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What is HDR video?
In video terms, dynamic range relates to contrast. It’s the difference between the lightest and darkest parts of an image. Dynamic range is measured in stops. A stop is a change that doubles the amount of light. The dynamic range of the human eye is around 20 stops. That converts to a contrast ratio of 1,000,000 to 1.
HDR video overcomes the shortcomings of the older video formats, providing images with a wider range of color and brightness. It has a dynamic range of at least 13 stops, much higher than SDR video. This means that HDR video can produce whiter whites, blacker blacks and can distinguish more shades of gray in between. In practice, this means that HDR preserves more details in the darkness of shadows and in the brightest areas of the image.
Because of the additional information that it contains, HDR video requires at least a 10-bit color depth compared to 8-bit for SDR video.
Wide color gamut
Although technically, HDR only refers to the luminance (brightness) of a video image, the main HDR video formats also incorporate a wide color gamut. A color gamut (or color space) represents all the colors that a TV or projector can display. So, the bigger the color gamut, the more colors the device can display.
The industry-standard color gamut for high definition broadcast TV, video streaming and Blu-ray is called Rec. 709. However, Rec. 709 only covers around 36 percent of the range of the CIE 1931 color chart, which represents all the colors that the human eye can see (the visible spectrum). HDR video conforms to the Rec. 2020 wide color gamut which is much larger, covering nearly 76% of the CIE 1931 color chart.
HDR video standards
As is often the case with new developments in technology, there are currently a number of different standards for HDR video. The two main formats are Dolby Vision and HDR10.
Dolby Vision is a proprietary HDR video format developed by Dolby. This standard uses dynamic metadata to adjust levels of brightness from scene to scene, and even frame to frame. This means that Dolby Vision preserves even more detail in the shadows of darker scenes or the highlights of lighter scenes.In addition, Dolby Vision uses metadata to fine tune the video based upon the equipment used to display it. Light levels and color levels are adjusted based on values determined by Dolby and the manufacturer of a TV or projector. This means the image is optimized based on the specific capabilities of the device on which it is shown.Unlike Dolby Vision, HDR10 uses static metadata. This means that light and color levels are absolute values for a video and do not vary from scene to scene. In addition, Dolby Vision uses metadata to fine tune the video based upon the equipment used to display it. Light levels and color levels are adjusted based on values determined by Dolby and the manufacturer of a TV or projector. This means the image is optimized based on the specific capabilities of the device on which it is shown.
The HDR10 format defines a range of specifications for content and displays to comply with. However, it does not adjust the video playback for the individual capabilities of a particular screen.
One advantage of HDR10 over Dolby Vision is that it is an open standard. This means that any company can use it without the need to pay a license fee.
Two other formats of which to be aware are HDR10+ and Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG).
A variant of HDR10, Samsung developed HDR10+ to include dynamic metadata. HDR10+ adjusts the levels of light displayed for each scene or frame of a video but, like HDR10, does not take account of the specific characteristics of the screen.