Samsung says it’s developing QLED technology in which individual quantum dots emit light, as individual pixels do in OLED lights. The benefit is that the individual pixels can be turned off to deliver OLED-level contrast. As of press time, the company hadn’t released a prototype and didn’t expect the new technology to hit the market until 2020 at the earliest.
The Sharp Situation
Unsurprisingly, LG, which is Samsung’s South Korean rival, has its own take on QLED. Instead of quantum dots, LG uses a layer of what it calls nano cells on its Super UHDTVs. The company has seven such models that start at $1,200. Experts say quantum dots and nano cells deliver similarly vibrant colors but that Samsung has a slight edge in overall quality.
CINEMA EXPERIENCE. Beyond backlighting enhancements, in the past 2 years, manufacturers tweaked high dynamic range (HDR) technology, so today’s UHDTVs display brighter whites, darker blacks and a wider range of colors than ever before.
Most of the content that you see on your TV is filmed in a standard color gamut, which is known as Rec. 709, that TVs can reproduce. Most movies are shot with a color gamut that’s called DCI-P3, which is much wider than is Rec. 709 and is the reason why movies look more vibrant on the movie screen than they do on your TV. In addition, movies in the theater have a higher dynamic range.
Manufacturers want to bring this cinematic experience to your home, so they developed two HDR technologies: Dolby Vision and HDR10. The two technologies work in different ways, but each standard allows UHDTVs to display a wider range of brightness than do non-HDR-capable UHDTVs and improve overall image quality. UHDTVs use the wider range of brightness to display content that’s filmed through the use of the wide color gamut (WCG), which is a swath of the color spectrum that includes at least 1 billion colors, compared with the 16.7 million colors that an HDTV can display. All HDR content also includes WCG. Experts tell us that the average viewer can see the wider range of colors in WCG when it’s viewed next to a non-WCG TV that shows the same content.
In January 2016, the UHD Alliance, which is an industry group, established the specification for HDR as 1,000 nits and 10-bit color depth, which all HDR-capable UHDTVs can deliver. Non-HDR-capable TVs typically produce a dynamic range of 300–500 nits, which is a measurement of contrast. To explain: Total black is zero nits. More nits equal more brightness, and more brightness means that colors appear to be more vibrant.
Although HDR10 supports up to at least 1,000 nits and 10-bit color depth, Dolby Vision supports up to 10,000 nits and 12-bit color depth. Both technologies meet the HDR specification, but experts tell us that Dolby Vision delivers more vibrant colors than does HDR10. Dolby Vision also supports a higher theoretical range. We say theoretical, because no HDR-capable TVs support 12-bit color depth. Experts say that might change in 2–3 years.
In 2015, we found six HDR-capable models, starting at $3,500. Today, 58 HDR-capable models start at $380. All HDR-capable UHDTVs support HDR10, which is an open standard that was developed by Samsung, Sony and a few other manufacturers. If you wonder whether a UHDTV supports HDR10, you should look for the Ultra HD Premium logo. If your UHDTV doesn’t support HDR10, you still will see an image, but it will be in the standard Rec. 709 color gamut. We believe that the average viewer is able to notice the difference.
Dolby Vision is a proprietary standard that’s licensed by Dolby, and it typically requires built-in hardware. As a result, it isn’t as common as is HDR10, which can be added to a UHDTV as software. Dolby announced in February 2017 that Dolby Vision was available as a software upgrade, so experts tell us that we’ll see it in more models in the next year.
We found 20 models (starting at $650) that now support HDR10 and Dolby Vision. Hisense, LG, Sony, TCL and Vizio sell models that support Dolby Vision and HDR10, but Samsung doesn’t support Dolby Vision.
As for HDR content, all Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs support HDR10, but the first Dolby Vision Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs—“Despicable Me” and “Despicable Me 2”—were released in June 2017. Sony, Universal and Warner Bros. say they’ll release Dolby Vision titles in the next year.
Most streaming services include HDR10 content, but only Amazon, Netflix and Vudu have limited Dolby Vision content.
We look forward to seeing more HDR content in the next 2 years, as we do with 4K.
Richard Baguley has written for PCWorld, Tom’s Guide, Wirecutter and Wired, among others. He has covered consumer electronics for 21 years.