As display technology has evolved, High Dynamic Range (HDR) has become a much more important consideration when choosing your next TV or monitor. The quality enhancing technology has improved exponentially since its first implementation into consumer displays, with a number of different HDR formats now available to manufacturers.
With several different HDR standards to choose from, we’ll be taking a closer look at the key differences between the two most widespread variations – HDR10 vs Dolby Vision. We’ll be unearthing all the pros and cons behind the two main HDR formats to enable you to make a more informed decision on your next TV or monitor purchase.
What is HDR?
HDR, or High Dynamic Range, is a technology used within modern displays to essentially increase the color recreation of the panel in question. By utilizing HDR, a TV or monitor can support a higher peak brightness, wider color gamut, and more subtle gradations between both color and luminance.
Generally speaking, HDR offers a more realistic representation of color that is characterized by additional detail found within extreme dark and bright regions. These improvements help to create a more life-like and nuanced final image that is far greater than the more conventional SDR standard.
That said, to be able to reap the rewards of HDR, you’ll need an HDR-capable TV that supports one of the several HDR formats. Like any display technology, a TV must meet strict specification requirements to be classed as ‘HDR-capable’. Furthermore, the content you are viewing must also support the additional luminance information required for HDR to operate properly – better known as metadata.
What is HDR metadata?
The metadata can be thought of as a manual that supplies the additional color information to the HDR TV, allowing it to display luminance variations throughout the piece of content you’re viewing (movie/TV show/game).
But, as we said earlier, there are several different HDR formats available – each offering its own unique set of pros, cons, data types, and hardware requirements. So, which is the best HDR format for you?
Dolby Vision vs HDR10: The basics
So, as the title suggests, we’ll be focusing on the main differences found between Dolby Vision and HDR10 – the two main HDR formats available in modern TVs and monitors.
Let’s start off by going over the basics of both
What is HDR10?
For all intents and purposes, HDR10 is the closest you’re going to get to an official HDR standard. It was first developed by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and UHD Alliance in 2015 and is still the most common open HDR standard available. Unlike Dolby Vision, HDR10 is a completely free-to-implement technology that doesn’t cost manufacturers any additional premium to use.
For that reason, every TV that meets the minimum specification requirements for basic HDR will offer HDR10 support. Additionally, the same can be said for any HDR-capable content too – albeit with some degree of variation depending on what format it uses.
HDR10 is also considered the most basic form of High Dynamic Range, only providing ‘fixed’ metadata. As we mentioned earlier, metadata is the information used by both the content and TV to display additional detail to either end of the luminance spectrum. That said, by supporting ‘fixed’ metadata, your TV and the content being viewed are limited in the HDR optimization that it can display.
For example, during the entirety of a movie or TV show, luminance will change dramatically depending on the scene. If you have fixed metadata, your TV won’t be able to dynamically adjust the image based on the luminance of a scene – a feature that is available in more ‘premium’ HDR standards.
Like most HDR formats, HDR10 is not backward compatible with SDR – meaning you will need an HDR-capable display to view HDR10 content. Fortunately, plenty of modern TVs and monitors support this basic HDR format – along with a plethora of major streaming services that include the likes of Netflix, Disney+, and Apple TV.
What is Dolby Vision?
By contrast, Dolby Vision is a proprietary technology that is developed and maintained by Dolby Labs – a leading tech company within the audio and video space. The company that brought Dolby Atmos and Dolby Surround to fruition also provides the display industry with one of its most popular (and leading) HDR formats.
As we said previously, Dolby Vision is not a license-free product, meaning it will likely be an additional factor in the final price of a new TV or monitor. That said, the pros of DV seem to far outweigh the cons of the technology, with picture quality and life-like contrast/luminance being huge pluses for Dolby.
Additionally, Dolby Vision offers up support for dynamic metadata, allowing video editors and film directors to customize HDR conditions on a frame-by-frame basis. Not only does this provide video editors with the luxury of displaying a scene as they truly intended, but it also supports the very best visuals possible.
Dolby Vision also provides excellent HDR standards, boasting the highest; resolutions, peak brightness, and overall color gamut volumes – not to mention the lowest black depth and 12-bit color support.
HDR10 vs Dolby Vision: Comparison Table
So, how does all that look in a side-by-side comparison? Below is a quick table that clearly shows the differences between the two HDR formats.
Compatibility and availability
While we now have a better understanding of the fundamental differences between the two HDR formats, we still haven’t touched upon the general compatibility and availability of both.
HDR TV availability
Luckily for modern-day TV and monitor consumers, HDR support has increased dramatically in recent years. In today’s market, both Dolby Vision and HDR10 are supported by a wide range of options.
Thanks to the royalty-free approach that HDR10 brings to the table, it does have the edge over Dolby Vision when it comes to compatibility and availability. Almost every TV supporting the minimum HDR specs offers up HDR10 support. And while the majority of modern TVs now feature one of the premium HDR formats, only a few offer support for all.
That means there are a wide variety of panels that offer HDR10 but don’t support Dolby Vision. Samsung TVs are a prime example of a brand that doesn’t support Dolby Vision – instead, developing its own royalty-free HDR format known as HDR10+. Furthermore, budget-tailored panels will also opt for the basic HDR format over the more price-impacting Dolby Vision.
HDR Gaming monitor availability
As far as gaming monitors are concerned, even today, full support for what is classed as a ‘true HDR’ experience is very limited. That said, today’s market is still a dramatic improvement when compared to 5-10 years prior.
Thanks to the VESA standards group, we’re now seeing a bigger push to incorporate HDR formats into today’s modern gaming monitors. Unfortunately, however, many monitors lack the core HDR specification requirements to display a true HDR experience. Peak brightness and wide color gamuts are two areas where monitors fall short for HDR support.
As monitors begin to catch up, we are starting to see various options hit shelves that do have the ability to push a great HDR experience. With that in mind, many of these options are hugely expensive – outpricing many of today’s gaming hobbyists.
Device, mobile, and console support
Below we’ve compiled a shortlist of devices, mobiles, and consoles that support both HDR10 and Dolby Vision.
Dolby Vision vs HDR10: Verdict
So, there you have it, our quick guide on the fundamental differences that separate two of the market’s leading HDR formats. Ultimately, Dolby Vision and HDR10 are two very different beasts, with the former classed as the market’s most advanced HDR format. That being said, Dolby Vision is only as good as the content that supports it – and as we enter 2022, there is still a distinct lack of content that takes full advantage of Dolby Vision’s potential.
In contrast, HDR10 is the baseline for all HDR content, devices, and displays. Almost every TV will support HDR10, meaning you’ll never find yourself in an awkward position for content to view. The big con that surrounds HDR10 is its futureproofing. At some stage, the more premium HDR formats will become more accessible and affordable – meaning HDR10 will likely fall into the background of the ever-evolving tech.