If you’ve been in the market for a TV lately, or even if you’ve been watching Netflix or another streaming service, you’ve probably run across the terms “4K” and “HDR”. Other than being the latest buzzwords related to televisions, though, what do these terms really mean? Simply put, they signify significant advances in the quality of the programming we can now receive and view on our televisions. Not since the introduction of high definition (HD), almost 20 years ago, have we seen this kind of improvement in video quality, as we’ll explain more in the following paragraphs…
HD vs. 4K
When television went digital in the late 1990’s, we had several different formats that were then considered “high definition”. As the years passed by and technology improved, we eventually settled on a resolution of 1080 x 1920 pixels as the standard for high definition resolution. That meant that the content had 1080 x 1920 tiny bits of information (over 2 million pixels) that would be shown on your TV at once. Compared to the old analog TV system, it seemed to be more resolution than we’d ever need! Or so we thought.
But, as TVs and screens got larger and larger, it became clear that additional resolution would actually be beneficial. And so the “4K” format was born. 4K is essentially a doubling of the amount of information in both the horizontal and vertical axes. So, instead of 1080 x 1920 pixels of resolution, 4K gives you 2160 x 3840. If you do the math, this comes out to over 8 million pixels! The term “4K” comes from the 3840 number being close to 4000 or 4K. An excellent marketing strategy, I’d say – much easier to remember than 2160 x 3840!
Regular vs. HDR
So then, you ask, what is HDR? HDR or High Dynamic Range is the other part of the improvement, and arguably the more important one. It seems that if you don’t have a really large TV or aren’t sitting particularly close to the set, the increase in resolution from HD to 4K may not appear to be that big of a deal. Or at least not a big enough deal to make you want to buy a new TV.
So, clearly the television industry needed something else to help sell its new sets. 4K alone may not have been enough to convince people to upgrade! So, they added HDR. And what that gives us is two things: 1) a greater ability to show both dark and bright objects on the same screen at the same time, and 2) a wider color gamut. The first benefit is pretty obvious – especially with modern movies that tend to be very dark, with lots of detail in the shadows. The second benefit simply means you get to see more colors. Current, non-HDR sets and sources simply can’t display all the color gradations that the human eye can detect and see. HDR sets bring you closer to that capability. In general, HDR helps images look more lifelike, more three-dimensional.
There are more details to share, but the gist is that, if you’re considering a new television, 4K HDR is a significant and noticeable improvement over high definition. Yes, the number of 4K HDR programs to watch is limited right now, but more and more are coming available every day. There is currently 4K HDR content on YouTube, Netflix, DirecTV, Dish Network and more. And there are already hundreds of 4K HDR Blu-ray discs available. These are the ultimate way to go, given their improved picture and sound vs. streaming services. But we’ll leave that discussion for another day…