynamic Range (HDR) programming. The popular streaming service has already dramatically expanded its 4K HDR content - and there's a lot more to come in the months ahead. Last year, we were invited to check out the company's state-of-the-art colour correction suite in New York where Netflix Originals receive a fresh lick of digital paint in the HDR conversion process. Here's everything we learned.

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Everything You Need To Know About HDR

If you followed the news out of CES closely this year, you probably heard the word HDR tossed around a lot. In 2017 we'll see TVs for under $700 with the feature, and fancy monitors for over $1300. But what does HDR even mean?

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Ask LH: Are HDR TVs Just Another Gimmick?

Dear Lifehacker, I've been hearing a lot about HDR TVs and how "revolutionary" they are. One so-called expert called it the biggest technological leap since the first colour TV. The thing is, similar things were said about 3D TV and look how that turned out! So my question is, does HDR really matter or is it just another marketing gimmick?

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This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald's home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.

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Comments

    Hmm, I'll stick the generic HDR then, that seems to work with either.

    *sigh* I really wish these so-called "tech bloggers" actually knew a thing or two about the actual tech they're reporting on, and didn't just copy-pasta between themselves.

    This is NOT a format war. Literally ALL of these can coexist in the same TV, and ALL content is STILL playable even if your TV DOESN'T possess that particular HDR format.

    The glaring problem with the analogy with VHS/Betamax and Blu-ray/HD-DVD is that NEITHER of those formats could be played on the other. THAT'S what a format war MEANS. Customers' choices of format actually affected what content they can or couldn't watch. This is NOT the case here.

    Literally all LG has to do with its Dolby Vision TVs is include support for HDR 10+ with a software update, and that'll be the end of it. In the meantime, you could still play HDR10+ content, albeit in regular 4K. LG stands to lose NOTHING from this because HDR10+ is completely open source, and it keeps its customers happy.

    FFS report it like it IS - not how it ISN'T.

    Last edited 27/04/17 3:39 pm

      Except, as the article says, each brand is more likely to keep backing its horse, consumers be damned. 'Format war' is maybe the wrong choice of words, but I doubt we're going to see the big players supporting more than one 'format' of HDR for a while.

    The article is wrong - which is exactly my point.
    As of 2017 models, each brand already supports at least two HDR formats. Many brands are also claiming to be supporting additional formats via subsequent firmware updates. LG in particular supports not only HDR10, but also Dolby Vision, HLG and Technicolor. Adding HDR10+ would be a trivial exercise, as again, all they'd have to do is add software support for it since it requires no hardware decoding.

    It's against any brand's self-interest to ONLY support its preferred HDR format. Since content producers don't need to pay royalties to master their content in any HDR format (besides Dolby Vision) - it means that these producers could just master their content to MULTIPLE HDR formats anyway. NOBODY (producers nor consumers) is then forced to commit to just one HDR format - thereby revealing how ridiculous a hyperbole it is to call this a 'format war'.

    In fact, it is a SELLING POINT for manufacturers to support AS MANY HDR FORMATS as possible.

    Last edited 29/04/17 2:56 am

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