Want to start streaming 4k High Dynamic Range (HDR) content to your TV? It isn’t as easy as changing your TV resolution or purchasing a Premium UHD Blu-ray Disc. Even when you’ve got everything right, it can be hard to tell whether or not you’re watching HDR. For starters, you’ll first need an Ultra HD TV that supports HDR, then an account with a digital video provider such as Amazon, Netflix, or Vudu that streams Ultra HD content with HDR, or an Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc player and disc with HDR content.
If these terms are new to you, or still a bit confusing, here’s in intro.
4k (also branded as Ultra HD or UHD), improves the resolution of Full HD video by 4-times, from 1080×1920 (2.1 megapixels) to 3840×2160 (8.3 megapixels). HDR, on the other hand, is a video specification that adds more color depth and contrast from light to dark. Many video professionals and say HDR is a more significant improvement over HD (1080p) than 4k (2160p).
What 4k TVs Support HDR?
Not all of them, unfortunately, but newer 4k TV product lines tend to include higher-tier HDR models. Research which models support HDR before buying, or, talk to a Geek Squad member or local electronics expert to be sure you get the right model. Samsung indicates HDR support with a feature called “Peak Illuminator Ultimate” or “Pro” that can be found in their SUHD line of Ultra HD TVs. Other 4k TV manufacturers that support HDR include Vizio, Sony, Panasonic, LG and more.
Two HDR Standards
What also needs to be explained is the lack of one standard for HDR. The two most popular HDR specifications are HDR10 and Dolby Vision, both of which add more color depth (10-bits and 12 bits, respectively), up from the conventional color depth of 8-bit found in HD video. Both HDR formats are, however, backwards compatible to 8-bit.
The two competing HDR specs may remind some video enthusiasts of the days in which Sony’s Blu-ray format went head-to-head with Toshiba’s HD DVD format. The two disc formats just about launched simultaneously and it was anyone’s guess which would end up being the industry standard.
Because there is no standard HDR format yet, 4k TV manufacturers that support HDR are reluctant to place labels on their sets or packaging. As a result, consumers need to be sure they are getting a 4k TV that supports HDR (which, by the way are more expensive than 4k TVs that don’t support HDR) if they want to view content with the enhanced image format.
Which HDR Format Will Prevail?
It might be too early to tell which HDR video specification will end up being the standard, all we can do is hope for compatibility between content and playback devices.
Samsung, Sony and other Ultra HD TVs with HDR support the HDR10 specification which uses the Rec. 2020 color space (although, you won’t see HDR10 indicated in the technical specs, only HDR). In addition, the only Ultra HD Blu-ray player currently available, the Samsung UBD-K8500, also supports HDR (as well as Dolby True HD with 7.1 channel surround sound). But without HDMI 2.0a we’re not sure that does any good (more on HDMI down below).
Dolby Vision also includes Rec. 2020 but with the Dolby PQ color space. Some TVs by LG, Vizio and TCL support it, but more brands support HDR10. However, digital video services such as Amazon, Netflix, Vudu offer select titles with Dolby Vision. The color specification is also used by Hollywood Studios such as MGM, Sony, and Warner Bros.
HDR and HDMI 2.0a
What’s also important to know about HDR is that it requires the HDMI 2.0a specification that includes a special layer for metadata (information that allows for a wider range of color and value). As a result, HDMI 2.0 ports will not support HDR. This means even if you have a Roku 4, 2nd-generation Fire TV, or Nvidia Shield streaming device that supports 4k, it doesn’t mean they will support HDR. For now, streaming directly to your Smart 4k TV via internet connection (preferably wired) is the only way it will work.
How Do You Stream 4k Video With HDR?
Use Amazon, Netflix or Vudu.
Amazon has been delivering HDR content for a while now, but the titles are still limited. Right now you can stream Mozart in the Jungle, Transparent, Bosch and Red Oaks with High Dynamic Range. The company also recently announced they would begin streaming HDR with Dolby Vision, which will require a 4k TV that is Vision-enabled. However, we understand that either HDR format (HDR10 or Dolby Vision) will be streamed to your TV depending on which it supports.
On Netflix, Marvel’s Luke Cage, Girl Boss, and Marco Polo are just a few of the titles that can stream in HDR. (Read about more Netflix HDR titles.) The High Dynamic Range-enabled titles should show an HDR logo next to their description on TVs that support HDR (as indicated in the Marco Polo description pictured above).
Vudu has a growing selection of titles with HDR from Dolby Vision including films such as Black Mass, In The Heart of the Sea, and Point Break. (View a list of Vudu Ultra HD titles.) The service started offering HDR titles late 2015, but the UHD titles are still really expensive. Most UHD titles on Vudu are $29.99 to purchase, but can be rented for $9.99 ($5 more than most HD/HDX titles).
It should be mentioned that in order to stream Ultra HD content with HDR you’ll also need sufficient bandwidth and a subscription plan that serves the format. Learn how to stream Ultra HD on Amazon or Ultra HD on Netflix.
How Do You Watch Blu-ray Discs With HDR?
You’ll need a 4k HDR TV, Ultra HD Blu-ray Player, and Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc with HDR.
Not all Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs have HDR specifications. The ones that do typically utilize HDR10 and can be confirmed by looking at the disc specifications on the back of the plastic case. Slipcovers will also indicate HDR by a squarish label that says HDR, or a smaller, rectangular label that says Premium UHD (see pic above).
As far as Dolby Vision, not as many 4k Blu-rays support the format. In fact, Sony announced its first Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc with the HDR spec will be Resident Evil: Vendetta — releasing July 18th. There are not many players that actually support Dolby Vision, but LG, Oppo, and Philips said they plan to release Dolby Vision players this year. As far as televisions, here are the TVs that support Dolby Vision.
HDR is still in an experimental state, and some tweaking of your TV’s picture settings may be required to see the full range offered. But when that HDR clicks in, expect color range and contrast that far exceeds conventional HD video that maxed out at 8-bit color.
Note: This article has been updated with revised content.