What is HDR (High Dynamic Range): A Detailed Walkthrough

Get to know all the details of high dynamic range (HDR) technology with this comprehensive guide.

16 Min Read

In recent years, technology has taken a great leap, and this is particularly evident in the field of visual displays. With the introduction of HDR, it’s now possible to experience stunning visuals with a greater range of colors and luminosity than ever before. With the rise of 4K and 8K video resolutions, HDR technology has become an essential feature that every content producer and consumer needs to know. High-dynamic range — known as HDR — is one of the most exciting developments in television technology over the last few years. In simple terms, HDR is a new way of displaying video with higher contrast and brightness, resulting in more vibrant and REALISTIC imagery. This technology has revolutionized how we perceive video content, and it’s increasingly becoming the new standard for the entertainment industry.

This technique can be used in photography, video, and audio recording to capture an image that accurately displays any scene’s real-world lighting. HDR allows for greater detail in an image’s dark and light areas by capturing more information within these ranges. In other words, it captures better overall picture quality during low light conditions or with extreme contrast between objects/subjects in the frame. It’s worth noting that HDR is not the same as Ultra High Definition (UHD) or 4K; instead, it is a technology that can be combined with UHD to create an even better viewing experience.

Dynamic Range and its Relationship with HDR

To fully comprehend HDR (High Dynamic Range), it is crucial to establish the concept of dynamic range. Dynamic range denotes the extent of brightness levels present between the darkest and brightest areas of an image or video. A higher dynamic range implies better visibility of details in both the shadows and highlights of the image, whereas a limited dynamic range results in either excessively dark shadows or overly bright highlights, leading to the loss of crucial detail in those regions. As a professional, understanding dynamic range is fundamental to appreciating the benefits of HDR technology and its ability to produce natural-looking visuals that accurately reflect the intricacies of the real world.

HDR takes advantage of a wider dynamic range by capturing and displaying greater brightness levels. The combined images represent the scene more accurately, with more detail revealed in shadows and highlights. This greater dynamic range allows photos to look more true to life, providing viewers with a naturalistic version of what one would see in real life. Therefore, it’s clear that HDR and dynamic range are very closely related – HDR technology seeks to expand the dynamic range captured to provide viewers with an even more detailed picture.

How Does HDR Work?

HDR uses “luminance” values to measure each pixel’s brightness to create an image with improved contrast. To create an image with High Dynamic Range, your device must simultaneously produce darker (or low luminance) pixels and brighter (or high luminance) pixels on-screen. That allows images to appear near-photorealistic when compared to standard dynamic range displays.

HDR photography works by merging multiple exposures of the same scene into one composite image. This merging process allows details in dark shadows and bright highlights to be better captured than just one exposure alone. Each exposure will have unique qualities due to the differences in lighting conditions when capturing the image, so these differing qualities will contribute towards the overall balance of light in an HDR photo. The result is an image or video with a more realistic representation of the scene, closer to what the human eye can see.

Types of HDR

Several types of HDR are currently available, each with unique features and specifications. These include HDR10, Dolby Vision, HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma), and Advanced HDR.


HDR10 Logo

HDR10 is one of the most popular and compatible formats of HDR, with devices such as TVs, gaming consoles, and Blu-ray players that can access it. It uses a 10-bit color depth, displaying over 1 billion possible colors. It’s especially beneficial when viewed on a high-definition display as more shades and detail can be provided.

Through its open standard approach, HDR10 encourages wider compatibility across all devices, ensuring a seamless video streaming experience no matter the platform or device you’re viewing on. HDR10 applies static metadata to video streams, meaning light and color levels remain the same across all displays, regardless of the product’s make or model. Therefore viewers will experience viewing the same content on different screens in similar quality – resulting in a better consumer experience.

Dolby Vision

HDR vs Dolby Vision Photo
Image Credit: Trusted Reviews

Dolby Vision is a type of HDR (High Dynamic Range) video technology developed by Dolby Laboratories. It uses dynamic metadata to adjust the brightness, contrast, and color of each video frame on the fly. Dolby Vision is an advanced technology that helps deliver greater image clarity, deep contrast, and more vibrant colors to compatible TVs. HDR content looks even better because it incorporates dynamic metadata that can optimize your picture frame-by-frame. That lets the TV get closer to reproducing the original content as intended. It can support up to 4,000 nits peak brightness and 12-bit color depth, allowing for close to 68 billion colors, giving you an incredibly detailed picture with amazing depth and vibrancy. Dolby Vision is supported by select streaming services and some high-end TVs, making it a valuable feature to seek when shopping for a new TV.

Dolby Vision utilizes metadata which is then tailored to the performance of your display, and it offers a more tailored approach to HDR content compared to HDR10. With other formats, the video will be mastered with predetermined “absolute” values and then sent across devices without making further adjustments according to their specifics. Dolby Vision metadata is adjusted based on information provided by the TV manufacturer and Dolby, creating a video optimized for that particular device’s capabilities. It allows the video encounter to be specific to your TV. Bolstering excellence, it enables higher detail than that of HDR10, although this completely depends on how advanced the content was produced and just how approachable it is for your television in terms of colors and light. With Dolby Vision, you can acquire a denser and more immersive visual experience that is optimally congruent with what your TV can give.

HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma)

SDR vs HLG Result

HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma) is an important high dynamic range (HDR) format developed by BBC and NHK for live broadcast applications. Unlike some HDR formats, HLG does not require special display hardware but can be decoded even on legacy SDR displays without losing quality. It uses a hybrid gamma tone mapping that combines gamma and log functions to deliver a wide dynamic range. This allows broadcasters to produce content with higher contrast between bright highlights and dark shadows while still being able to maintain compatibility with both standard SDR and HDR viewing devices without any alteration or adjustment in quality or resolution.


General HDR vs HDR10+

HDR10+ is a premium format of HDR developed by Samsung, with some important improvements over the standard HDR10. It uses dynamic metadata to adjust each scene’s brightness, contrast, and color in real-time, allowing a more accurate representation of the original content. It ensures that users have an immersive experience that isn’t compromised by blurry lines or color inaccuracy. Additionally, HDR10+ has a 10-bit color depth bar that allows it to more accurately reproduce an image’s visual range than 8-bit HDR10. With this increased accuracy and its use of dynamic metadata, customers can ensure they get superior visuals when viewing content delivered in the HDR10+ format.

Benefits of HDR (High Dynamic Range)

Using HDR gives you access to various advantages over standard dynamic range visuals, including increased detail in highlights, shadows & mid-tones; improvements in both dark/light areas in a single frame; and wide color gamut capabilities that allow for richer & more accurate color. Below are some of the major benefits of using High Dynamic Range technology:

  • Enhanced Visual Quality: Because HDR captures higher ranges of colors and brighter pixels than non-HDR images can attain, they tend to look much crisper and more realistic than their non-HDR counterparts. It makes it ideal for applications such as photography, cinematography, and video game titles with large open environments because it allows viewers to feel as though they are experiencing what they are viewing in real life rather than looking at a static two-dimensional screen.
  • Easier Color Correction: Because HDR images are comprised of multiple exposure layers, this allows photographers to make easy adjustments in post-production, so colors appear accurately in both very bright or dark areas within any scene without having to use advanced lighting techniques while shooting on location – making them easier to work with than standard SDR photos when doing advanced color correction work.
  • More Vibrant Colors: Since you’ve larger exposure data being combined into one file per layer by blending multiple frames, this results in creating highly saturated essential tones along with delicate nuances which can add vibrance to any given scene; details such as pink hues or blue shades have a much clearer silhouette than what would have been achieved using just one layer alone.
  • Greater Detail Preservation: When shooting in normal SDR settings, high-contrast scenes tend to have halos or blown-out highlights or shadows due mainly to exposure, as subtle details get lost between light and dark extremes. It isn’t typically an issue when shooting with HBH since all darker/ lighter elements remain intact regardless of natural environmental conditions, which results in less noise appearing within shadowed/highlighted parts of any single shot image – thus allowing viewers to make out finer details better even on small mobile devices or computer screens for example.
  • Better Gaming Experience: Since most TVs today support 8K or 4K resolution gaming at up to 120 fps – those looking for console or PC gaming will benefit immensely from using HDMI 2.1 cables with their consoles or PC setups, respectively. It allows them smooth gameplay with no tearing or lag issues meaning they can take full advantage of their TVs’ capable video performance capabilities while playing games in stunning detail too!

4K HDR Image

Is HDR 4K?

No, HDR (High Dynamic Range) is not only for 4K. HDR can be used in any resolution, whether full HD or 8K. Although the higher resolution indeed allows more detail to be visible in scenes with high dynamic ranges, it can still be used on platforms and screens with lower resolutions. It is a technique that captures, stores, manipulates, and reproduces images with a high degree of brightness range, contrast, and color accuracy. The peak luminances or nits of the content are important factors to consider when deciding if your television can produce HDR content – something stronger than the traditional SDR (Standard Dynamic Range) content we have become accustomed to.

HDR Compatibility

To enjoy HDR content, you need an HDR-compatible device and HDR content. The device must support the specific HDR format that the content is in; otherwise, the viewer won’t get all of the visual benefits of HDR. Fortunately, several devices can handle all types of HDR formats, including some 4K Blu-ray players, game consoles like Xbox One X and PlayStation 4/5, and select streaming boxes. Streamers such as Netflix and Amazon Prime offer many titles in 4K HDR quality. Additionally, it’s worth noting that certain region-locked Blu-ray discs may be encoded with a different set of standards than what your device supports, so it’s important to check the specs before purchasing.

Not all HDR formats are compatible with all HDR devices, so it’s important to research the compatibility of your chosen device with the available content before purchasing. For example, some devices may be only able to decode specific HDR formats or have different capabilities for each type of media format, like movies or TV shows. Additionally, some TVs may contain built-in apps that stream HDR content but cannot use external devices connected by HDMI to provide the same benefits.

Bottom Line

High Dynamic Range (HDR) for TVs is now the industry standard, with more and more devices offering it. By upgrading from standard definition to HDR, viewers can experience drastically improved contrast and color, taking their viewing experience to a new level. Those looking for their next TV should strongly consider investing in 4K HDR and ensure it has HDR10 and Dolby Vision, as these two formats offer some of the best improvements available. With more content being developed with HDR in mind, there’s no doubt that the case for 4K HDR is stronger than ever before.

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