HDR, or high dynamic range, video has been making headlines as the next big thing for our TVs, but what exactly is it and will it revolutionise our smartphones too?
What is HDR video?
Put simply, HDR puts a wider range of colours and greater contrast into movies. That means HDR cameras are able to capture video that looks more like what we see with our eyes.
HDR technology is already used a lot when taking photos – even your camera phone might have a HDR mode – which means you can get an idea of what HDR video can do by snapping your own shots now.
Try standing in front of a window and taking a photo. Without HDR mode on you’ll probably find you’re a silhouette and the only detail in the photo is what’s outside, or that you can see yourself but everything outside is a white mess.
Turn on HDR and your phone will take a few photos at different exposure levels before combining them into one image. This lets the phone capture the detail of your beautiful face as well as everything outside the window. The idea is exactly the same for HDR video.
Of course, as you’re capturing moving images in high dynamic range the system is more sophisticated than simply blending different exposure levels. HDR video, therefore, actually captures more colours as well.
Stuart Bowling, Dolby's director of content and creative relations, told T3 Magazine: "This allows [filmmakers] to deliver content with brighter highlights, we can make things more natural, more life-like. Things like reflections, halation of light, specular highlights, glint off a car, things that we see day-to-day."
The example below shows standard HDR compared to the latest HDR video tech. With HDR photos, the four small images are combined to create the big photo on the left. With HDR video, you end up with the more colourful picture on the right.
Because there are more colours, however, you’re going to need a HDR-ready screen to enjoy HDR video.
Are HDR phone screens coming?
Phone makers are always looking for the next thing that will set them apart from the competition. That’s why Sony launched the Xperia Z5 Premium with a 4K screen. So yes, HDR will come to our phones… eventually.
There are a couple of things that will delay HDR phone screens, though.
First, there’s not much point in them just yet. HDR content is only just becoming available – there’s one series of Mozart in the Jungle on Amazon Prime and Netflix is planning to launch HDR streaming soon, and that’s about it.
The other thing is cost. Even the cheapest HDR-ready TV (a 65-inch set from Hisense) will set you back around £2,000. For comparison, Hisense’s 4K Ultra HD TVs start at under £400. With the new technology upping the cost 500%, we’ll probably be waiting a couple of years for HDR phones.
When HDR does arrive on our smartphones, however, there should be loads of new movies and TV shows that look better than ever. It’ll be like carrying a tiny cinema screen in your pocket, and we can’t wait.