HDR10 or Dolby Vision

What’s the Difference?

Which is Better?


The world of television has already undergone the transition from Full HD to 4K UHD. The next big event on the home viewing horizon will be the arrival of HDR (High Dynamic Range). And because we’re talking new technology, consumers can fully expect to be confused by the different HDR TV formats they’ll have to choose from. If you can recall the battles between VHS vs Betamax and DVD vs Laserdisc, then you’ll know what I’m talking about. Now the arena has been cleared for two new opponents. Say hello to Dolby Vision and HDR10. Which is which and what does what? We’ll come to that. But first, let’s take a look at the basics:

What is High Dynamic Range?

Basically, we’re looking at two versions of the same thing. And in plain English, HDR refers to your TV’s ability to display true-to-life images via contrast and colour. What’s great about HDR televisions is they come with a huge range of colours and a broader scope between white and black. This produces far clearer pictures, skin tones that actually look real and sharper dark scenes thanks to the larger variety of blacks.


Of course, a lot of what goes on with HDR has to do with the type of TV you’re watching. LCD is already known for its high brightness levels, and OLED comes with more powerful blacks. But all that is the subject for another article. For now, we’re going to ignore the whole LCD/OLED thing and concentrate on HDR.


So what is the difference between HDR10 and Dolby Vision?

First off, HDR10 is an ‘open source’ platform. This means it’s largely license-free and anyone can use it and/or contribute to the build. Which is why HDR10 can be found on the more reasonable priced televisions.. On the other hand, Dolby Vision is a proprietary brand and manufacturers of high-end TVs, Bluray players and content creators all have to dig deep into their pockets if they want to employ the Dolby system.


In fact, television manufacturers developed HDR10 specifically to get out from under the whole Dolby licensing thumb. They created a more adaptable system which while it plays on a whole range of different TVs it does not, as Dolby does, bring out the very best performance that television set can offer.


The next main difference between the two formats is the colour depth, i.e. the amount of colours the systems are able to display. HDR10 manages an impressive 10-bits, which translates into a little over 1 billion colours. And it’s here that Dolby Vision really leaves its competitor in the starting blocks. With a colour depth of 12-bits, the Dolby system weighs in with a massive 68 billion colours! Just for comparison, non-HDR televisions can just about scrape a mere 16 million colours together. This is why film studios all over the world produce films using the Dolby system, and are willing to pay big bucks for the privilege.


What’s in a nit?

Another method of comparison we can use is to measure the luminosity of the two systems. Or in other words, the brightness and contrast. HDR10 is currently offering up to 4.000 nits (the unit of luminosity) of brightness. Dolby Vision again has much more, namely a whopping 10.000 nits. But at this point it’s worth noting that most televisions are nowhere near capable of producing that amount of nits. Which begs the question, is Dolby moving too fast?


One thing to keep in mind is that HDR is still an emerging technology. Dolby themselves admit that most of the TVs currently available are not yet advanced enough to fully utilise their format. And the fact that in 2017 LG’s top of the range OLED devices will be capable of providing support for not just two but four different types of HDR, emphasizes the point that we are still at the very forefront of this new technology.


But what about the TV?

And then of course there’s still the question of which TV should you buy? For now, Dolby Vision compatible devices are in short supply with only TCL, Vizio, Philips and LG joining the party. If you decide to go for a HDR10 TV then the story is a very different one. With models from Toshiba, Panasonic, Sharp, Sony and Samsung already HDR10 set, you’ll be spoilt for choice.



On paper at least, Dolby Vision has it’s nose a good length ahead of its rival HDR10 in both technology and viewing quality. A Dolby picture has way more colour radiation, more gradiation and depth, and the system is able to pick up and display even those tiny details that HDR10 can’t quite catch. But is it necessary? Will not having Dolby Vision detract from my viewing pleasure? Probably not. Remember that while HDR10 may not be as technologically advanced as the Dolby system, it is still head and shoulders above what most of us are used to watching. And besides, Dolby Vision is not yet suitable for everyone. Gamers for example, with X-boxes and PS4’s will be stuck with HDR10 for the foreseeable future.


A lot of the argument is actually subjective and can be boiled down to a philosophical question: If I opt for HDR10 I won’t be able to watch anything in Dolby Vision, so will I be missing out on something that I can’t see? Or to put it another way, are you going to notice something that’s not there? And considering that it’s going to take today’s televisions at least another 3 to 4 years before they can take full advantage of Dolby Vision, is it really such a big deal? For some the answer will be yes. For others, no.


If there’s one thing we should have learned from past format battles, it’s that the best or most popular platform doesn’t always come out on top. And with the license free HDR10 widely available on cheaper TV sets, Dolby Vision is surely in for quite a fight.









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