When it comes to home theater, what we buy is an extension of what Hollywood can make. In order for the 4k resolution screens to be worth something, content needs to be created in 4k. As beautiful as 4k resolution screens are, there’s a growing belief on the content side of things that consumers aren’t really going to get excited about more pixels on their screens. And with good reason, pixel quantity is only noticeable at certain distances from the TV and other attributes – such as contrast – also play a key role in picture quality.
At CES 2015, HDR Television, a bleeding edge technology a year ago looks more and more likely to be the next big thing in home theater. When combined with the higher resolution screens, the technology results in a much more life-like picture with incredible colors and contrast.
But let’s back up for a minute. What, exactly, is HDR TV? In short, HDR TV allows for a much greater amount of color and contrast in the picture. If you’re familiar with HDR Photography, you may be confused. This is not like that. HDR Photography involves gamma manipulation to create photos that are hyper-real. HDR TV makes blacks truly black and the content that’s bright on the screen actually brighter than the surrounding content.
What makes HDR especially interesting is that the content creators in Hollywood are already taking notice. Netflix has said that HDR is more important to the future of TV viewing than higher resolutions.
According to Neil Hunt, chief product officer at Netflix, HDR will create a more noticeable difference to TV viewers than 4K alone.
“With 4K, there are enough pixels on the screen that your eyeball can’t really perceive any more detail, so now the quest for more realism turns into, can we put better pixels on the screen?” said Hunt. “I think that’s actually a more important quality improvement to get to the brightness and detail in the picture than the 4K is by itself.”
Current HDR technology – which, remember makes dark parts of the screen darker (and with more shades and gradients of color so it looks more realistic too) and the bright parts brighter. Brightness is measured in “nits”. Current TVs top out at around 100 nits. HDR TVs can reach 1000 nits – an increase of 10x.
“Bright white clouds still have texture on an HDR screen instead of just being a washed out white patch. More importantly you end up with reflections from water and metal and glass being very bright, and representing the shape and color of the reflection even more accurately than previously possible,” said Hunt.
A number of 4K TVs with HDR capabilities were on display at CES 2015, from the likes of Panasonic, Samsung, LG and Sony. All of these TVs were prototypes, but it is thought that the first HDR sets will go on sale later this year, and the technology will become mainstream in a couple of years.
Netflix and Dolby have announced the first three movies to be available in HDR: “Edge of Tomorrow,” “Lego Movie,”and “Into the Storm.” They’ll be available on Netflix’s streaming service. In addition, of the 60 ‘Original Series’ in development, at least 10 of them will be able to be viewed in HDR format, including their $90 million epic series “Marco Polo”.
If you’re looking to get your hands on a TV with HDR technology today, look into LG’s flagship model, the LG 55EC9300. It’s a 55″ OLED screen that CNET reviewed as the best looking screen they’ve ever seen. It’s available now for $2,999.99.