Why you should get a Dolby Vision TV

High dynamic range is the latest and most popular buzzword when it comes to TV marketing. While it certainly sounds fancy, it’s relatively new. So it makes sense that there’s a little confusion over what exactly it is, and which HDR protocol works best.

Dolby Vision stands out from the basic HDR10 standard due largely to what’s called dynamic metadata. This lets the TV actively adjust brightness and contrast levels, scene by scene. At the end of the day, Dolby Vision and the high-end features it entails make for a better TV than one without.

What is HDR?

Photographer Jean-Baptiste Gustave Le Gray pioneered the concept of HDR as early as 1856. To make a single image, he took separate exposures of the sea and the sky and combined them, capturing their highlights and clarity without excessive shadows or blown-out brightness. This was the first instance of what’s called tone mapping, where an artist or studio adjusts color, brightness and contrast in relation to other objects in the image.

Today’s HDR process is considerably different and entirely digital, but the fundamental idea remains the same. Today, videographers use tone mapping to reduce the difference between especially bright and dark areas of the screen. That way, TVs can effectively display dim highlights in dark scenes and bright highlights in well-lit ones, without sacrificing overall contrast throughout the film.

Varying HDR standards

As with just about any modern technology, not everyone can agree on how to implement HDR. The initial most popular HDR standard, called HDR10, forces a studio to develop a single HDR profile (called HDR metadata) throughout the entire film. While this does result in a better-looking result from start to finish, it doesn’t take full advantage of the high dynamic contrast that the best modern TVs can display.

Dynamic HDR metadata

Instead of a single HDR profile for an entire film, dynamic metadata instruct a TV how to adjust its brightness and contrast profiles throughout the content. Two current standards, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision, allow for dynamic metadata, so they are more effective than base-level HDR10.

HDR protocol adoption

Because HDR10 is much simpler and has lower brightness requirements, more devices support it than the other two. In fact, all modern TVs support HDR to some extent. So do PCs and Sony and Microsoft gaming consoles, from the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One onward. 

When it comes to HDR10+, some 4K TVs support it, but not many, and that’s not likely to change much. This is because Dolby Vision has already been heavily adopted by the movie industry. So if you’re wondering whether HDR10+ is worth it on a TV, the answer is no, because there’s not much content that uses HDR10+.

But a growing number of 4K TVs offer Dolby Vision support, as do PCs and the Xbox Series X and S. There’s also an increasing amount of content mastered for each platform in Dolby Vision. Ultimately that means if you’re figuring out which HDR protocol to go all in on, Dolby Vision is the right answer.

Important HDR features

Peak brightness

Maximum brightness is one of the most important aspects of a HDR-enabled display, and it’s the area where many HDR-aspiring TVs fall short. For that reason, pay special attention to peak brightness when evaluating even high-end TVs. Some of the otherwise top models of the last few years actually can’t quite cut it in this department. In particular, only a few OLED TVs are capable of getting bright enough for a legitimately great HDR experience.

Local dimming

Local dimming is a display’s ability to shut off or dim certain parts of the panel while others remain at normal brightness. Put simply, you can’t have true Dolby Vision without local dimming. No display is able to accurately use dynamic HDR metadata accurately if it can’t dim specific parts of the screen at will.

Color volume

Also known as color gamut or color space, color volume refers to how many colors a display can actually produce. TVs capable of great HDR performance can display about 90% of the DCI-P3 color space or greater. That’s the exact color space commercial studios use to master big-budget films.

Is Dolby Vision worth it?

While it’s not the be-all and end-all of TV technology, Dolby Vision is an important feature worth investing in. When equipped with local dimming, high brightness and a wide color gamut, a quality Dolby Vision-enabled TV makes for the best possible home theater experience.

Best Dolby Vision TVs

Hisense U9DG

Hisense U9DG

This novel piece of engineering essentially fuses a pair of LCD panels together to deliver truly impressive local dimming, black levels and color volume. Altogether, it results in just about the best Dolby Vision performance of any LCD TV, and though it’s only offered in 75 inches, it’s a great deal at that size. Sold by Amazon

LG C2

LG C2

While its predecessor wasn’t quite bright enough to display Dolby Vision content faithfully, the new Evo-class panel in this year’s C2 gets brighter than ever before. This vaults LG’s already class-leading OLED TV into one of the top spots for Dolby Vision. Sold by Amazon

Samsung QN90A

Samsung QN90A

An advanced technology called quantum dot filtration, along with an industry-leading local dimming algorithm, combine to give Samsung’s flagship LCD TV excellent high dynamic range. It gets remarkably bright and comes in sizes up to a whopping 98 inches. Sold by Amazon

Hisense U6G

Hisense U6G

This model from up-and-coming manufacturer Hisense shatters the notion that you have  to pay a fortune to enjoy a satisfying Dolby Vision experience. It’s easily one of the best choices for a budget-friendly home theater. Sold by Amazon

Sony A90J

Sony A90J

While expensive, it’s arguably the top OLED TV for HDR content. The A90J not only competes with the LG C2 in terms of Dolby Vision capabilities, but exceeds it in some ways due to a superior dynamic brightness algorithm. Sold by Amazon

TCL R646

TCL R646

The Mini LED technology that TCL’s newest model champions acts as an extremely powerful local dimming feature, giving it exceptional tone mapping abilities. It supports all current HDR protocols and is built around the Google TV smart platform for a user-friendly experience with wide-ranging access to content. Sold by Amazon

 

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Chris Thomas writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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