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High dynamic range (HDR) is the latest technological innovation to change how we watch movies and television, enhancing the quality of the image through greater contrast and a broader range of colors. As HDR10 and Dolby Vision compete to become the industry standard, device manufacturers adopt the new technology, and content providers integrate HDR into production, rival streaming services Netflix and Amazon are going head-to-head to provide the most comprehensive range of HDR content.

HDR: the next generation of TV viewing

In recent years, TV viewing has undergone rapid change. Ultra high definition (UHD) and 4K have quadrupled the number of pixels within displays, allowing for greater clarity and larger screens. Now the focus of HDR is on improving the quality of the image through contrast and color enhancement. The new technology includes 10-bit color, which provides 1,024 RGB values (or 1.06 billion colors) and broadens the capacity of nits (the unit of brightness), enabling TV displays to highlight brighter colors and provide depth to areas of darkness.

As with all technological innovations, rival organizations are competing to have their format adopted as the industry standard and, in this case, the UHD Alliance has chosen HDR10 over Dolby Vision. While HDR10 is an open platform that allows for firmware updates, Dolby Vision has the disadvantage of requiring TVs to include built-in silicon hardware and a Dolby certification but takes a forward-thinking approach by allowing for up to 12-bit color and 10,000 nits. TV manfacturers Samsung and Sony and Hollywood studios Fox and Paramount have opted for HDR10, while Vizio, MGM, and Universal are backing Dolby Vision. LG has chosen to cover its bases by adopting both formats.

Streaming services maximize HDR output

With device manufacturers and content providers divided on which format to adopt, streaming services Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video have decided to offer content via both HDR formats. In July 2015, Amazon began streaming HDR10 content in the form of its original series Mozart in the Jungle and recently made a further 27 titles available in both formats. Meanwhile, Netflix began streaming its original series Marco Polo in HDR10 and Dolby Vision in March 2016. The company has revealed that it will provide over 150 hours of HDR content before the end of 2016.

Supporting HDR10 and Dolby Vision enables Netflix and Amazon to remain competitive by offering the full range of HDR content. Their decision also benefits TV manufacturers that are supporting either format because these manufacturers can now guarantee the availability of HDR content to view on their devices. However, while this decision offers immediate benefits, it could also have a negative impact in the future. It is likely that HDR will become an essential component of TV viewing, especially with the International Telecommunication Union's (ITU's) recent introduction of the BT.2100 standard for HD, 4K, and 8K HDR TVs. With major streaming services refusing to opt for either HDR10 or Dolby Vision, the issue of which will become the industry standard is likely to continue for some time.


Further reading

2016 Trends to Watch: TV and Video, ME0003-000639 (January 2016)

The Implications of #NetflixEverywhere, ME0003-000630 (January 2016)


Holly Reid, Research Analyst, Consumer Technology and TV

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