It has been 91 years since the first television demonstration took place at Selfridge’s department store in London and in that time the technology has changed drastically. What was once a primitive system incapable of showing a human face (due to its inadequate contrast) has become the centre of people’s lives and has invaded over a billion homes across the world.
Throughout its history, television has had major leaps; whether it be the cathode ray tube in the 1930s, the introduction of colour in the 1940s or the debut of high-definition in the 1970s.
In 2016 the whole AV world has been abuzz about the introduction of high dynamic range; a technology that is specifically designed to make pictures look richer and more life-like. Of course, there’s also 4K, but even Netflix agrees that 4K is nowhere near as important as HDR.
Time and time again CE Pro Europe has explained exactly why HDR is an important technology, thanks to its ability to improve pixels, rather than just pumping through more – which is what resolution advancements have achieved. The technology offers more depth to images, deeper colours, brighter images – literally everything that makes an image engaging.
So why isn’t this article called ‘Why HDR Is Amongst The Greatest Advancements In TV Technology – Ever?’ Well, that’s quite simple – because standard HDR is nowhere near as impressive as its Dolby Vision variant.
TVs are getting smarter in a myriad of ways. We now have the ability to control our homes directly from the silver screen and can even run internet-connected applications for accessing services such as Netflix and YouTube. Dolby Vision is making TVs smarter where it counts, however – in the picture department.
With Dolby Vision, filmmakers can inform TVs of exactly how content should be displayed frame by frame using live metadata. That means one scene can look stylistically completely different from the next just by tweaking the colour and brightness levels on each scene – this ensures that users get to experience the content as it was intended, but also means no fiddling around in the settings menu optimising the picture.
It’s that functionality and smarts that sets Dolby Vision apart from its standard HDR 10 counterpart. It doesn’t stop there though, as Dolby Vision is also a technology that has been built with a lot of future-proofing in mind.
Currently TV sets that are bought off the shelf without any HDR functionality use eight-bit colour encoding and display colours in the Rec. 709 colour space. Dolby Vision meanwhile, uses 12-bit colour encoding and can display colours in the Rec. 2020 colour space. Rec. 709 covers approximately 33% of colours that are available in the human visible spectrum, while Rec. 2020 encompasses slightly more than 57% of the visible spectrum.
To meet the Ultra HD Premium specification, TV manufacturers must include support for 10-bit colour encoding, meaning standard HDR. Unlike Dolby Vision, which uses the Rec. 2020 colour space, HDR 10 only needs to be able to display 90% of the colours in the DCI P3 colour space; which falls somewhere between Rec. 709 and Rec. 2020.
Currently only a small range of televisions on the market can display 90% of the colours in the DCI P3 colour space, and none can even get close to that figure in the Rec. 2020 colour space – but Dolby Vision is a technology that is there, ready and waiting for the technology to catch up. According to Rtings.com, the closest any set comes to maxing out the Rec. 2020 colour space is the LG C6 – which achieved a score of 70.45%. Of course, that’s a curved TV, but LG’s other Dolby Vision OLEDs achieved similar scores, with the B6 netting 70.14%, while the E6 gets 68.89%.
It’s not just the colours in the Rec. 2020 space that Dolby is ready to support should the time come; the company also has the infrastructure to support super bright screens. As brightness approaches the maximum level, colours tend to get washed out, making for an unappealing looking image. The higher the maximum level, the better the reproduction of colours – and while most TV broadcasts are capped at 100 nits, Dolby Vision isn’t.
Dolby Vision can currently handle a maximum brightness of 4,000 nits, although support for 10,000 nits is planned as part of an upgrade to the technology. Current TV sets can’t even get close to those numbers, however. Standard HDR 10 is a little more realistic – maxing out at 1,000 nits of brightness, but a few sets have already surpassed that figure.
Both the Samsung UE65KS9500 and Sony ZD9 have a maximum peak brightness well in excess of 1,000 nits – with the former boasting 1,400 nits, while the latter is described as ‘over 1,600 nits’. That makes the HDR 10 standard supported by both sets obsolete in comparison to Dolby Vision.
Future proofing has never been a major feature in television technologies. Sure, standards have stuck around for a while, but they’ve always been reached quickly and then it’s onto the next standard; either that or technologies remain stagnant for many years until a new one comes along. With Dolby Vision, TV manufacturers are already able to offer their customers the best possible contrast ratio, the brightest image and fine-tuned picture settings based on what the content creator intends. But they can continue to iterate without worrying about hitting the maximum capabilities of the technology anytime soon.
Unfortunately, TV manufacturers have yet to realise the benefits that Dolby’s technology affords. In the UK, customers can only experience Dolby Vision sets from just two manufacturers – LG and Loewe. Both offer the best possible Dolby Vision experience currently on the market however, thanks to their use of OLED display technology (another candidate for best technological advancement).
The reason for the lack of uptake is rather simple – HDR is simple and cheap, Dolby Vision is not. In order to outfit a television set with Dolby Vision, a manufacturer is required to acquire a chipset and install it in the back of the TV. That’s potentially costly and eats into the company’s profits, meaning most have opted to go for standard HDR 10 – which is software-based, so doesn’t require a large outlay. Things could change as time goes by, as manufacturers may be waiting for prices to come down on the chipsets or the technology to become more widely adopted by content creators – but as it stands, anyone buying an HDR TV in 2016, if it doesn’t have Dolby Vision – they’re already behind the curve.
Of course, Dolby Vision may never take off and the standard HDR 10 format may become the dominant choice. It wouldn’t be the first time a technically superior format has lost out to an inferior alternative – VHS vs Betamax anyone?