Technology

CES 2016: Samsung, LG, Sony and Panasonic TVs adopt HDR

Samsung at CES Image copyright AP
Image caption Samsung says its 2016 family of SUHD-branded TVs will all be HDR capable

Samsung and LG have both said that all their new flagship TVs will support high dynamic range video playback.

HDR-enabled screens can show millions more colours and several more shades of brightness between black and white than normal displays.

This lets them show more detail.

The announcements follow the creation of a new scheme that defines what HDR standards a 4K TV must meet to let it be sold with an "Ultra HD Premium" sticker.

Sony, Panasonic, HiSense, TCL and Sharp have also announced forthcoming TVs that will qualify for the badge.

'Never go back'

Over recent years, the TV industry has focused on marketing 4K as a reason to upgrade. This signifies that a television has four times as many pixels as a 1080p high definition set.

Image copyright LG
Image caption LG says its HDR-enabled TVs all exceed the new standard set out by the UHD Alliance

But many experts say adding HDR makes more of a difference to the picture, allowing a TV to get closer to replicating the amount of detail our eyes can see in the real world.

"The combination of having the extra levels of contrast between white and black and the increased range of colours really does take TV to next level," commented David Mercer from the research firm Strategy Analytics.

"We've always said selling Ultra HD to the public had to be about more than just the number of pixels.

"Once you've seen the full capabilities of HDR you never want to go back."

OLED v quantum pixels

Coming up with the new standard had been problematic because the major brands use different display technologies.

Image copyright LG
Image caption LG said that it worked with Netflix to create HDR footage for its Daredevil TV series

Samsung's high-end TVs, for instance, use LCDs (liquid crystal displays) with quantum dots to create a picture. These are tiny particles that emit a different colour of light according to their size.

By contrast, LG uses OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screens. These use a carbon-based film that allows the panel to emit its own light when an electrical current is passed through it, doing away with the need for a separate backlight.

The issue was that OLEDs start at nearly perfect black levels and then work their way up to offer a wider-than-normal dynamic range.

Quantum dot LCDs cannot go as dark, but make up for this by having a higher maximum brightness level from which their dynamic range can go down.

In the end, a group of major industry players called the UHD Alliance set two brightness ranges, and said as long as a TV complied with one of them it could qualify.

Image copyright Sony
Image caption Sony announced three HDR-capable TVs at its CES press conference

Other requirements involve:

  • The ability to process 10-bit signals rather than the 8-bit ones used by normal TVs. 10-bit images can represent 64 times more colours than 8-bit ones. That should mean televisions show smoother transitions between similar shades and avoid banding effects in dark scenes
  • The ability to actually display at least 90% of the colours in a defined range, which far exceeds what TVs were previously capable of showing

Customer confidence

Adopting the new standard should give consumers confidence that if they buy a new TV it will be compatible with HDR transmissions.

Image copyright UHD Alliance
Image caption TV buyers should look out for the badges showing this logo on new televisions

The industry wants to avoid a repeat of the situation in which many of the original televisions sold as being 4K-capable ended up being unable to decode transmissions in the format even though they had enough pixels.

"The key thing is that you have had the involvement of both the content players as well as the technology guys," said Mr Mercer.

Disney, Warner Bros, Universal Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Netflix, Sky TV and Amazon were all involved in creating the new standard.

HDR Blu-rays

Amazon already started streaming a limited amount of shows in HDR via its Instant Video service in 2015, and Netflix has signalled it will also do so later this year.

New 4K Blu-ray players unveiled at CES will also allow compatible discs to play back in HDR, meaning films will be able to show more detail at home than when they were screened in most cinemas.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Man of Steel is one of the movies that will be released in HDR on 4K Blu-ray this year

Traditional broadcasters, however, have still to agree a new standard of their own to enable HDR data to be tacked onto existing signals.

"Backward compatibility is important as service providers need to make sure that content can be viewed on legacy TVs, which will continue to represent the majority of installed TVs over the foreseeable future," said broadcast specialist Keepixo in a recent paper on the subject.

Mr Mercer added, however, that it was inevitable that this problem would be solved before too long.

"Clearly it will involve extra production costs, but the broadcasters will feel under pressure from Netflix and Amazon and know they have to do it sooner than later," he said.

"What we're all waiting for, of course, is sports in HDR - it really does have a tremendous impact there."

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