HDR10, Dolby Vision, and HLG: How does HDR work?

HDR video looks great, but it's also kind of a mess. Which formats do what?

With 4K now firmly in place as the standard for most new TV's, high dynamic range, or HDR, video is starting to move from being an enthusiast curiosity to the next big thing in home media. HDR content looks vibrant, crisp and can be a bigger upgrade than 4K, but what's done to make those great images?

Part of the confusion is that HDR isn't one thing, it's at least 4 different technology standards being unevenly applied by about the same number of competing video formats. These video standards, with opaque names like Rec2020 and SMPTE 2084, build on dozens of previous standards, going back to black-and-white CRT televisions and the dawn of broadcast. In short, it's all kind of a mess.

Once you get past the formats and the standards, HDR is really about both filming and playing video that can be brighter, more colorful and show more detail and contrast than standard definition video (SDR). The greater dynamic range range can show subtle detail, especially in the shadows, and brighter highlights make scenes feel vibrant and lifelike. The boosted contrast can even make the image look sharper, without the harsh edges or artificial halos of a traditional sharpening filter.

When everything is working right, HDR just looks great. But there lies the problem: Beyond needing the right content and TV to get the full experience, there are also a handful of competing formats, each with different pros and cons. If you want to know how HDR actually works, and the full differences between HDR10, 10+, Dolby Vision and HLG, be sure to check out the video. (And if you just want advice on the best TV to enjoy all this great-looking content, we've got you covered there, too.)