If you haven’t been shopping for a new TV in a while, you’re in for a treat. They’ve improved by leaps and bounds in just a few short years, thanks to new technology. Of course, that also means you’ll have to do a little bit of homework before you get around to shopping. Here’s everything you need to know about 4K HDR and other new TV specs so you can make an informed purchase.
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It’s tough to cover all aspects of new TVs in a single post, so we’ve chosen to focus on 4K HDR and everything related to it. Ready to start learning? Let’s get to it.
What is 4K HDR?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, 4K and HDR are not competing standards. You won’t have to worry about choosing one over the other because many HDR TVs are already 4K.
Now that we’ve clarified that, HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. It’s essentially the range of colors a display can produce, ranging from the darkest blacks to the brightest whites. OLED TVs are especially known for their dynamic range because they can shut off individual pixels, resulting in a true black. The bright whites are measured in nits, and some newer TVs can achieve thousands of nits compared to a few hundred nits on standard dynamic range sets.
You’ve hopefully heard of 4K at this point, and it’s becoming the new standard as far as resolution is concerned. The 4K number actually refers to the horizontal pixel count, which comes out to 3,840. 4K displays also measure 2,160 pixels tall, but a 3.84K TV doesn’t have the same ring. There is also no real difference between UHD and 4K.
What do 8 bit, 10 bit, and 12 bit mean?
You may have noticed the terms 8 bit, 10 bit, and 12 bit while looking for your next 4K HDR display. Even though we’re not using 8 bit in the same respects as classic Mario games, it’s important for understanding your color options.
For starters, 8 bit used to be the standard, and it meant that the TV could produce 256 variations of red, green, and blue. A little bit of quick math tells you that it comes out to 16,777,216 total colors, which was the VGA standard for many years. With the birth of 4K HDR, we can send more light through the same TVs, which means more colors.
In this case, 10-bit displays can produce 1,024 different shades across red, blue, and yellow. Multiplying the three together results in 1,073,741,824 total color options, and that’s just the start. 12-bit TVs take things four times further for 4,096 total color options for 68,719,476,736 total colors. However, you would need an immensely bright display to notice a difference between the 10-bit and 12-bit ranges.
HDR10 vs HDR10 Plus vs Dolby Vision
As if HDR wasn’t complicated enough, there are a few different standards that you’ll have to learn about. This follows the old idea that not all TVs are created equally, so you’ll have to decide what you need. Here’s how to differentiate between HDR10, HDR10 Plus, and Dolby Vision:
HDR10 is technically a lower standard than Dolby Vision, though it’s far more affordable for manufacturers to adopt. It’s an open standard, so other manufacturers won’t have to pay royalties to Dolby. HDR10 is designed to produce a peak of 1,000 nits of brightness, though it actually tops out at 4,000.
It achieves a 10-bit color range, so you should see over 1 billion total colors per pixel, making it the preferred standard for many manufacturers.
Leave it to Samsung to find a way to surpass HDR10. It created the HDR10 Plus, or HDR1000, standard to guarantee peak brightness of 1,000 nits. Samsung claims that its high standard also relies on a special technology called Ultra Black, which is designed to cut down on the glare from lights and the sun.
As Samsung’s proprietary technology, you won’t find HDR10 Plus outside Samsung’s and Panasonic’s TVs. This means you’ll probably pay a bit more to have it included on your TV. It holds similar specs to HDR10, though Ultra Black is an added benefit to separate Samsung from the rest.
Dolby Vision is slightly older than HDR10, though it’s not as popular for one good reason. As a Dolby-owned standard, other manufacturers have to pay royalties to launch TVs with Vision onboard. As a result, most manufacturers choose to avoid the extra cost to provide a more affordable product.
Dolby Vision is one of the most premium standards, offering the 12-bit colors that we mentioned previously. The goal is to reproduce 4,000 nits regularly, though Dolby Vision tops out at 10,000 nits. Of course, 4,000 nits is extremely bright, and it’s actually necessary for users to see the difference between 10-bit and 12-bit.
Overall, you may want to choose HDR10 over Dolby Vision based on the difference in cost.
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Do you need 10 bit or 12 bit 4K HDR?
As of right now, live TV doesn’t support 10-bit color. A fancy 10 bit 4K HDR TV won’t boost your standard content to a higher level, though you can try it out on select streaming services. Netflix offers select programming with support for 10 bit HDR, but even Blu-ray disks only support 8-bit color.
What should you look for?
Now that you have a 4K HDR foundation, it’s time to start shopping. You’ll notice hundreds of different options with plenty of different labels. Don’t fall into the 4K UHD trap if you’re looking for an HDR display, though. 4K and UHD mean the same thing as we mentioned before, and they both pertain to resolution. Many HDR TVs are 4K, but not all 4K TVs have HDR, so here’s what to look out for:
This is where manufacturers can get tricky. Some will label their TVs as HDR even if they only support 8-bit color. They can do this because HDR is classified by both contrast and color depth.
In this case, we’re talking about the contrast specification. It’s technically the difference between the blackest blacks and the whitest whites, so some manufacturers aim for the most nits they can produce. This results in a much brighter panel, and it will at least look better than a standard 8-bit TV.
Rec 2020 color
You may not have heard the term before, but Rec 2020 is a range of colors. It launched as a standard for 10-bit and 12-bit 4K and 8K TVs. However, this range is supported by the TV’s processor rather than its panel, which may mean that it won’t work on your TV at all. Some manufacturers send out units with 10 or 12-bit panels, yet without support for Rec 2020.
As a result, the manufacturer will label the TV as HDR, and it may meet brightness requirements, but you do not see any new colors to match the improved technology.
Well, there you have it — pretty much everything we can tell you about 4K HDR TVs. Hopefully, we’ve helped you narrow down your options, and feel free to check out some of our TV deals hubs when you’re ready to shop.