HDR Moves Beyond 4K: Finally Reaches HD TVs and Content

by on February 6, 2017

Stephan Jukic – February 6, 2017

High Dynamic Range, whether in the form of HDR10, Dolby Vision or the shiny new HLG standard for the eventual arrival of broadcast 4K content with HDR, has become a nearly “must have” feature of today’s 4K TVs. Not only is the technology now found in all of the premium models from every single brand worth mentioning, it has also become a nearly guaranteed aspect of the majority of mid-range TVs and even many budget models.

Of course, not all types of HDR are the same and the premium TVs come with the most comprehensive dynamic range specs that leave those of the cheaper models in the dust but even modest HDR delivers an improvement over SDR for content that’s mastered in one of the major high dynamic range formats being used today.

However, regardless of what degree or type of HDR we’re talking about, one constant characteristic of the technology so far has been its inclusion in only 4K content and 4K TVs, not 1080p HD or lower resolution formats for either the content or display side of the chain.

This is now changing thanks to Sony and others on both the display side and, remarkably, the content side as well.

On the display side, Sony has announced (as of a couple days ago) that it will be bringing HDR support to its newer HD TV sets being sold in some markets (The following are not necessarily U.S market model numbers). This includes even budget models like the Bravia RE4 to premium 1080p editions like the WE75 TV. What’s more impressive here is that this HDR update for Sony’s HDTVs doesn’t just cover 1080p HD display. For example there’s the RE45, which is a highly economical 40 inch model with Full HD display. It doesn’t even have smart TV functionality. Then we have the WE61 and WE66 models, which come in 32 inch and 40 inch sizes as well, with 1080p display and some basic smart TV functionality that includes YouTube and WiFi access.

Sony's WE66 Full HD HDR TV

Sony’s WE66 Full HD HDR TV

Finally, there is the Sony WE75, with smart TV, Full HD 1080p resolution and even Triluminous Display color technology, with 43 and 49 inch display sizes. This is a top-shelf model by HDTV standards but like all of the others that are getting the benefit of Sony’s HDR technology, it’s still a very affordable television by the standards of any Sony 4K TV.

In other words, what this means is that people who really want tiny, highly affordable TVs will now be able to enjoy HDR content support like 4K TV owners can (albeit to a considerably lesser degree of quality than what you’d find in something like Sony’s X930D or X850D premium televisions, not to even mention the 2017 4K HDR models)

Then there is the content side of this new HD high dynamic range development. Since virtually all content being created with HDR has been 4K UHD content, you might naturally ask “what the hell difference will HDR support in these TVs make?” Well for one thing, the HDR update adds nothing extra to the costs of these Sony models and for another thing, it opens the door to making more content producers actually consider formatting high dynamic range into their non-4K video streams and broadcasts.

This is what Netflix is already doing. The company recently confirmed to the website Techradar that its 4K UHD HDR content streams will in fact display with their high dynamic range mastering on Full HD TVs which support the format The content will simply down-sample to Full HD resolution but include the HDR mastering built into it for 4K TVs with the technology.

So that’s one promising start, and the fact that a content market leader like Netflix is doing this makes the prospect of other content services with high dynamic range movies and programming doing the same much more likely. We might even soon see UHD or even Full HD Blu-ray discs coming out with HDR playback at 1080p resolutions.

Then of course, there are Sony’s own PS4 and PS4 Pro consoles. These devices will indeed output their games (or at least the ones which support HDR color/contrast) in high dynamic range onto Sony’s newly HDR-ready Full HD TVs. This is another benefit of what Sony is doing. We’ve contacted Microsoft to see if its HDR-capable Xbox One S console offers the same but have not yet received confirmation.

HDR is one of the key technologies available today for superior TV display quality

HDR is one of the key technologies available today for superior TV display quality

The bottom line here is that while 4K resolution offers its sharpness benefits mainly through larger displays, high dynamic range can make any content source shown on any size display look notably better to the viewer and the steps Sony and Netflix (and possible others) have now taken to enable this broader use of the technology will benefit a much larger range of consumers. People who aren’t quite ready to jump into 4K TV and all its premium benefits –and prices—can rejoice a bit.

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