What is HDR?

Go beyond 4K with high-dynamic range - 2017's top TV tech

If last year saw 4K finally take off, then in 2017 it's very much the turn of HDR.

As was the case with 100Hz, high definition and 3D before it, HDR is a new bit of TV technology designed to make you want to spend hundreds of pounds on a new telly. And the best part is that it's genuinely amazing and you don’t even have to don a ridiculous pair of glasses to see it.

From the PlayStation 4 Pro to Netflix, there are loads of platforms that already support HDR and even more are on the way. Pretty much all the of the new 4K TVs launched at CES 2017 feature HDR smarts, which means the tech's going to be pretty widespread before you know it.

Here’s our guide to what HDR is and why you should be very excited about it.

What does HDR stand for?

As keen photographers amongst you will know, HDR is short for High Dynamic Range.

Essentially, it refers to an image that displays far greater contrast - so dark areas of the picture look darker while, at the same time, bright areas look brighter.

An image's dynamic range is the contrast between its brightest whites and darkest blacks, and HDR images boast much greater constrast than regular images.

Increasing contrast actually also has huge knock-on effects to other areas of a picture. It enhances the detail you can see in darker areas, for example.

The sample pictures above, provided by Sony, illustrate the difference between standard and high dynamic range pictures.

And now HDR isn’t confined to still images: it’s on your TV and the cinema screen.

What’s so great about it?

With the extra luminance, images become vastly more true to life.

Dark scenes become less of a gloom-fest – you’ll be able to pick out far more in the shadows – while the added vigour of bright areas helps them to leap out of the screen. Colours also become more realistic - way, way more punchier when they need to be, but also more subtle and expressive, with more delicate blends and shifts in tone.

As mentioned above, you get more insight into dark areas, and the enhanced contrast also serves to highlight textures and objects right across the image, which can have a pretty transformative effect on perceived detail and sharpness.

Basically, it makes things look more realistic, more dramatic and more nuanced.

But what about 4K? Doesn’t that add more detail too?

Yes, but it’s a different kind of detail. HDR isn’t about increasing the number of pixels, but about making every pixel that’s already there better. And this means that, while 4K generally requires a large screen size to prove effective, HDR’s advantages are plainly visible on a screen of any size.

But don't worry, it's extremely unlikely you'll ever be given the option to buy an HDR TV that doesn't also support 4K, because it's generally seen as a layer of technology above Ultra HD. Of course, there are lots of TVs currently available that will handle 4K and not HDR, but those will become less common as 2017 progresses. In short, if you buy a TV in 2017 it shouldn't be too difficult to get one that utilises both technologies to deliver stunning all-round image quality.

Within Hollywood, some TV and filmmakers believe that HDR could be a bigger deal than 4K. Howard Lukk, VP of production technology for Walt Disney Studios, told Variety: “There’s a feeling in Hollywood, and even at the Walt Disney Studios, in order to change over the complete marketplace to a new format, we really need more than just pixels. Adding more dynamic range and more contrast really makes a big difference.”