You might have realized from the announcements made at MWC 2017 that flagship phones are coming with the so-called “HDR Screens” or “High Dynamic Range screens”. This technology has seen some applications in TVs, computers monitors, and even gaming consoles such as the new PS4 Pro and Xbox One S. Not until recently that the trend went to mobile devices pioneering on the ill-fated Samsung Galaxy Note 7.
Firstly, HDR on cameras should not be confused with the one on screens. Cameras produce HDR photos by taking many pictures with different exposure levels then combining them into one snap that has better rendering. On screens, the tech is much more advanced.
What makes HDR screen better is a combination of factors which include much larger color representation. Non-HDR screens can output 16 million colors but HDR goes all the way up to a whopping 1 billion color-output. Moreover, it gives images that have richer contrast and darker blacks than traditional variants; the brightness is also much higher than the standard screens. The result is images that are close to what a human eye sees in the natural world. For instance, with HDR, you can tell something that is “really dark” from another thing that is “just dark”, standard screens or SDR simply shows a general shade of black. Dynamic HDR improves on the Static HDR even further.
HDR is not tied to resolution, that’s why LG G6 has it on a 2K (1440p) display and the Sony Xperia XZ Premium applied it on a 4K (2160p) panel. In addition, OLED screens tend to render HDR images better than LCD ones. This is because OLEDs have independent pixels that can be completely turn off to give a truly dark color. In the same light, not all HDR screens are created equal, there are several formats available.
HDR10 is the most commonly used format, its open source nature has played a key role in its popularity. Game consoles, TVs and blu-ray players have widely utilized this variant. All other formats in the market use the HDR10 as a basis and build upon it.
Dolby Vision is another HDR format tuned by Dolby. It is fundamentally HDR10 but on steroids. It has increased color gamut of up to 138% of SDR screens and can also reach up to 4000 nits of brightness. This level of brightness is above any TV ever made, HDR or not. Phone screens have not yet been able to crack the 1000 nits brightness level. Unfortunately, to enjoy this added benefits, your device hardware has to support Dolby Vision, existing HDR screens cannot get this improved aspect via software update, so it is a point to bear in mind when shopping for this next-gen displays. Netflix and Amazon have adopted this format of HDR, this will only serve to make it grow in popularity in future.
Technicolor also got into this bandwagon with its Advanced HDR technology. This variant promises to provide all viewers with a consistent experience by delivering HDR to any device regardless of it being SDR or HDR. The technology will use the capabilities of your device to provide the best HDR rendering possible when watching content shot in high dynamic range.
So next time you see HDR in phone specifications you will be familiar with the tech. It will be interesting to see how HDR grows overtime but signs are pointing to quite a bright future.