HDR is one of those terms you might hear thrown about without much explanation. Indeed, it does relate to image quality, but the specifics of how HDR does (or doesn’t) impact projector image quality are not always clear to everyone.
Like many technological terms that indicate a very specific function or capacity, it’s good to take a step back sometimes and think about exactly what HDR means. This guide will hopefully help you make the best decision about your next projector purchase.
HDR, or high dynamic range, is a technique used in imaging to reproduce a greater dynamic range of brightness than is typically possible with standard digital imaging. The result of HDR, when applied correctly, is to emulate a similar level of luminance to how your eye processes visual information.
What this means is HDR tries to mimic the eye in how it constantly adapts and adjusts, depending on what you are viewing. Your eye will automatically register different shadows and luminance as it passes over objects and environments, and similarly, HDR tries to do the same. This means HDR is capable of delivering areas of both dark and light within any given image.
The biggest benefit of HDR is when it comes to displaying variations of detail in highlights or shadows. Non-HDR technology might have a limited exposure range when it comes to highlights of extreme shade. This will result in images that lack depth and detail.
HDR technology improves contrast ratio, brightness, and colour depth, which are incredibly valuable things when it comes to image quality. Whether you’re looking for the best home cinema projector or something to install in an office setting, having a greater ability to project a wide range of both dark and light colours with impressive accuracy is obviously useful.
4K is the most pixel-dense display technology available today. All you really need to know about 4K at the moment is that it offers viewers about four times as many pixels compared to previous High Definition standards. This means more detail and clarity of image for your video game, films or meeting room slides.
Adding more pixels alone to images can have a positive effect on visual accuracy through “sharpness” of image reproductions, but HDR can significantly boosts the potential of 4K. You can still deliver high-resolution images without HDR, but the additional colours, clarity in shadows and highlights are significant. This means a better-rounded image quality than if you were to rely on pixel quantities alone.
Confusingly, there are multiple types of HDR on the market today and while they all offer similar things, it’s important to know the difference between them, while the technology industry is making up its mind on an ultimate standard.
HDR10 is the most commonly-adopted open source HDR format that has been used by numerous manufacturers and service providers.
When HDR content is transmitted, it actually sends a static set of data that fixes the brightness output for the entire duration of the content you are displaying. This lack of adaptability means that certain images can potentially seem too dark or bright, with little nuance within each spectrum.
HDR10+ is similar to the open source HDR10 format (manufactured by Samsung) in terms of general specification. However, this technology allows formats to be adjusted by different manufacturers, depending on their models and brightness capacity.
This is a superior format to HDR10, as it uses dynamic metadata to adjust the displayed image on a frame-by-frame basis. Essentially, the lightest elements and brightest colours will appear more pronounced, while the blackest areas become more deep and nuanced – all without images becoming overexposed or too dark, as can happen with standard HDR10.
Dolby Vision is the newest HDR format on the market and was originally designed for Dolby Cinemas. Similar to HDR10+, Dolby Vision uses dynamic metadata to adjust the image on a frame-by-frame basis for colour, brightness and contrast. It also uses 12-bit colour.
One difference is Dolby Vision HDR has higher minimum standard display brightness at 4,000 nits, compared to the 1,000 nits with HDR10 and HDR10+. However, most tech currently on the market doesn’t get near this level of brightness, so having this in your projector is more of a future-proofing standard than a current must-have.
To benefit from HDR10, HDR 10+ or Dolby Vision, you’re obviously going to need a projector that is HDR-compatible. Also, if 4K is a priority, then make sure your model can cater to both these requirements for the ultimate in high quality projection.
Next, you’ll actually need to find HDR content to play. While this might sound silly, it’s not. You will only find HDR content from a few different sources, and while there are a growing number of providers such as Amazon Prime and Netflix, you’ll have to be prepared for the fact that not all your content will actually be HDR.
Remember this too, when buying video games or Blu-ray disks. The Xbox One is one of the few consoles to not only have an Ultra HD Blu-ray player, but it also supports HDR video.
HDR is something that should definitely be considered when upgrading your home cinema projector or investing in a new office or meeting room projector. HDR is now a reality for many TV consumers and promoted by big-name content providers, which means HDR content is only set to become more available.
Perhaps the best way to look at it is: do you actually need HDR content?
If you demand the best of the best image projection when it comes to films and movies, or when playing video games through your home projector, then obviously HDR, combined with 4K technology, is a must. But, if you don’t have the content (and not all games, films, and streaming services have it) it might not be worth prioritising this as qualifying buying criteria.
If you need help to decide whether HDR is for you, then don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of our friendly staff at Projectorpoint, who can offer you some bespoke advice, based on your intended uses.
Whether you’re looking for a conference room projector or a home cinema projector, we’ll be able to explain exactly what you should be looking for to get the best image quality for your needs.