There are 3 main HDR formats for projectors to choose from—HDR, HDR10, and Dolby Vision. HDR, meanwhile, refers to High Dynamic Range that makes pictures and videos look even more real than before by heightening the dynamic range of a projection image. The darkest blacks and the brightest whites are captured with HDR. As for HDR, HDR10, and Dolby Vision, they’re the many ways your projector, HDTV, or monitor can go about doing HDR. As far as the layman is concerned, HDR is synonymous with HD and megapixels, although all of these refer to different aspects that contribute to better image quality overall.
With that in mind, here’s the thing we want to uncover with this article. What is better HDR vs. HDR10 vs. Dolby Vision? To answer this question, let’s first learn more about these formats from the start.
What Is HDR?
High Dynamic Range (HDR) is more than a marketing buzzword, but unfortunately, many a projector, TV, or camera manufacturer has turned it as such. Being able to capture the varying degrees of brightness of an image simply gives HD pictures and videos more life-like qualities.
- A Photography Term: HDR is a photography term, actually. It’s a technique that heightens the dynamic range of a picture as mentioned earlier, which means the brightness, whites, or luminosity as well as color contrast or solid blacks of the projector image are more strikingly preserved versus pictures and videos of the past that tend to merely roughly approximate them. This results in clearer, more vibrant pictures without as much color gradation.
- The Theory Behind HDR: HDR makes pictures better by capturing the nuance of luminosity in them, showcasing their dynamic range that your eyes would usually see but not notice. When an HD video or picture has HDR, it makes the extra pixels from being high-definition more worthwhile since it also takes care of brightness and contrasts the way older film photographs or CRT TVs couldn’t. The photograph looks like real life because newer projectors, HDTVs, and digicams include this detail.
- Definitive Layers of Realism: It’s like how 3D CGI models don’t look as real once your eyes notice the lack of details such as the translucency of skin or teeth and whatnot. While previous pictures not filmed or captured with HDR don’t necessarily look as off as old CGI compared to new CGI, they do lack the extra “realism” that HDR projector videos and photographs have even though it’s tough for the layman to visualize the difference. It’s hard to explain but easy to demonstrate for those who have keen enough vision.
HDR, HDR10, or Dolby Vision for Projectors?
If you wish to get the most out of the content you consume by projector or HDTV—whether it’s satellite TV from your satellite box, Blu-Ray discs played on your BD player, HD gaming from Sony PlayStation 5 or the Nintendo Switch, or HD streaming from Netflix—you should familiarize yourself with these HDR formats and their key aspects.
- What Does HDR10 Offer? Let’s look at the raw specs of HDR10 as the de-facto open standard for HDR. HDR10 has a good bit depth, a great amount of peak brightness, and tone mapping that varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Additionally, its metadata is static, its projector support is great (a decent amount of projector manufacturers support HDR10 in particular since it is open source), and its content availability is quite good (almost any show or movie using HDR will default to the HDR10 standard).
- What Does HDR10 Plus Offer? Supposedly, this royalty-free standard is supposed to be better or more expanded than its HDR10 counterpart, hence it being named HDR10 Plus or HDR10+. However, it does have flaws that the HDR10 lacks, like having a limited projector and TV support as well as lowered content availability since it was only relatively recently released. Here’s hoping it doesn’t go the way of DisplayPort and Digital Visual Interface versus its HDMI equivalent, HDR10. It offers similar specs for the rest of HDR10’s features save for its tone mapping (better than HDR10) and its metadata, which is actually dynamic.
- What Does Dolby Vision Offer? Dolby Vision, which is Dolby’s answer to HDR10 and their first foray into video standards (they’re mostly known for speaker and sound standards), is Dolby’s propriety HDR offering. They wish to do visual HDR tech what they did for speaker systems. Dolby Vision has excellent peak brightness, great bit depth, dynamic metadata, and tone mapping that’s better than HDR10 but on par with HDR10+. However, they also suffer from a limited projector and TV support (mostly Samsung supports them) and content availability (a limited but growing amount of content in fairness).
- The Winner of the Bit Depth Wars: Delving deeper into bit depth, here are the facts of interest. HDR10 offers a 10-bit color range with 1.07 billion colors. HDR10+ expanded mostly in terms of metadata and tone mapping, so its color range is identical to HDR10. Meanwhile, in order to better compete with its open-source counterpart, the propriety Dolby Vision has a 12-bit color range capable of capturing 68.7 billion colors, which is a staggering amount and captures detail never before seen in film photography, television, or projector-based digital entertainment.
- What Does Billions of Colors Entail Exactly? To avoid marketing buzzword accusations from laymen who only have a vague understanding of HDR, allow us to elaborate on what it means to have 12-bit color and a color range of 68.7 billion colors. Bit depth refers to an image’s amount of gradations. Instead of only having an 8-bit image, you can get more colors in your display by going 10-bit or 12-bit, which means less banding and more subtle transitions from color to color. In other words, the projector or TV image becomes more life-like with fewer obvious gradients to it.
- The Quality of the TV Itself: The difference of the 3 formats (technically 2 formats since HDR10+ is just an expanded version of HDR10) isn’t that important to take into consideration. Why? The quality of your HDTV will have a much bigger impact on the resulting HDR image than which HDR format is being followed by a projector or HDTV. You should shop for the best HDR projectors relative to their customer reviews and quality as perceived by those who buy them. The limitations root from the TV tech and the way is content is mastered to have HDR in the first place.
- A Question of Content Availability: As far content availability is concerned, HDR10 is the HDMI to HDR10+ and Dolby Vision’s DP and DVI respectively. HDR10 has been around longer and companies interested in mastering content in HDR tend to do so with HDR10 in mind, whether it’s for projectors or HDTVs. The majority of HDR displays support HDR10 while HDR10+ is more limited. Dolby Vision is propriety like HDMI, but doesn’t have multi-manufacturer backing that let HDMI become the de facto standard of HD entertainment. Therefore, it lacks content in the U.S. plus only Samsung projectors and TVs support it.
- How Much More Real Can a Picture Be? By this time, from LCD TVs to HDR projectors, some consumers who’ve heard the “clear and immersive” spiel might look at the concept of HDR with a skeptical eye. How much more aspects of realism can be pushed into a picture? A lot more, actually, like in the case of virtual reality headsets and how different angles of a picture can create a more stereoscopic 3D image and whatnot. HDR is just yet another indicator of why something you see with your eyes in real life tends to look slightly or wholly different in pictures or on projectors.
- The Limits of Today’s Technology: Both Dolby Vision and HDR10 can produce more dynamic and luminous images than what you’re used to in projectors, ordinary HDTVs, or classic CRTs. Soon, the difference will be as noticeable to people as the difference between color TVs and black-&-white TVs. At present, believe it or not, we have not yet peaked when it comes to coming up with new ways to better make videos and pictures become more realistic. Like how projectors can only reach to 4K resolution and 8K to 10K is still limited to LCD TVs. We still can’t reach 10,000 cd/m² maximum of peak brightness either or the drawn-out 10-bit to 12-bit color range extension.
When shopping for a new projector with HDR, you probably want something with a screen much bigger than your old cathode-ray tube TV in order to watch shows in high-resolution clarity as you see in those shop demonstrations. You shouldn’t have to worry about which format it supports or not. They should all deliver a great experience regardless. To summarize, Dolby Vision has better quality but HDR10 has more content available to it.
From a technical point of view, the most advanced HDR format to date is Dolby Vision, from the makers of Dolby Surround Sound or HD Sound. Alas, like the 4K Ultra HD video format, Dolby Vision TVs are lacking in numbers and content. Dolby has improved HDR tech significantly but there aren’t many adopters of its format (only Samsung and most U.S. programs don’t support it) compared to HDR10 or HDR10+. Indeed, there’s more content available that supports HDR10 compared to Dolby Vision the same way Blu-Ray outdid HD-DVD as the inheritor of DVD’s throne as the disc format of choice for its generation.
- Geoffrey Morrison, “HDR10 vs. Dolby Vision vs. HLG: How do HDR formats compare?” Cnet.com, October 11, 2017
- Adam Babcock, “HDR10 vs HDR10+ vs Dolby Vision: Which is better?” Rtings.com, March 20, 2019
- “Dolby Vision HDR: everything you need to know” What Hi-Fi?, January 23, 2020
- “HDR TV: What is it? How can you get it?“, What Hi-Fi?, April 9, 2020
- Rob Shafer, “HDR10 Vs Dolby Vision – What’s The Difference? – Simple Guide“, Display Ninja, September 25, 2020