The era of High Dynamic Range video format ( display technology) is officially upon us, now that Ultra HD Blu-ray has hit the market and streaming services like VUDU, Netflix, and Amazon are broadcasting HDR content.
If you’ve been following the introduction of HDR-enabled TVs, especially in the last 3-4 years, you’ve probably seen the “signs” Dolby Vision or HDR10 in reference to the type of HDR technology supported by a given display. That’s right, there are two different HDR technologies.
In 2007, Dolby bought a company called BrightSide Technologies and developed the first prototype HDR display. Since then, Dolby has continued to refine the technology and officially unveiled Dolby Vision at CES 2014. Dolby Vision really represents a complete package of technologies involving dynamic range, color and resolution. In your heart there is a new electro-optical transfer function (the method of converting a signal into visible light) called perceptual quantizer (or PQ) that guides and defines the highest dynamic range. DV content is burned with a specific PQ value. The standard is 10,000 Nits; but, since no screen can do that yet, the current DV lens is a more realistic 4,000 Nits. Content dominated by Dolby Vision also includes up to a 12-bit color depth, up to a Range of Rec 2020 colors and 4K resolution. Dolby Vision is a patented end-to-end solution, which means you need Dolby Vision-dominated content that plays through a Dolby Vision-compatible source sent to a Dolby Vision-compatible display. The advantage of this approach is that each Dolby Vision display includes a chip that identifies its output capabilities (light output, color space, etc.), which switches to the DV source so that the source can optimize the Dolby Vision signal frame by frame to meet the capabilities of that specific screen while maintaining the intent of the original master. The same reassignment algorithms are used on all Dolby Vision displays.
Several hardware manufacturers have taken the Dolby Vision approach. VIZIO and LG now sell Dolby Vision-compatible UHD TVs, and the upcoming Philips and TCL TPVs will also support the format. On the content side, Sony Pictures, Warner Brothers, Universal and MGM partnered with Dolby to deliver home video content in the Dolby Vision format. Until now, Dolby Vision content is only available to stream via Netflix and VUDU apps built into DV-enabled smart TVs. Many Netflix original series is available on Dolby Vision and the streaming king recently announced that he will offer a lot of hours of Dolby Vision in the future. VUDU offers more than 30 Dolby Vision titles right now. Amazon has also announced plans to support the transmission of Dolby Vision content, but it is not yet available.
For disc lovers, the news is less positive. At this stage, no Dolby Vision content is available in the new Ultra HD Blu-ray disc format, because Dolby Vision is not the official HDR format required in the Ultra HD Blu-ray specification; DV appears only as an optional format. At least one studio, Universal, is committed to providing Dolby Vision content on disc when a player comes in who can support it.
And in case you’re wondering, Dolby Vision can’t be added to a TV or Blu-ray device through a software update. Requires specific hardware.
TV manufacturers, such as Samsung, Sony and LG wanted a more open platform than Dolby offers. They probably didn’t want to pay Dolby’s licensing fees, nor did they want to undergo a certification process that took part in their control over their products. Thus, they began to develop their own approaches to HDR videos, which eventually evolved into an officially defined profile.
HDR10 is based on the SMPTE ST 2084 electro optical transfer function (again, it’s the same as Dolby PQ), and hdr10 content may have specifications similar to Dolby Vision’s content in terms of brightness and color, although the HDR10 profile lists only the 10-bit color compared to Dolby’s 12-bit color. The original version of the story said that the burning goal of hdr10 is 1,000 nits, but a respected source informed us that Dolby Vision and HDR10 are mastered essentially in the same way in terms of nits. It’s really dictated by the capabilities of the burn monitor. Some of the early HDR10 titles were dominated by 4,000 nits, while others were between 1,000 and 1,200 nits.
The main difference is how the content is handled at the end of the screen. The HDR10 approach does not dynamically assign content based on the specific brightness and color output capabilities of a given TV in the way Dolby Vision can, and there is no algorithm set to ensure that the color is reassigned in the same way on each HDR10 display. Therefore, in general, HDR10 is less accurate. How it develops in the real world depends on the specific capabilities/limitations of TV.
The HDR10 profile has become the preferred format on the vast majority of new HDR-enabled TVs. Basically, if your HDR TV doesn’t specifically mention Dolby Vision, chances are you’re using HDR10. HDR10 is also the format required in the Ultra HD Blu-ray specification, which means that each UHD BD player must support playback of HDR10 content.
One point worth noting is that while Dolby Vision can’t be added to a TV through a software update, HDR10 can, which is how VIZIO can add this support to existing Dolby Vision TVs. Therefore, if you need to choose sides, it may be safer to go with a Dolby Vision display, hoping that HDR10 support can be added in the future.
On the surface, HDR10 seems to have more momentum right now. The format is more industry-supported and does not require any licensing fees. Last few years, you can choose from a large number of HDR10 TVs, offered at a wide price range, as well as Blu-ray devices and HDR10-compatible discs. However, you should never underestimate the influence and tenacity of Dolby Vision, which plays an important role in all parts of the content chain, from production to distribution and reproduction. From my discussions within the industry, it seems that some experts prefer Dolby Vision precisely because it is a closed system that ensures greater accuracy/reliability.