The shift from Full HD to 4K UHD has essentially already occurred in the world of television, and the next big thing is HDR, or High Dynamic Range. However, in what seems to be a bid to make things as tough for consumers as possible, there is more than one model of HDR TV to select from.
As with each new format, there are opposing points of view: Betamax against VHS, DVD vs. Laserdisc, and now Dolby Vision vs. HDR10.
We’ve compiled everything you need to know about Dolby Vision vs. HDR10, as well as HDR in general (for those who are still unclear about what it is), to help you choose which format is ideal and what to look for when shopping for an HDR TV.
What is HDR?
Dolby Vision and HDR10 are both variants of the same concept, High Dynamic Range.
In layman’s terms, HDR refers to a television’s capacity to show color and contrast to generate realistic visuals. I’ve covered HDR in-depth in another article, but I’ll cover it briefly here, to get you up to speed.
During filming, the total brightness and contrast data is encoded into the video signal. That signal is delivered to an HDR-enabled TV when you watch it on a stream, Blu-ray disc or over broadcast TV.
Each TV has it’s own limitations for brightness and contrast. If you try to watch HDR content on a non HDR-enabled TV (Standard Dynamic Range), it’ll still work. However, the images are shown without the high dynamic range information.
In addition to having a 4K resolution and a broad color gamut, an HDR-enabled TV will display images that are brighter, and more life-like, when paired with HDR encoded content. This includes brilliant whites with no blooming or washout and deep blacks with no muddiness or crushing.
For example, if you’re watching a sunset, which has both bright and dark parts, the TV will accurately show both the bright light of the Sun and the darker shadows. Neither will be washed out, and you’ll still see details as well as the colors.
In short, it’s much easier to see all of the details on HDR televisions than SDR TV’s. That means you get a much better viewing experience.
What is HDR10?
HDR10 is an open standard found on all HDR-compatible TVs, home theater receivers, Ultra HD Blu-ray players, and media streamers.
It stands for High Dynamic Range with a 10-bit color gamut.
HDR10 sets the brightest and darkest part of a movie and communicates that to your TV, so you get an accurate representation of the scene.
The brightest and darkest points in a movie are noted throughout the production process. All brightness levels are linked to those spots when the HDR material is played back.
However, since it’s applied uniformly throughout the entire piece of content, it’s not as accurate as Dolby Vision.
However, in 2017, Samsung unveiled HDR10+, a scene-by-scene approach to HDR. HDR10+, like HDR10, is royalty-free.
Every HDR-enabled device uses HDR10. HDR10+ is used primarily by Samsung and Panasonic in their TVs.
What is Dolby Vision?
Dolby Vision is a high-dynamic-range (HDR) format created by Dolby Labs that combines both hardware and metadata. Unlike HDR10 and HDR10+, it’s not open source. A licensing fee must be paid to Dolby for its use by content creators, providers, and device manufacturers.
The biggest advantage to Dolby Vision is that it increases the level of detail over HDR10. HDR information can be stored scene by scene or frame by frame, and sent to the TV.
In other words, instead of using the brightest and darkest points in the entire film, Dolby Vision uses something called Dynamic Metadata to send that information to your TV either scene-by-scene or even frame-by-frame.
Since Dolby Viion is an offshoot of HDR10, any TV that is Dolby Vision enabled can also decode HDR10 signals. However, a TV that is just HDR10 compatible will not be able to interpret Dolby Vision data.
Many content providers that support Dolby Vision in their content will also add HDR10+ encoding as well.
If the content supports Dolby Vision, but your television only supports HDR10, the television ignores the Dolby Vision encoding and displays the video in regular HDR. In other words, you won’t get the benefit of Dolby Vision, but you’ll still get HDR quality.
LG, Philips, Sony, TCL, and Vizio are among the major TV manufacturers that support Dolby Vision. OPPO Digital, LG, Philips, Sony, Panasonic, and Cambridge Audio have all released Ultra HD Blu-ray players that support Dolby Vision.
You can find Dolby Vision content streaming on Netflix, Amazon, and Vudu and a limited selection of Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc titles.
The only major TV brand sold in the United States that does not support Dolby Vision is Samsung. Samsung televisions and Ultra High-Definition Blu-ray Disc players are only compatible with HDR10+.
Dolby Vision vs. HDR10: Color Bit Depth
The number of colors displayed is one of the most significant differences between the two formats. In brief, Dolby Vision is superior because it supports 12-bit color, which results in a total of 68 billion potential colors.
By comparison, HDR10 has a 10-bit color gamut. That means it can ‘only’ handle one billion colors.
The fact that film companies produce films for Dolby and require permission for Dolby mastering bolsters the Dolby Vision camp’s case for color.
Of course, both standards are a huge improvement when compared to non-HDR displays, which have a maximum color depth of 16 million.
Dolby Vision vs. HDR10: Dynamic Metadata
More color is all well and good, but Dolby Vision has one huge advantage over HDR10: dynamic metadata.
Dynamic metadata enables filmmakers to fine-tune each frame’s HDR color and brightness enhancements.
In simple words, this implies that a director may say, “Hey, I want this image to appear X levels brighter than the following picture.” Once encoded into a Dolby Vision film, the television automatically applies the improvements as the scenes play.
HDR10 supports static information, set once for the entire film.
This means the entire film is treated with a single HDR color and brightness setting. It remains constant regardless of the situation.
The bottom line is that when you watch a Dolby Vision film on a Dolby Vision television, you are experiencing the film exactly as the director intended. Your television settings and other variables are irrelevant.
Dolby Vision vs. HDR10: Contrast and Brightness
One approach to produce contrast variation is to give a greater brightness level. While HDR10 can render up to 4,000 nits of brightness, Dolby Vision’s maximum brightness is 10,000 nits.
TV technology is the biggest constraint, though. Most TV’s just aren’t capable of emitting 10,000 nits of light.
That said, the thing to remember is that Dolby Vision was developed to be future proof. It’s built, not only for the TV’s we have today, but the ones we’ll have in the future as well.
Dolby Vision vs. HDR10: Bespoke Playback
Dolby Vision was developed as a complete solution. That is, it is used to master film, package it, and then reproduce it strictly as intended on your television.
Specialized chips in Dolby Vision enabled televisions are smart enough to recognize the specific capabilities of that particular TV.
These chips communicate information to the video source. The source then optimizes the video being streamed frame by frame to take advantage of the screen’s color and brightness capabilities.
The result is the most accurate reproduction of the original master. It ensures that you’re viewing the video exactly as it was intended to be seen.
By contrast, HDR10 was developed by television makers to circumvent Dolby’s regulation (and likely its license fees).
As a result, the approach is more open-ended and does not map material specifically for that TV. It’s still a much better image than SDR, but it’s not an exact replica of the video.
Dolby Vision vs. HDR10: Which is Better?
One of the most endearing aspects of the HDR format battle is that some manufacturers are remaining neutral. LG, for instance, offers Dolby Vision and HDR10 support in its new OLED TV lineup. This implies that the television will adapt to the source to which it is attached, resulting in the best possible display output.
Opting for the more expensive Dolby Vision standard ensures that the TV is also capable of HDR10 playing since it can successfully decode both. Thus, it is not simply a case of LG being exceptionally kind.
Even streaming services are remaining neutral. Netflix, for instance, broadcasts films in both Dolby Vision and High Dynamic Range (HDR).
The issue is that Dolby Vision sets remain scarce, with LG, Philips, TCL, and Vizio being the only manufacturers now on board.
Affordable HDR 10 sets are readily available from manufacturers, including Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, Philips, LG, Sharp, and Toshiba.
Thus, when comparing Dolby Vision vs. HDR10, it is apparent that Dolby Vision outperforms its competitor. However, if history has taught us anything, the greatest platform does not always triumph. Since HDR 10 does not require a license and will be accessible on more affordable televisions for the foreseeable future, Dolby is in for a struggle.