What is HDR and what’s it doing in a console?

With the launch of the Xbox One S and the announcement of the PlayStation 4 Pro, a new feature has been often mentioned as making these new console iterations stand out from their forebears: HDR.

In the world of 4K televisions, HDR (or High Dynamic Range) is a method of passing additional data to your TV to help it produce images with a superior colour range than what you normally associate with films and television. With the right content on show, it makes the idea of purchasing a 4K TV that supports the technology a lot easier because that colour difference (both darker and brighter) can be much more noticeable to people than all of those extra pixels.

Right now there are two competing technologies: there’s the open HDR10 standard and the proprietary Dolby Vision. While Dolby Vision is the superior technology with a greater potential colour range that also allows HDR data to change dynamically through content, it unfortunately requires licensing and a system on a chip to work which some manufacturers aren’t willing to pay for. HDR10 however can be done through software which is far more appetizing solution for consoles such as the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One S. Some 4K TVs are even getting the capability through their own firmware updates.

Samsung and Sony are sticking with HDR10 only for their screens however others such as LG are covering their bases and including both standards. The type of content you want to consume (4K Blu-rays tend to be HDR10 only but Netflix and Amazon offer streaming in both) will likely determine your choice of TV if you plan to buy one in the next couple of years.

What is interesting is the approach both console makers have taken. Microsoft are only supporting HDR through the Xbox One S which has its abilities slightly boosted to allow for HDR processing without impacting existing performance. Sony are attacking it from the other way; their consoles are already the best performing machines and it seems they are willing to take the slight performance hit with HDR because they will still come out on top in the comparison game.

However it might also seem unnecessary to add this support to standard PlayStation 4 models via an upcoming firmware update – there’s very few 1080p TVs that support HDR as manufacturers have leaned towards keeping it to their high end 4K sets. So for many it may be a nice thing to add to a checklist but few will benefit from it unless they plan on keeping the console when they finally get a 4K television.

With “Full HD” now common and 3D fizzling out, will HDR help expedite the shift to 4K? Time will tell but at least these new consoles are hopefully going to take advantage of it.

4 replies »

  1. The thing I find puzzling is the update for original PS4s to support HDR10 considering that the HDMI ports on the OG PS4 won’t support the bandwidths necessary for HDR10 at all. They’re claiming that they can update the consoles to support it, but nobody seems to have an answer as to how they plan on accomplishing this.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Yeah I agree Shelby – I can understand how the Xbox One S can provide HDR with HDMI 2.0a but the original Xbox One, I can’t see how they can do it off HDMI 1.3.

    Liked by 1 person

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