‘Fake HDR’ TVs

When ‘HDR-com­pat­i­ble’ doesn’t mean what you think it means.

HWM (Malaysia) - - CONTENTS - By NG CHONG SENG

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.

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