What is HDR? HDR vs SDR Comparison (2021)

What is HDR? HDR vs SDR Comparison (2021)

Want to know about the comparison Between HDR vs SDR? This is the right guide for you. So keep on reading to know more.

What is HDR?

HDR or High Dynamic Range is a technology that allows for better color depth, richer contrast ratio, and greater dynamic range compared to SDR (Standard Dynamic Range), which has long been the standard in TV displays. Currently, HDR is based on two technologies: WCG (Wide Color Gamut) & DSC (Dynamics Scene-referred).

What is SDR?

SDR is a display technology that can handle a limited range of colors and contrast ratios compared to HDR displays. SDR TVs are designed to accurately reproduce color & contrast ratios as they were intended by content creators, so it’s important not to judge an SDR TV based on high dynamic range contents mastered in log space, which will appear overly dark and saturated due to SDR limitations.

What is Wide Color Gamut?

A TV that supports a wide color gamut is capable of producing colors that are more accurate than TVs that do not support this technology.

The standard for most TV displays has been the REC BT.709. This is the only way the human eye can perceive colors, known as “Standard Dynamic Range” (SDR) or Standard Color Gamut.

WCG improves on this by increasing the number of available colors to more accurately represent what you see in real life. With WCG, brighter greens, deeper reds, and higher levels of image detail become possible without an increase in noise or artifacts unlike with other technologies such as Quantum Dots which also support a wider color gamut.

What is Dynamic Scene-referred?

Dynamic or scene-referred tone mapping refers to the way that an HDR image is created and displayed on your TV. Older TVs had to process each frame individually before displaying it, which can result in lost detail and visual information (e.g. the sun setting behind the horizon and getting too dark too quickly).

With HDR, brightness levels are captured separately from each other based on what they look like in real life, not how they work with one another. They also get mapped differently depending on their individual characteristics for greater detail and accuracy compared to SDR (Standard Dynamic Range) displays such as REC BT.709 which only captures the brightness level of the overall image.

What Factors Affect HDR?

1. HDR Content

When it comes to HDR, what you watch definitely matters. This is because displays are fed with different types of content that have been created for SDR or REC BT.709 which only captures brightness levels of the overall image.

This can result in information being lost during tone mapping resulting in a lower level of detail compared to what’s intended by the creator leading to a loss in color depth and dynamic range compared to how they were originally produced.

To give you an example, using REC BT.709 as your reference point, REC BT.2020 covers about 35% more color information than REC BT.709 while DCI-P3 captures 50% more than REC BT.2020 and the entire P3 color space 100%.

2. Color Depth and Contrast

Color depth and contrast are key factors that affect the quality of HDR content. This is because REC BT.2020 covers about 35% more color information than REC BT.709 while DCI-P3 captures 50% more than REC BT.2020 and the entire P3 color space 100%. In addition, both WCG & DSC allow for better color depth as well as a greater contrast ratio compared to SDR TVs which only support the REC BT.709 standard for brightness levels captured from an image or video.

3. Display Technologies Used

In terms of display technologies used, different manufacturers have their own take on how HDR should be displayed on a TV set with some opting for a full-array LED backlight instead of other display technologies. While there are drawbacks to using either one, what matters is how the image looks on your TV which you should test out before making a purchase.

As for OLED TVs, they can produce deeper blacks compared to LCD TVs (both SDR & HDR) because every pixel emits its own light thus allowing it to switch off completely unlike conventional LCD displays where lighting needs external light sources.

However, while OLEDs offer superior black performance over LCDs in both SDR and HDR modes, unlike full-array LED backlight systems that allow for greater control over the intensity of each zone, current generation OLED panels only support a single global dimming system that affects the entire panel at once causing fluctuations in brightness levels.

The good news is OLED TVs are constantly improving their dimming systems that will result in more precise control over lighting for greater contrast, better color accuracy, and improved motion handling (e.g. less motion blur during camera panning) compared to both SDR & HDR content on an LCD TV with a full-array LED backlight system.

4. Higher Frame Rates

Another big element of quality HDR content is the frame rate at which it was recorded or streamed at.

This is because higher frame rates allow for more information(visual detail) to be captured per second thus resulting in smoother video time-wise especially given how fast things can move onscreen given faster refresh rates combined with higher screen resolution standards such as Ultra HD (UHD).

If you’re looking for the best experience in terms of frame rate, make sure to get a TV that supports at least 120Hz or 240Hz refresh rates.

Unfortunately, not all TVs are able to display UHD at 60fps (frames per second) which is definitely something to keep in mind when shopping around especially since more HDMI 2.1-compliant devices should be coming out over the next year.

5. Display port 1.4 vs HDMI 2.1

One thing worth mentioning given all the talk about HDR and how it should look on your TV set is that not only do you need a compatible TV set but also high-speed cables with support for higher bandwidths such as DisplayPort 1.4 & HDMI 2.1.

You can’t take full advantage of HDR if your TV and display devices only support the older HDMI 1.4/2.0 standard and still expect to see a noticeable difference in how HDR looks on your TV set especially given the limited color depth and contrast compared to what’s possible with REC BT.2020, DCI-P3 or both combined (e.g BT 2020 + P3).

In other words, just because you have a new 4K TV doesn’t mean it also comes with everything needed for HDR whether it be from a hardware or software standpoint which is where DisplayPort 1.4 & HDMI 2.1 come into the picture as they allow for higher bandwidths to transfer more information between compatible devices such as TVs, set-top boxes or game consoles.

That being said, if you are looking for the best HDR experience in terms of total color volume and contrast then you will need to make sure your content comes with REC BT 2020 color gamut support(10 bits per subpixel) along with either DCI-P3 (REC BT.2100 standard) or both combined in order to have the largest range of colors compared to REC BT.709 that SDR TVs use which is only about 30% of what’s possible with DCI P3 & REC BT 2020 combined.

6. Supported HDR Standards

Lastly, while some TV sets may be able to display higher dynamic range images when fed HDR content from sources such as streaming services, video games, or HDR Blu-ray players, not all HDR formats are created equally.

This is why it’s important to pay attention to what type of HDR your TV set supports such as HDR 10 which only requires the TV to support up to 10-bits per pixel(1.07 billion colors).

Thus, able to display images with a 2,000 cd/m2 peak brightness at least or more depending on the size of your screen for darker scenes and less than 100 cd/m2 for lighter images.

Otherwise, you might want to go with Dolby Vision which delivers 12-bits per pixel(68 billion colors) along with significantly brighter images at 4,000 – 10,000 nits compared to 1,000 – 2,000 nits for HDR 10.

7. 2D to 3D Conversion

One of the most common features found on TVs these days is 2D-to-3D conversion which allows you to view any type of 2D content in a more immersive and realistic way by converting it into three-dimensional images that can be displayed on compatible 3DTV or 3DF glasses.

This feature has been used on some Blu-ray movies where there are some parts that use only 2D video while other parts are converted into stereoscopic 3D but sadly, not many people seem to like this kind of half baked implementation due to the fact that the conversion process tends not to look as good as natively shot/produced 3D content regardless what TV set you’re using.

As a result, 3D conversion is no longer advertised on TV packaging and it’s usually only found on TVs with passive 3D technology in which case the process isn’t much different from what was already mentioned above.

How to Know if Your TV Supports HDR?

There are several ways in which you can determine if your TV supports HDR:

Method 1: Check Manual / Manufacturer’s Website

Look for keywords like “HDR10” or “Dolby Vision” in your TV manual or manufacturer’s website. You can also read our blog post on How To Know If Your TV Supports HDR And What To Expect For More Details.

Method 2: Picture Menu Settings

Navigate to your television’s picture menu settings and look for options that mention things like “HDR Picture Mode,” “Enhanced,” or “Ultra Color.” This is an easy way to quickly know if your TV supports HDR.

Method 3: HDMI Handshake

In order for your TV to play HDR content from a device, it must properly communicate with that device via the HDMI handshake. If you plug in a source (e.g. PS4, Xbox One S) and navigate to its video settings menu, there should be an option to enable HDR – if not, your TV doesn’t support it or didn’t recognize it.

Which is Better? HDR vs SDR?

Although HDR promises to deliver a superior viewing experience when it comes to the number of colors and contrast as well as wider color gamut support, it’s not always better than what we’re currently seeing with SDR TVs.

Especially if you can’t afford an expensive, enormous TV set or simply prefer watching content in its original format without any modifications.

The good thing is that both technologies cater to different types of audiences and preferences and this way there will be no need for everyone to upgrade to 4K HDR TVs immediately which would result in massive price hikes due to the limited availability of these cutting-edge displays( see Limited Availability Of 4K Ultra HD Televisions Keeps Prices High).

In addition, even though content availability is expected to grow exponentially in the following years, there are still many high-quality movies and TV shows being produced in older formats such as 2K or 1080p Full HD which means that most of us will be able to enjoy them without any issues on our 4K HDR TVs for quite some time.

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