The next time you are shopping for a new TV set, ask for a demonstration of the High Dynamic Range (HDR) feature found on the latest high-end models. If you have not seen this technology at work before, you might be wowed by the wider and richer range of colours produced by these TV sets.
"It gives film-makers a broader palette of light and dark to play with. Water in fountains really sparkle and the sky actually looks the brightest part of the image," explained Mr Paul Gray, principal analyst at market research firm IHS.
The term HDR is also used in still photography. But the implementation and, more importantly, the result are different with HDR in TV sets.
HDR photos can appear surreal and hyper-realistic because the camera uses multiple exposures to create the effect.
On the other hand, HDR TV sets display images that look closer to real life. This is because such TV sets support a wider range of colours and a higher contrast ratio.
At this year's CES trade show, the UHD Alliance, a consortium of TV industry players, defined a standard for HDR TV, called Ultra HD Premium. The standard covers a range of technical specifications such as having a minimum resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels, peak brightness and colour gamut.
TV sets that meet the Ultra HD Premium standard carry the Ultra HD Premium label. Major TV brands such as LG, Samsung and Panasonic have already adopted this standard.
IHS expects global shipments of HDR TV sets to reach 4.2 million units this year, and up to 35.6 million in 2020.
These TV sets are already available in stores here. Mr Stan Kim, Country CEO of Courts Singapore, told The Straits Times that about 40 per cent of its current TV range support HDR. He said: "Since we started selling them in April, we have seen a steady month-on-month growth in units sold."
He believes that HDR TV sets will become increasingly popular, especially as non-HDR models are gradually discontinued.
As is often the case with new technology, HDR TV is simply one part of the ecosystem.
Content has to be adapted to work with HDR TV sets. The good news is that most new content shot in Ultra HD (also known as 4K) are HDR-ready.
But a potential source of confusion for consumers is the two rival HDR content standard - the open-platform HDR10 backed by the UHD Alliance, and Dolby's proprietary Dolby Vision format.
Thankfully, chances of a full- scale format war are low because TV manufacturers such as LG have been hedging their bets by supporting both HDR10 and Dolby Vision.
More importantly, the main sources of HDR content - streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Video - support both formats. So, depending on your TV set, you will get one of the two flavours of HDR.
Local audiences will probably get their HDR fix from Netflix, as Amazon Video is not available here. YouTube has announced it will support HDR, but it has not said when.
Netflix has a handful of HDR titles - the Marco Polo TV series, The Do-Over and The Ridiculous 6 are among them - available for those who subscribe to its Ultra HD (four screens at a time) price plan.
The streaming service says it is adding 100 hours of HDR programming by next month, with more than 150 slated by the end of the year. Upcoming HDR shows include Marvel TV series Iron Fist and Luke Cage.
Another source of HDR content is Ultra HD Blu-ray (also known as 4K Blu-ray) movies, which are available from online retailers such as Amazon. These movies use the HDR10 format as it is mandated in the Ultra HD Blu-ray specifications.
However, Ultra HD Blu-ray discs are not backwards-compatible with older Blu-ray players.
In addition, manufacturers have not started selling their new Ultra HD Blu-ray players here.
Audio-visual enthusiast Philip Wong does not plan to buy Ultra HD Blu-ray movies because he feels that the market is still immature.
"With streaming services offering HDR shows, Ultra HD Blu-ray will end up as a niche format," he said.
This article was first published on July 06, 2016.
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