High Dynamic Range, explained: There’s a reason to finally get a new TV


We’re dealing with better tech these days—embrace it. (credit: Tony Young)

Ever since the HDTV standard emerged in the mid-’00s, screen producers have struggled to come up with new standards that feel anywhere as impressive. That’s been a tough sell, as no baseline image standard has yet surpassed the quality jump from CRT sets to clearer panels with 1080p resolution support.

3D content came and went, with its unpopularity owing to a few factors (aversion to glasses, hard-to-find content). The higher-res 4K standard is holding up a little better, but its jump in quality just doesn’t move the needle for average viewers—and certainly not those sticking to modestly sized screens.

But there’s another standard that you may have heard about—high dynamic range, or HDR. It’s a weird one. HDTV, 3D, and 4K have all been easy to quickly and accurately describe for newcomers (“more pixels,” “one image per eye,” etc.), but HDR’s different. Ask an average TV salesperson what HDR is, and you’ll usually get a vague response with adjectives like “brighter” and “more colorful.” Brighter and more colorful than what, exactly?

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