So you want to watch 4k HDR movies on your new 4k TV? Here’s what you need to get started. First, you need an Ultra HD TV or device that supports HDR. Second, you’ll need a streaming service that offers HDR such as Amazon and Netflix, or, a 4k Blu-ray player that plays Ultra HD Blu-ray discs. But there are a few more things you should know. Read on for more details.
You’ve probably heard of 4k (also known as Ultra HD or UHD), which provides a much higher video resolution than Full HD with an increase of 4-times the resolution from 1080×1920 (2.1 megapixels) to 3840×2160 (8.3 megapixels). But what about HDR? HDR (High Dynamic Range) is a video specification that adds more color depth to imagery Many video professionals and say HDR is a more significant improvement over HD (1080p) than 4k (2160p).
HDR is offered through mainly two video : the open source HDR10 specification and the proprietary Dolby Vision format. HDR10 is considered slightly inferior given its max color depth of 10-bits to Dolby Vision’s capacity of 12-bits (a depth you likely won’t see on consumer displays) and dynamic nature which allows changes to the specification throughout the content. However, HDR10+ is an emerging specification that allows it to change throughout a piece of content — making it more equal to Dolby Vision in terms of flexibility.
There’s also HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma), the newest of the HDR specifications to be supported by TV manufacturers like Sony and LG and streaming video services such as YouTube. But for now you’ll see more HDR10 and Dolby Vision in HDR content.
Supporting 4k HDR TV
There are many more 4k TVs that support HDR these days, and the price has come down quite a bit. For example, Amazon is selling a 60″ Sony HDR TV for $698. Two years ago you would have added another $1k that price. Want something even cheaper? Best Buy sells a 43″ Westinghouse for only $300 — but not having seen the TV in person we can’t attest to the quality.
How do you know if the TV supports HDR? TV boxes won’t usually show Dolby Vision or HDR10 logos where you might find Dolby Atmos and HDMI. That’s because neither has become the standard. Instead, you might see “HDR” or “Premium UHD” somewhere on the box. Samsung indicates HDR support with “SUHD” rather than “UHD” model types. Other 4k TVs that support HDR are sold by Vizio, Sony, Panasonic and more.
Now, it should be mentioned there are some mobile devices (tablets and smartphones) that support HDR (and not necessarily 4k resolution) such as Apple’s iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and X, iPad Pro models, the Sony Xperia XZ1 and Xperia XZ Premium, and several Samsung Galaxy Note devices, to mention a few.
HDMI 2.0 Port
What’s really important to know about HDR is that it requires an HDMI 2.0 port and cable (with the HDMI 2.0a update that’s now moving to HDMI 2.0b). The specification includes a special layer for the metadata that expands the image to display a wider range of color.
You should know also that even if you own a 2nd-generation Fire TV, Roku 4, or Nvidia Shield streaming device that supports 4k it doesn’t mean they support HDR. Those streaming players will need to be updated to the newest versions. We actually advise streaming directly to an HDR TV (if you can) rather than through a media player.
Find HDR Content
You can find HDR movies and TV shows from a variety of sources. The most obvious is on Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs. Most UHD BDs are encoded with HDR now, either in Dolby Vision or HDR10. The same is true with digital movies and TV shows. Amazon Video, Apple 4k TV, Vudu, and other providers all have many of their 4k titles with HDR. And, 4k channels from DirecTV and Dish also display some on demand content and live programming with HDR. For example, FOX’s recent coverage of the FIFA World Cup included 4k with HDR. Don’t worry, if your TV doesn’t support HDR it simply won’t display the source in HDR. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be playing the disc or digital movie.
Check if TV is Displaying HDR
Just about every 4k HDR TV will let you turn on/off HDR. HDR isn’t for everyone, and many people actually prefer just getting the improved 4k resolution over fiddling with color depth. Many don’t like the hyperreal effects HDR can cause, and to be honest some content just looks better with HDR off. But for the most part, HDR from Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs and network 4k channels are usually an improvement in color and details in light and shadow areas.
How do you tell? Look in your TV’s settings (often in Advanced Settings) where you can check to see if the TV is HDR enabled. TV service providers may also have an option to check if HDR is working. With DIRECTV, for example, there is an option in the settings to test the HDR signal. It will tell you if an HDR image is actually being displayed.
4k TV Service
It’s not a given that if you have a 4k TV you will automatically get 4k TV channels. Most service providers require an upgrade of sorts to get Ultra HD content. With DIRECTV, for example, you have to schedule a professional installer to get 4k service. And, there are not many 4k channels available at this point.
4k Streaming Service
We should mention also that in order to stream 4k content with HDR you’ll also need sufficient bandwidth and a subscription plan that serves the format. With Netflix, you must be subscribed to their premium plan to get it, while Amazon offers UHD for free. Learn how to stream Ultra HD on Amazon or Ultra HD on Netflix.
We still haven’t seen the full potential of HDR in home theater or entertainment media, and some adjusting of your TV picture may be required to see the full range offered. But when you’ve got a decent HDR TV and good piece of HDR content expect color range, contrast, and details that far exceeds conventional 8-bit video.