‘Fake HDR’ TVs
When ‘HDR-compatible’ doesn’t mean what you think it means.
Have you heard about this ‘fake 4K’ kerfuffle that happened several years ago? In short, there was one camp that argued if each pixel isn’t made up of three colored subpixels, it isn’t a true 4K TV. Another camp maintained that a strict RGB matrix is unnecessary, and picture quality concerns can be overcome algorithmically. Personally, I think as long as you’re happy with what you see on screen and it’s appreciably better than 1080p, then sub-pixel layout be damned.
However, there’s now another ‘fake something’ episode that I actually feel strongly about, because I think it’s harming unwitting 4K TV buyers. I’m referring to ‘fake HDR’ TVs.
For the uninitiated, HDR (high dynamic range) is, in my opinion, the best thing that could happen to 4K TVs. Done properly and with the right content, an HDR picture ‘pops’ way more than a normal picture. More ‘lifelike’ images, if you will. But to do HDR properly - higher contrast, brighter highlights, wider colors - specific hardware is required. And this is where the marketing line starts to get fuzzy.
For one, brightness is a critical factor for effective HDR display. Most high-end 4K LCD TVs and OLED TVs tout a peak brightness of at least 1,000 and 600 nits, respectively, for this reason. For the former, they also have either an edge-lit or full-array local dimming system to control the screen backlight, to ensure a bright section truly stands out from its darker surrounding parts.
Most HDR content also support wide color gamut for deeper colors, and that isn’t something any Tom, Dick, and Harry TV is capable of either. To realize WCG, LCD TVs have started adopting new display/ backlight tech: Samsung has QLED (quantum dots), LG has Nano Cell, and Sony has Triluminos; and in general, all 4K OLED TVs can do WCG. As you’d so rightly expect, these premium TVs are all midrange models and up.
So the pet peeve I now have with TV makers is entry 4K TVs that claim to be HDR-compatible. In almost all cases, any sub-RM3,000 TV that claims it accepts a 4K signal and won’t show you a garbled picture. By no means should you expect it to actually display HDR or WCG without verifying it. Case in point: I was watching Netflix on a low-end 4K TV that other day, and the HDR label popped up on screen. So while Netflix was indeed supplying an HDR stream and the TV accepted it, the resulting picture quality was piss-poor. I blame the TV (correctly) because I know the real reason, but most users are likely to point their finger (wrongly) at HDR. Come to think about it, no wonder many people I’ve talked to poo-poo HDR; they probably experienced it on a sub-par TV.
Yes, one day all TVs would be capable of doing HDR properly, but that day isn’t today.
Not all TVs can do HDR properly. This Samsung Q8C QLED TV that uses quantum dots for high brightness and wide color gamut support can.