Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you would have heard the term “HDR” plastered all over television marketing, especially in recent years. While it’s clear that HDR promises a better viewing experience, what isn’t as clear is the Dolby Vision vs. HDR10 vs. HDR10+ debate. This guide explains all the differences between these three HDR formats and how they should factor into your TV buying decision.
Helpful hint: does your HDR look washed out and unpleasant in Windows? Learn how to fix it.
What Is True HDR?
HDR or High Dynamic Range is an imaging standard used to classify displays (monitors and TVs) as well as content based on how well they can adjust brightness and contrast. When implemented correctly, HDR is capable of drastically improving the viewing experience over SDR or Standard Dynamic Range content. HDR content produces more vibrant and life-like images than SDR by manipulating the colors, brightness, and contrast between the brightest and darkest parts of a scene (hence, the name HDR).
All HDR content contains “metadata” or extra information used to communicate with an HDR-capable TV or monitor. This additional information tells the display how to adjust brightness, contrast, backlight dimming, and other settings for a particular movie or show, and in some cases, even for particular scenes.
But experiencing “true HDR” is possible only with a well-equipped display and high-quality HDR content. Simply having an “HDR” label on your display won’t improve your viewing experience unless it also has a high brightness level (at least 1000 nits) and adequate dimming zones. If you need help buying the right monitor for your PC, check out our monitor buying guide.
Let’s take a look at the three major HDR formats and how they stack up against each other.
HDR10 vs. Dolby Vision
Dolby Vision is a proprietary HDR standard that was introduced by Dolby back in 2014. It predates HDR10 by a year and was the very first HDR standard available to display manufacturers and production companies.
Dolby Vision carries a license fee that TV manufacturers and production houses need to pay to be able to use the standard in their marketing promotions. This makes it a premium HDR standard whereas HDR10 is open source and free.
Dolby Vision provides superior image quality over the HDR10 standard in three major areas:
- Content that’s mastered in Dolby Vision can touch higher peak brightness levels of up to 10,000 nits. On the other hand, HDR10 tops out at 4,000 nits of brightness. Technically, this helps Dolby Vision content make highlights pop and produce higher contrast, producing a better picture. On modern televisions that can reach high brightness levels and even perform per-pixel dimming (OLED TVs), this HDR experience truly shines.
- Dolby Vision has a higher bit depth than HDR10. Bit depth represents the ability to produce a variety of different shades of a single color. While SDR content is based on an 8-bit color depth, HDR10 makes use of 10 bits. Consequently, SDR content can only display up to 16.7 million colors, while HDR10 can take that to 1.07 billion colors. Dolby Vision again wins here, as it is capable of using 12 bits and, hence, displaying up to 68.7 billion colors. The more color depth your content has, the more vivid and “real” the picture looks on your screen.
- Dolby Vision uses dynamic metadata whereas HDR10 is limited to static metadata. What this means is that the metadata sent by HDR10 content to the display remains unchanged for a particular movie or TV series. In contrast, Dolby Vision can constantly transmit metadata to the TV for every scene – and even every frame in some cases. Hence, Dolby Vision is more advanced when it comes to adjusting the image for variances between different frames of a single piece of content.
Tip: looking for the difference between LCD, OLED, and AMOLED? We can help you!
Any technology’s effectiveness depends as much on its adoption as inherent features. The same is true with HDR formats. As it stands today. HDR10 is the most widely available format for both TVs and streaming content. Dolby Vision comes second as it costs more to implement and has stricter hardware requirements in terms of TVs and monitors.
You’ll find that almost all modern TV models support at least HDR10, with streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, and Disney+ providing plenty of HDR10 titles. In recent years, Android TVs and Android TV boxes have played a huge role in making 4K and HDR affordable for the masses.
Dolby Vision is less prevalent but over the past few years, more and more TV models and streaming titles have adopted the premium HDR format, making it a close second to HDR10. It’s also important to note that any TV supporting Dolby Vision will support HDR10 by default.
FYI: which is best: Netflix or Amazon Prime Video?
HDR10 vs. HDR10+
Besides the two main HDR standards, there’s also HDR10+ which is mostly similar to HDR10 but has a few key differences that you should know.
HDR10 and HDR10+ are identical in terms of brightness and bit depth, which means HDR10+ also has a peak brightness of 4,000 nits and a 10-bit color depth.
Where it differs from HDR10 is metadata. HDR10+ brings dynamic metadata in a royalty-free HDR standard. It can work similarly to Dolby Vision by sending scene-by-scene information to your TV to produce a dynamic and lifelike picture.
Despite being a royalty-free format, HDR10+ shows the least adoption by manufacturers and streaming services. You may find some HDR10+ supported titles on services like Amazon Prime Video, but the format is yet to gain widespread adoption. This may change in the future, but for now, HDR10 is the better choice in terms of device and content availability.
Settling the Debate
So what does all this mean for your TV choice? Should you choose one model over the other based on what HDR format it supports? Or should you leave HDR out of your decision altogether?
Currently, Dolby Vision is the most desirable HDR format. With its superior bit depth, higher brightness support, and dynamic metadata, Dolby Vision consistently delivers the best image if your device is well-equipped to process it.
HDR10 is more widespread than Dolby Vision. It represents an ideal balance between features and availability. And with HDR10+ bringing dynamic metadata royalty-free, it’ll be interesting to see how long Dolby Vision can retain its crown.
That said, you should also note that no existing TVs touch brightness levels of more than 2000 nits, let alone max out the peak brightness of any of the three HDR formats. Also, Dolby Vision’s 12-bit color depth is a future-focused feature as no 12-bit display exists yet.
If you’re in the market for an HDR-capable TV today, look for a model that ideally supports Dolby Vision. If you have your sights set on one that supports HDR10+ or HDR10 instead, you will not lose out on much, as long as your chosen model has a panel that delivers on important factors like high brightness and backlight dimming. OLED, QD-OLED, and QLED TVs represent the best that TV technology has to offer, at least for now.
Now that you have your TV debate settled, solve the debate of which Roku streaming device you should buy.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Netflix use HDR10 or Dolby Vision?
Netflix currently supports both Dolby Vision and HDR10 formats, with different titles available in different HDR standards. To enjoy the content available in either Dolby Vision or HDR10, you need to have a Netflix subscription plan that supports Ultra HD (4K) and a compatible TV that supports either of the HDR formats you want to view.
Which HDR standard is best for gaming?
HDR gaming on consoles and PCs depends on your TV or monitor and the games you’re playing. While the VESA DisplayHDR standard classifies monitors with brightness as low as 400 nits as HDR displays, you won’t see any visible difference in your games on those models, even if you’ve enabled HDR in Windows. More than the specific HDR standard, you should verify whether the games you want to play have HDR support and whether your display is capable of “true HDR” and not just an HDR certification. That said, HDR10 is enough to enjoy HDR gaming on both monitors and TVs. If gaming is your only use case, you don’t need to shell out extra for a Dolby Vision display.
Why do Samsung TVs not have Dolby Vision?
When it comes to Dolby Vision vs. HDR10 among major TV manufacturers, Samsung remains the only one still on the fence when it comes to adopting Dolby Vision. Samsung TVs still deliver strong HDR performance with HDR10 and HDR10+ without paying the licensing fees for Dolby Vision. Being a major player, Samsung refuses to adopt the standard, which might be due to various reasons, such as pushing HDR10+, which it co-developed, and keeping TV prices low by dropping Dolby Vision fees.
Does HDR10 look the same on every TV?
Despite HDR10 being a “standard,” the actual visual performance you can derive out of it largely depends on your display. Your TV or monitor needs to pack strong hardware under the hood to reproduce HDR10 content in any meaningful way. For instance, many cheaper TVs will not have the adequate brightness and contrast levels required to actually show HDR content in all its glory. Hence, HDR10 content ends up looking different on various TVs.
Image credit: Unsplash
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