HDR10 ver­sus Dolby Vi­sion: first thoughts

HDR tele­vi­sion is the bat­tle­ground for the lat­est tech­no­log­i­cal for­mat war. We put two of the fron­trun­ners, HDR10 and Dolby Vi­sion, to the test

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At this point in 2017, you prob­a­bly know that you want HDR in your life (as­sum­ing you haven’t got it already), but there’s still lots of con­fu­sion out there re­gard­ing the dif­fer­ent HDR for­mats. We’re go­ing to put Hy­brid Log Gamma (HLG) and Ad­vanced HDR by Tech­ni­color to one side for now, mostly be­cause nei­ther is par­tic­u­larly preva­lent at this point, and fo­cus on HDR10 and Dolby Vi­sion.

The for­mer is com­fort­ably the most com­mon HDR for­mat cur­rently avail­able, while the lat­ter is rarer, but more ad­vanced and should de­liver even more stun­ning re­sults.

Op­ti­mis­ing on the fly

The rea­son Dolby Vi­sion looks set to take HDR to the next level is be­cause it adds dy­namic meta­data that car­ries frame-byframe in­struc­tions. A Dolby Vi­sion­ca­pable dis­play can then use this meta­data to make sure it por­trays the con­tent as ac­cu­rately as pos­si­ble.

Dolby Vi­sion-ca­pa­ble TVS com­bine the frame-by-frame in­for­ma­tion re­ceived from the source with an aware­ness of their own ca­pa­bil­i­ties in terms of bright­ness, con­trast and colour per­for­mance.

Un­like stan­dard HDR10, Dolby Vi­sion con­tent is es­sen­tially be­ing op­ti­mised for your TV on the fly, the­o­ret­i­cally de­liv­er­ing a per­fect im­age in ev­ery scene. That’s the the­ory any­way, and until re­cently that (and a few show demos) was all we had to go on. Now, though, we’ve been able to com­pare Dolby Vi­sion and HDR10 di­rectly in our own test­ing rooms – and the re­sults are sur­pris­ing, to say the least.

An­i­mated de­bate

But first, how did we con­duct the test? It’s cer­tainly not an easy com­par­i­son to make, be­cause Dolby Vi­sion TVS are still very rare and be­cause those TVS don’t al­low you to switch be­tween Dolby Vi­sion and HDR10. Both points can also be ap­plied to Blu-ray play­ers, and Dolby Vi­sion discs are rarer than a blue steak.

Luck­ily, we were able to source an LG OLED65G7V (all of LG’S 2017 OLEDS sup­port Dolby Vi­sion) and two Oppo UDP­203 Blu-ray play­ers. We up­dated one of the Op­pos to the lat­est firmware, which adds Dolby Vi­sion sup­port, and left the other on ear­lier firmware, lim­it­ing it to HDR10. Fi­nally, we bought two copies of the

De­spi­ca­ble Me 4K Blu-ray, cur­rently one of only two discs cur­rently avail­able with Dolby Vi­sion sup­port (the other is

De­spi­ca­ble Me 2). With this kit we’re able to con­nect the two play­ers to the LG TV si­mul­ta­ne­ously, play the two discs con­cur­rently, and flick quickly be­tween in­puts for in­stant com­par­isons of Dolby Vi­sion and HDR10.

We’re not say­ing this is a per­fect test sce­nario: there could be small man­u­fac­tur­ing dif­fer­ences be­tween the Oppo play­ers and the more re­cent firmware may have added small pic­ture dif­fer­ences beyond the ad­di­tion of Dolby Vi­sion. Added to that, do­ing a pic­ture com­par­i­son us­ing an an­i­mated fea­ture is far from ideal, as we’ll dis­cuss in more de­tail be­low. But com­par­ing an HDR10 disc on the two play­ers proves they’re prac­ti­cally iden­ti­cal in that re­gard and, be­sides, De­spi­ca­ble Me is the only disc avail­able. Even tak­ing these caveats into con­sid­er­a­tion, the re­sults are re­ally rather in­ter­est­ing.

Un­ex­pected re­sults

Let’s get the head­line sur­prise out of the way now: the Dolby Vi­sion ver­sion of

De­spi­ca­ble Me, when tested us­ing the kit and method out­lined above, looks worse than the HDR10 ver­sion.

We’ve got both in­puts set to the Cin­ema Home pre­set, which is the de­fault mode when a Dolby Vi­sion sig­nal

is de­tected but has to be man­u­ally se­lected when play­ing stan­dard HDR10, but the dif­fer­ences are pro­nounced.

The HDR10 ver­sion of the film is bright and punchy, with the kind of con­trast that adds def­i­ni­tion to ob­jects and a real sense of three-di­men­sion­al­ity. This is a vi­brant, ex­cit­ing pic­ture that draws the eye and makes the film look gen­uinely spectacular.

The Dolby Vi­sion ver­sion is quite pale and flat by com­par­i­son. The dis­tance be­tween the bright and dark el­e­ments of the im­age seems sig­nif­i­cantly shorter, and that rel­a­tive crush­ing of con­trast leaves colours and shades blend­ing into one an­other, mean­ing that ob­jects and char­ac­ters stand out less dis­tinctly. It’s just a more sub­dued im­age, which is not what we were ex­pect­ing.

It’s worth point­ing out that we’re gen­er­ally us­ing the de­fault Cin­ema Home set­tings, as we be­lieve that’s what most peo­ple at home will do (af­ter all, the rai­son d’être of Dolby Vi­sion is that you’re see­ing the most ac­cu­rate im­age pos­si­ble), but we did also spend a long pe­riod at­tempt­ing to get the two im­ages closer to one an­other – to no avail. This task was made es­pe­cially frus­trat­ing by the LG pre­sent­ing you with a com­pletely dif­fer­ent se­lec­tion of set­tings de­pend­ing on whether it’s re­ceiv­ing a Dolby Vi­sion or HDR10 sig­nal.

Switch­ing both in­puts to the Stan­dard pre­set pro­duces a brighter, more vivid im­age across the board, but there still re­mains a significant gap be­tween Dolby Vi­sion and HDR10.

Vis­ual de­light

So is Dolby Vi­sion a busted flush? We’re cer­tainly not prepared to jump to that con­clu­sion – for a num­ber of rea­sons. The big­gest of which is that the sam­ple size is just too small. Dolby Vi­sion is ap­plied on a disc-by-disc and frame-by-frame ba­sis, and it could well be that De­spi­ca­ble Me just isn’t a par­tic­u­larly good ex­am­ple of its im­ple­men­ta­tion. Per­haps the next an­i­mated film to get Dolby Vi­sion sup­port (that will be The Lego Nin­jago

Movie by the looks of things) will be a thrillingly dy­namic vis­ual de­light.

It may also be that the some­what sub­dued de­liv­ery of De­spi­ca­ble Me is a hint at greater sub­tlety from Dolby Vi­sion. We think it’s a bit mis­guided to go for sub­tlety with an an­i­mated film, but per­haps live ac­tion movies will ben­e­fit from a more nu­anced ap­proach.

“The HDR10 ver­sion of the film is bright and punchy, with the kind of con­trast that adds def­i­ni­tion to ob­jects. The Dolby Vi­sion ver­sion is quite pale and flat by com­par­i­son”

The test was car­ried out with a 2017 LG OLED tele­vi­sion and two Oppo UDP-203 Blu-ray play­ers

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