High dynamic range has gone from being a nearly unknown new technology that many people probably considered to be more of a gimmick tan anything long-term to being one of the most important display features in the 4K and now even HDTVs of 2017. We’d even go as far as to argue that HDR quality is now more important than 4K resolution itself for most TV owners and it’s certainly become the bigger selling feature in today’s TV publicity.
The growth of HDR to such a degree so far isn’t without good reason either. Unlike 4K resolution, which can be hard to distinguish from 1080p Full HD on smaller TV displays (not to mention laptops and PC monitors), a full range of HDR specs in a TV display, paired with native high dynamic range content, creates a level of visual performance on a TV that’s notably better than anything you’ll ever see with ordinary non-HDR video sources and TVs. Consumers are noticing this and they’re buying their TVs accordingly to an increasing degree.
Dolby Vision HDR in action
The creators of today’s dominant HDR standards have also played their part in the technology’s popularity and the competition between them is heating up as a result. This applies particularly to the proprietary standard known as Dolby Vision, which until now has played second fiddle to the more common and easier to implement HDR10 standard that’s found in most 4K Blu-ray discs, streaming HDR content sources and pretty much all HDR TVs.
Unlike Dolby Vision, HDR10 could be implemented without specialized hardware but now Dolby Labs is changing this and as a result, we’re likely going to see it become much more common. This is a good thing too because in terms of overall specs, the ranges for HDR quality that Dolby Vision covers are superior to those of HDR10 in many ways, even if TV displays are still far from catching up with ideal Dolby Vision standards for brightness and color gamut coverage.
Going back to the changes in Dolby Vision, the company behind the spec is delivering a purely software version of the standard that will possibly put it on a much more equal footing with HDR10. With a software version of Dolby Vision, manufacturers of 4K TVs could potentially add the standard via firmware updates and because Dolby Vision can be transmitted over any sort of older or newer HDMI port in 4K TVs, its conversion to software form would make it even more flexible than HDR10, which requires that a 4K TV or other 4K media device come with HDMI 2.0a connectivity.
The people at Dolby have even demonstrated the newly increased flexibility caused by their changes to Dolby Vision by running content with the standard on an old PlayStation 4 console, which comes only with HDMI 1.4 ports. This of course is just the beginning of how this HDR spec could start arriving in many more devices.
In other words, we could soon see a software-based firmware-fed version of Dolby Vision hitting all sorts of devices like newer HDTVs, gaming consoles, 4K Blu-ray players (all of which already offer HDR support but so far entirely of the HDR10 type) and other devices as they come out or get updated.
In reference to all the possible adoptions of the revamped Dolby Vision high dynamic range standard, Dolby has stated that:
“There are implementations that can run Dolby Vision in software, certainly in the console space but also in the TV SoC space. Specifics vary on a case-by-case basis depending on the hardware capability of the silicon in question, but we have development kits for various types of implementations, depending on the application: full hardware, hybrid of software and hardware or [and this is the crucial bit] full software.”
It’s also worth noting that since CES 2017 in January, Dolby has been making a major splash in the 4K device and TV market in general. In 2016, only Vizio’s and LG’s 4K HDR TVs came with Dolby Vision hardware-based HDR built into them but since early 2017, we’ve seen Sony start adopting Dolby Vision in its new 4K HDR TVs for this year and we know that Dolby Vision support is also coming to 4K UHD Blu-ray discs and players a bit later in the year. In fact, at least one 4K Blu-ray player, the Oppo UDP-203, is expected to get a Dolby Vision HDR upgrade in about a month.
On the other hand, there are obstacles still standing in Dolby Visions path, along with specific things that give HDR10 a bit of an edge.
For one thing, Dolby Vision, even in its software version, is more expensive to use than HDR10 since its proprietary. Manufacturers that to use Dolby Vision have to pay their cut to Dolby and for the open source HDR10 standard, this extra expense doesn’t apply. Partly because of this and partly due to other less clearly defined reasons, some major 4K TV industry players like Samsung refuse to go with Dolby Vision and claim to be able to deliver HDR picture quality that’s at least as good as that promised by Dolby Vision through their implementation of HDR10.
One further issue is the higher performance standards in TV and device hardware that even a software-based Dolby Vision is likely to require for maximum performance. While the Dolby Vision HDR standard is highly flexible in the sense that it can be applied at something less than its maximum parameters in 4K TVs which don’t yet come close to delivering the Dolby display ideal for brightness, color and black levels, Dolby Vision is still a more demanding high dynamic range standard than HDR10 and this might cause some problems in the processing systems of some media players or game consoles and possibly even some 4K TVs. On this we’ll have to see.
Bottom line though, even if Dolby remains as a more specialized version of HDR down the road into 2018, its increased presence in today’s latest 4K content, playback and display technologies will benefit consumers with a superior but affordable possible home entertainment experience.
Story by 4k.com