WHAT TO WATCH IN 4K

While the ar­rival of 4K prom­ises us more pix­els than ever be­fore, it’s HDR you have to thank for im­prov­ing the qual­ity of the pix­els along the way. Here’s what you need to know

Australian T3 - - CONTENTS - Words: Jon Porter Pho­tog­ra­phy: Neil God­win

We present the great­est 4K kit for your home cinema, and show you how to make the most of your Ul­tra-HD setup with spec­tac­u­lar-look­ing films and shows

When you think of the next gen­er­a­tion of TVs, your mind im­me­di­ately goes to 4K, and with the new and im­proved for­mat of­fer­ing four times the amount of pix­els as reg­u­lar Full HD it’s easy to see why.

4K is cer­tainly a big step for­ward in the de­tail stakes, but there’s an­other tech­nol­ogy that’s ar­rived along­side it that of­fers al­most as big a step for­ward for pic­ture qual­ity. That tech­nol­ogy’s name? High dy­namic range.

While 4K (also known as Ul­tra HD) of­fers more in the way of pix­els, HDR’s fo­cus is on im­prov­ing the qual­ity of in­di­vid­ual pix­els. If you’re buy­ing a new 4K TV that doesn’t have it, you’re miss­ing out on al­most half of the ben­e­fits of the next gen­er­a­tion of tele­vi­sion.

WHAT IS HDR?

Thank­fully, the ben­e­fits of HDR mean that it’s quickly be­come an es­sen­tial in­clu­sion in most new tele­vi­sions. So what is HDR, and how do you make sure you’re get­ting the most out of it?

It’s got a dull name, but the ef­fect it cre­ates is ac­tu­ally very im­pres­sive. HDR al­lows the pix­els of your tele­vi­sion to get both darker and lighter than they could pre­vi­ously.

That means dark parts of the im­age will get truly black rather than sim­ply a muddy grey, and whites can get so bright that they add an ex­tra sparkle to an im­age that would oth­er­wise be lack­ing.

The num­ber one ben­e­fit that this gives you when you watch an HDR screen is de­tail.

Imag­ine a camp­fire scene from one of your favourite West­erns. The fire it­self is likely to be nice and bright, while the world around it is bathed in shadow.

This sort of sit­u­a­tion is a night­mare for an SDR TV. If it wants to show off the de­tail in the fire, then it will have to ad­just it­self to be darker over­all, to bring the fire’s bright­ness within the range it’s ca­pa­ble of dis­play­ing. Do­ing this, how­ever, means that most of the shad­ows will be too dark for the TV to dis­play, and all their de­tail and depth will be lost.

Try the op­po­site tac­tic and you’ll lose just as much de­tail in the bright fire, which will be­come a blurry mess. Sure, you’ll be able to see what’s go­ing on in the shad­ows, but at what cost?

By in­creas­ing the spec­trum of bright­ness that a TV is ca­pa­ble of dis­play­ing, then de­tail can be pre­served in both in­cred­i­bly bright and in­cred­i­bly dark parts of an im­age at all times.

But it’s not just in­creased lev­els of de­tail that HDR has to of­fer. A wider range of bright­nesses means that im­ages have the ap­pear­ance of hav­ing more depth.

Imag­ine, in this in­stance, a TV dis­play­ing a pic­ture of a bowl of fruit. There might be a bit of a re­flec­tion on the waxy sur­face of an ap­ple or grapes, while be­tween the fruit are shad­ows cre­ated by the light around them.

By in­creas­ing the dark­ness of the shad­ows be­tween them, and in­creas­ing the bright­ness of any re­flec­tions, HDR lets you see each piece of fruit as a 3D ob­ject, rather than just a pic­ture on a screen.

The light from an OLED TV comes from the pix­els them­selves

Clues like these trick our brains into think­ing ob­jects have depth with­out the need for gim­micky 3D TVs or glasses (which, thank­fully, don’t ap­pear to have sur­vived into the 4K era).

That said, there are a cou­ple of things to watch out for to make sure you’re get­ting a TV that can make the most of HDR con­tent.

Many man­u­fac­tur­ers claim that their TV of­fers HDR be­cause it’s able to go a lit­tle brighter and a lit­tle darker than their pre­vi­ous ver­sions. But proper HDR has a strictly de­fined level of bright­ness and dark­ness that it needs to hit. The stan­dard (as de­fined by the UHD Al­liance) states that to be classed as HDR an LCD TV must be ca­pa­ble of go­ing as bright as 1,000 ‘nits’ (a mea­sure of bright­ness) and as dark as 0.05.

Like ev­ery bit of tech, it can be easy to ob­sess over the num­bers, and these rarely tell the full story. If you want to en­sure your next TV meets the base­line stan­dard of HDR, then look out for any men­tion of HDR10 com­pat­i­bil­ity. Some man­u­fac­tur­ers will use other terms such as HDR+, HDR Pro and HDR Pre­mium to avoid be­ing ex­plicit about com­pat­i­bil­ity, but HDR10 is a stan­dard with spe­cific re­quire­ments, and if a TV has it then you know what you’re get­ting.

In an ideal world you’d also look out for the UHD Pre­mium logo – a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion that lets you know that a TV has tech that con­sti­tutes the next gen­er­a­tion of TV – but un­for­tu­nately not ev­ery TV man­u­fac­turer is us­ing it, and as such it’s not as re­li­able an in­di­ca­tor as it seems. Dif­fer­ent TVs achieve their HDR in dif­fer­ent ways, and these can vary wildly in ef­fec­tive­ness.

WHICH TVS DO HDR?

OLED TVs pro­duce ar­guably the best HDR im­ages. Whereas LCD TVs have to rely on an im­pre­cise back­light shin­ing through the pix­els to pro­vide enough light for the im­age, the light from an OLED TV comes from the pix­els them­selves.

This means that when a pixel needs to be black it can turn off en­tirely, and pro­duce lit­er­ally no light at all - es­sen­tially a per­fect black. In con­trast, the best an LCD can do is to turn off the back­light be­hind the pixel, and since no LCD can do this on a per-pixel ba­sis, there’ll al­ways be a lit­tle light creep­ing through that re­sults in a black closer to grey.

Af­ter years of dom­i­nance by LG, 2017 saw ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ers jump on the OLED TV band­wagon. LG still pro­duces the most di­verse mod­els, but the B7 and C7 are great bud­get OLED sets. They have ex­actly the same pic­ture qual­ity as LG sets sev­eral times their price, though they have weaker sound.

Other OLED man­u­fac­tur­ers tend to be more ex­pen­sive, but each has a lit­tle se­cret sauce they use to spice up their of­fer­ings. Sony’s A1E is great at up­grad­ing SDR con­tent to HDR, while Philips equips its OLED TVs with Am­bi­light, a tech­nol­ogy that com­ple­ments the im­ages on screen by il­lu­mi­nat­ing the wall be­hind your TV.

That said, there are still some very strong LCD per­form­ers out there. Although OLEDs are ca­pa­ble of go­ing es­pe­cially dark, they strug­gle to get as bright as LCDs. You get bet­ter shad­ows, but less sparkle from the bright parts of an im­age.

Sony’s sets use dif­fer­ent back­light­ing tech­niques to achieve fan­tas­tic HDR re­sults, but Sam­sung flag­ship, the Q9F, will go even brighter, al­beit with­out the same level of con­trol be­tween light and dark ar­eas as Sony’s best ef­forts.

WHERE CAN I GET HDR CON­TENT?

Thanks to the ad­vent of Smart TVs and stream­ing, if you buy an HDR TV, it will have a lot of HDR con­tent avail­able with­out you hav­ing to buy any ex­ter­nal hard­ware.

Right now, the two big­gest sources of HDR con­tent are Net­flix and Ama­zon Prime In­stant Video. Both pro­duce all their orig­i­nal con­tent in HDR, and many third-party shows and films sup­port the stan­dard, too.

You’ll have to pay for both ser­vices of course, and here Ama­zon has the slight ad­van­tage by not charg­ing ex­tra for its 4K/ HDR con­tent. Net­flix, mean­while, forces you to up­grade your ac­count to its pre­mium tier if you want to make the most of your TV.

While built-in apps of­fer the eas­i­est ac­cess to HDR con­tent, ex­ter­nal de­vices such as the Ap­ple TV 4K and Chrome­cast Ul­tra have strengths of their own, with ac­cess to the iTunes movie store (which has a grow­ing li­brary of 4K HDR new movie con­tent) and phone-based con­trol, re­spec­tively.

If you want the ab­so­lute best pic­ture qual­ity right now how­ever, then phys­i­cal me­dia is your best bet. Not need­ing to fit into a cer­tain in­ter­net band­width means that it can of­fer a much less com­pressed ex­pe­ri­ence. Less com­pres­sion means more much data, and more data means more de­tail ready for your en­joy­ment.

Ul­tra HD Blu-ray is the for­mat you should be pay­ing at­ten­tion to here. De­pend­ing on the disc, the for­mat in­cludes sup­port for ev­ery ma­jor HDR stan­dard (aside from the broad­cast-op­ti­mised HLG).

UHD Blu-ray play­ers range from the ones that are built into the Xbox One S and X video game con­soles, to pre­mium mod­els such as the Oppo UDP-203 that in­clude sup­port for Dolby Vi­sion in ad­di­tion to HDR10. With few Vi­sion com­pat­i­ble discs avail­able now, you could save a bit of money with a cheaper player, but there’s no telling how many ti­tles will sup­port it in the fu­ture.

Fi­nally, there are also HDR op­tions avail­able if you’re more into gam­ing than

If you want the best pic­ture right now, then phys­i­cal me­dia is your best bet

watch­ing TV or films. At the mo­ment there are four HDR-equipped games con­soles out there, the Xbox One S, Xbox One X, PS4 Pro, and PS4 - although the lat­ter is un­able to of­fer 4K in ad­di­tion to HDR.

All three have their strengths and weak­nesses, but the Xbox One X has the widest sup­port for 4K games. Within each of the con­sole’s li­braries, HDR sup­port varies on a game-by-game ba­sis, so be sure to read the small print. With the right con­tent, the right source and the right TV, you’re ready to en­joy every­thing that HDR has to of­fer. Still think 4K is the be all and end all?

The Xbox One X of­fers 4K HDR gam­ing and Blu-ray play­back – it’s a great liv­ing-room up­grade

You need HDMI 2.0 ports for HDR, which com­pat­i­ble TVs will have, but it’s not al­ways all of them, so check your man­ual. Your old ca­bles should work

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