Lies, HDR, and Statistics
By Chris Heinonen on
On November 6th, IHS Markit released a report showing that HDR (high dynamic range) TV shipments are way up this year. In 2017 they expect 12.2 million HDR TVs to ship and in 2021 that to rise up to 47.9 million. Now those estimates might prove wrong (what did they estimate for 3D or curved TV shipments years ago?), but it does show that lots of people are buying HDR displays. It also includes a quote that shows the problem with this: “We expect that only 23 percent of the ultra-high-definition televisions that ship in 2017 will offer the full HDR experience”
HDR for the home has faced a few issues. First, there was the push to 4K displays before HDR and wide color gamut or content were ready. Then people were very confused as to how HDR on a TV is different than HDR on your camera since they do very different things. And now finally we’re running into the problem of HDR-compatible TVs, or as I’ll call them, fake HDR. The truth is that to be an HDR TV, you don’t need to be able to show the benefits of HDR. It’s true. All you need to do is to add the software so you can read the HDR information contained in a signal, and then use that to display an image. What this means is that you have HDR TVs that cannot show brighter highlights, that cannot show richer colors, and cannot do local dimming to improve contrast. It means that when you send an HDR signal to these fake HDR TVs, you will get an image that is virtually identical to an SDR image. To truly show HDR content with benefits over SDR, a real HDR TV needs to have true local dimming (edge lit or full array both work), wide color gamut support, and produce highlights of 500-600 nits or brighter. Some of the TV companies tried to set their TVs apart with the UltraHD Premium certification, but that was an optional program that not everyone joined, and the testing methods were kept under wraps by the companies. Different TVs from different companies could have been tested in different ways to meet the standard, as the companies came up with it themselves, but we can’t verify those claims without knowing the methods.
Looking at the IHS report, that means that in 2017, there are going to be 9.4 million fake HDR TVs shipped this year. 9.4 million people are probably going to buy a TV thinking they will get the benefits of HDR since they are marketed that way and have no idea it isn’t an HDR set. With the Xbox One X, Apple TV 4K, 4K Blu-ray players, and many other HDR sources now shipping, there is finally content to watch on these HDR sets. What are people going to think when they hook these up, often paying a premium for HDR content compared to SDR, and not see a difference? If I was them, I’d rightfully be angry. So now thanks to some marketing choices by TV companies, we have millions of displays that can’t do what people expect them to do. How is this going to help the HDR market in the long run? Fewer people will see the benefits of HDR at home, and so fewer people will want to go out and get a set that can do it. People that saved up to buy a set, thinking it was HDR, will be unhappy and not want to get anything HDR in the future since they can’t trust it. A new feature that is one of the most impressive new TV technologies in years, which looks fantastic on true HDR TVs, might be ruined because of how companies marketed it.
How to Avoid Getting Burned
If you want to get an HDR set that is truly HDR, how do you do that? There are a few ways you can get a TV and not worry about what you are getting:
- Buy a 4K OLED display. They’re expensive, but they’re all true HDR TVs that look fantastic.
- Make sure it has true local dimming. It should be edge lit or full array and it should specify it. Some companies have other dimming technologies, but they won’t help with HDR.
- Wide color gamut coverage is essential. Companies usually would say a percentage of DCI/P3 gamut coverage, but some might be shifting towards color volume. If they don’t mention wide color gamut, they probably don’t have it.
- Look for a peak brightness level in nits. Almost no manufacturer does this, but maybe they will start. OLEDs can do 700-750 nits usually, and LCDs range from 300-2400. HDR needs 500-600 to be effective since most people watch SDR content at 200-300 nits in brighter rooms.
- Read reviews. Read our reviews, read the reviews at Wirecutter (which I write), and those at Rtings. They have data to show if a TV can do HDR or if it is fake. Make sure it is the exact model number you’re looking for. The TCL P605 or P607 is a great HDR TV, but the TCL S405 says it is HDR but it’s fake HDR TV and will look like SDR.
- Ask. If you have a question about a TV, you can ask us in the comments or on Twitter, and we are happy to help.
Real HDR Display Recommendations
We’ve reviewed a number of real HDR displays at this point, and have recommendations to offer so you don’t wind up with a TV that can’t show the benefits of HDR.
- The TCL P605 and P607 are the most affordable displays that can show what HDR does. We are not aware of any display costing less that does a better job with HDR right now, and as a bonus, it supports Dolby Vision in addition to HDR10 and can display 267 million different colors.
- The Sony X900E is our favorite mid-range HDR LCD. It can do up to 900 nits for highlights, covers that DCI gamut, and using the Dolby method for Color Volume it can display 356 million different colors.
- LG and Sony OLED TVs are still our favorite TVs in most rooms. They have the best black levels and viewing angles and make SDR and HDR both look great. They display up to 750 nits but with pure blacks, it can look even brighter than LCDs with more nits. They also show around 346 million different colors.
- If you want the biggest HDR TV for your buck, the Vizio M Series comes in sizes up to 75” for only around $2,000. You make some sacrifices, as it has no TV tuner and fewer integrated streaming options, but it can do 271 million different colors and HDR on it looks great.
There are HDR displays out there that show even more colors, and even brighter highlights, but those cost a good deal more than these, but if you are interested the Sony X940E and Z9D are the absolute best HDR displays for a brighter room. HDR is a wonderful technology, and it helps make the home movie experience superior to the theater one since you get highlights that aren’t possible in most theaters. But as long as companies are going to market TVs that don’t show the benefits of HDR as HDR, you’ll need to be careful about what you buy.