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What is HDR TV?

How to get the best TV viewing experience with HDR

In this article: we'll let you know how to take advantage of HDR for TV and answer some key questions, including...

Along the way, we'll discuss all the great benefits of HDR for TV shows, movies, and video games.

If you've considered buying a new TV in the last few years, you've probably heard mention of HDR (High Dynamic Range). HDR is a key selling point for modern 4K Ultra-HD TVs, but what exactly does it do? In short, it makes a great picture look even greater.

An ultra-high-definition 4K TV provides an incredible amount of detail by displaying more pixels on the screen than standard- or high-definition TVs. You can count these pixels by the number of lines of resolution being displayed. 4K has 3,840 horizontal lines and 2,160 vertical lines of resolution. That's a whopping 8 million pixels on your screen. Compare that to high-definition 1080p resolution, which displays just over 2 million pixels.

But resolution isn't everything. More pixels help but how you use those pixels makes a big difference. HDR makes a 4K picture really come to life by making each one of those 8 million pixels work overtime for you. HDR gives you "better" pixels for a picture that's more vibrant and realistic than 4K can do on its own.

Image of a pool filled with colorful pool toys, without HDR

Image of a pool filled with colorful pool toys, with HDR

HDR (High Dynamic Range) programming helps your 4K TV display a brighter, more colorful picture.

How does HDR work?

Let's get down to brass tacks. HDR does two key things to improve your 4K TV's picture quality:

  • HDR expands your contrast
  • HDR expands your color

Contrast is often considered by TV experts to be the most important factor in determining overall picture quality, with color a close second. Resolution is a big deal, but these two factors are frequently valued more highly than sheer detail. Again, because enhanced color and contrast makes more of a visible difference than a higher resolution alone.

HDR provides a serious boost to two key areas of your TV's performance. But what does that amount to? Let's take a look.

Photo showing a blueberry splashing into milk against a black background


HDR improves contrast by increasing the difference between the brightest highlights and the darkest shadows. It expands the range of the whites and blacks on your screen, hence the name "high dynamic range." Basically, there's more contrast between the bright spots on your TV and the dark spots.

This range of brightness isn't just wider, HDR is capable of more degrees of separation between lights and darks.

HDR contrast

HDR can display higher brightness in areas with intense light, while also capturing how light fades and shadows pool around objects farther away from that light.

Essentially, HDR gives your picture more nuance, with subtle shading and texture you'd otherwise miss out on. This makes the image onscreen feel more natural, with illumination that feels closer to how light behaves in the real world. The increased range of brightness and contrast makes anything you watch with HDR feel more lifelike and immersive.

Photo of a wave against a beach and sunset background, with and without HDR


HDR increases the accuracy and depth of your colors for a more realistic image. The colors displayed with HDR have a greater range, with millions of ever so slightly different shades better able to match the complexity of color captured by our eyes in reality. The increased brightness of HDR also helps those colors pop and look more intense.

Wait, millions of colors? Absolutely, let me explain. The primary colors are red, blue, and yellow, but there are countless shades between each of those primary colors. The ability to display all these additional colors provides room for more realistic variations. Think of a rainbow and the sheer number of wavelengths that white light can be split into. Or a crayon box packed to the brim. HDR gives your TV access to those extra crayons.

The result is a picture that has more natural color reproduction. Your colors can be brighter or darker, too, because of HDR's ability to enhance contrast and brightness. The bright red of a rose isn't depicted with a single red, but with many reds with subtle variances across the flower's petals. The green of the flower's stem, too, is composed of many shades of green. That rose will look more real and more colorful with HDR than without.

HDR almost always comes with support for WCG (Wide Color Gamut), which is what allows this expansion of color variation. We'll discuss WCG in more detail further down.


So, we've learned that HDR boosts your contrast and your color for better picture quality. But how? And why can't my TV do this already, without the help of HDR? To put it simply, the contrast and color of your content is restricted by the limitations of yesteryear's TVs and the bandwidth traditionally available for TV programming.

HDR is designed to overcome the limitations of SDR (Standard Dynamic Range). SDR was, as the name suggests, the standard for TVs for many years. SDR comes with limits on the instructions that can be provided to your TV. This restricts what your TV is "told" to reproduce when it receives a video signal. In prior years, this signal was in line with the technological limitations of TVs at the time.

A row of TVs with models getting progressively older from left to right

4K HDR TVs are designed take full advantage of modern technology and programming instead of being limited by formats designed for older TVs.

Here's the catch: even though TV technology has improved over the years, SDR content remains the same. Any modern TV is capable of a higher range of brightness and color than an SDR signal provides as instructions. Basically, SDR tells your TV to reproduce a range based on the processing limitations of older TVs made with outdated and ultimately inferior technology.

Filmmakers have been producing content with a much higher dynamic range than these older TVs could handle for years now. They've had to effectively "dumb down" the content they were producing to fit within the limits of SDR. In the process, all sorts of data is lost and goes unused.

Hollywood mixes and edits their work based on much more advanced standards, like the DCI-P3 color space. The brightness and color of a scene can change its entire tone and mood, which means SDR gives you a version of a TV show or movie that doesn't quite match what its creators intended. This can cause a work of art to lose intended meaning and emotion.

HDR, in a sense, unlocks the original vision of the people creating content for you. This gets you much closer to what filmmakers were trying to communicate with their art. And even if that's something you're not very concerned with, it just straight-up looks better!

Metadata: the HDR "code"

So, how does HDR gives us all those extra instructions that SDR had to cut out? One word: metadata. Basically, the extra information you need is put into a special code that is sent alongside the primary video signal. Your HDR TV then unlocks that code, gaining the instructions it needs to take full advantage of its enhanced brightness, contrast, and color.

The metadata in an HDR signal includes something called an EOTF (Electro-Optical Transfer Function). That word salad refers to something fairly simple. It's a value applied to the brightness level of the content you're watching. Because TVs have different levels of brightness, the EOTF uses an objective standard, translating the brightness level of your content directly to a universal measurement of screen brightness called "nits." More on that in a sec.

a photo of a wall-mounted TV in a room with lots of windows

HDR TVs must be able to decode an HDR signal and display higher levels of brightness than older TVs.

What makes a TV HDR-capable?

The first thing an HDR-capable TV needs is the ability to decode the metadata in an HDR signal. But there's more than that. HDR TVs need to be much brighter overall to handle the additional demands of HDR.

Non-HDR TVs have a peak brightness of 300-400 nits. A TV needs at least 600 nits to be HDR-compatible, but HDR TVs can have brightness levels up to 2,000 nits or more. That additional headroom gives an HDR TV the space to depict a brighter image, showing intense whites and everything in between.

If your 4K HDR TV is hooked up to an HDR-enabled source, like a 4K Blu-ray player, it will also need a high-bandwidth HDMI port with at least HDMI 2.0a. These are standard for most HDR-capable TVs, just look out for how many are available on the back panel of your TV if you plan on having more than one HDR source plugged in at a time.

Are all 4K TVs HDR-compatible?

In short, yes. Virtually of the current 4K TVs on the market support HDR. But not all TVs are created equal. So, while HDR is standard, 4K TVs can have very different HDR performance. This peformance can be impacted by features like backlighting and processing power, as well as what HDR formats the TV supports.

It's now a basic requirement for 4K TVs to support at least HDR10, the most common HDR format. But some TVs support more advanced formats, like HDR10+ or Dolby Vision. More on HDR formats below.

Wide color gamut

As discussed, HDR is almost always combined with support for WCG (Wide Color Gamut). 4K HDR TVs can take advantage of the expanded color palette of WCG because of the increased 10-bit capacity of their panels. In comparison, SDR TVs have 8-bit panels. That difference amounts to more than you might think.

An 8-bit SDR TV is can display a couple hundred shades per primary color, for a total of a few million colors overall. That's not bad, but a 10-bit HDR TV can display over a thousand shades per primary color for a whopping total of over a billion colors overall.

The color available via SDR can't even approach the complexity of colors we see with our eyes in the real world. HDR provides millions more additional color variations for an incredible increase in color depth. This gives you a picture with vivid, brilliant colors that are much closer to reality.

What are the different types of HDR?

A 4K TV that supports HDR will almost always look better than one that doesn't, but not every TV supports the same type(s) of HDR. Each major TV brand takes a slightly different approach, which means there are several different HDR formats to keep track of.

a photo of a couple watching TV in a dark room

There are several different HDR formats, including industry standards like HDR10 and enhanced formats like Dolby Vision.

Fortunately, any 4K HDR TV will automatically recognize any HDR format it's compatible with. And if there's more than one format encoded, your TV will decode the most advanced format available. There's no need to tinker with your settings, your TV will take care of it for you.

a photo representing static HDR tone mapping


HDR10 is an open format and the most commonly accessible version of HDR, in great part because it's the mandatory format for Ultra HD Blu-ray discs. Most streaming services, like Netflix and Amazon Prime, support HDR10. So do almost all HDR-encoded video games. Because it's so common, if your 4K TV has any kind of HDR, it probably has HDR10.

This type of HDR is a "static" system. This means that the metadata encoded in this format adjusts your TV's picture settings for the entirety of the content you're watching. These setting are established at the beginning of a movie, game, or TV show, and are maintained throughout.

HDR10 is an open-source industry standard. It can be found on the vast majority of streaming services, all Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, and a wide collection of games for PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, and PlayStation 5. It's also supported by virtually all of the 4K TVs we carry.


HLG is another "static" HDR format that provides a constant set of instructions for the brightness level of your picture and other settings. HLG is designed for TV programming. This includes over-the-air broadcasting, cable, and satellite TV. Most 4K HDR TVs support HLG.

HLG works a little differently than other forms of HDR, transmitting actual picture data, essentially setting the gamma curve for your TV, instead of using coded EOTF values. It also has a small enough file size that it has backwards compatibility with SDR TVs. An HLG signal has a "bottom" range that SDR TVs can use and a "top" range that HDR TVs use, which is why broadcasters prefer HLG for TV programming over other types of HDR.

If you have HLG-encoded content available over the air in your area, keep in mind that you'll need a 4K TV with an ATSC 3.0 tuner. The vast majority of 4K TVs support HLG.

Photo showing dynamic HDR changing contrast and color over multiple image frames

Dolby Vision

Dolby Vision is one of the most advanced HDR formats currently available. This proprietary format was created by Dolby® Labs to provide a more flexible set of instructions to your TV. Dolby Vision is a "dynamic" HDR format. This means it's able to adjust your TV's picture settings on a scene-by-scene basis. Rather than being locked in place, these settings can be shifted to better capture specific moments.

The dynamic nature of Dolby Vision increases its accuracy for even more lifelike picture quality than HDR10 or HLG. This format has the advantage of supporting a color depth of 12 bits, too, for even more variations of shades of color. It can also support increased brightness levels up to 10,000 nits and up to 8K resolution. As the first dynamic HDR format, Dolby Vision is well known and respected, will plenty of supported content already available.

Dolby Vision content can be found on a range of streaming services like Netflix and HBO Max, select Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, a collection of PC games, and is supported by most LG and Sony 4K TVs.

Head here for a full list of all of the TVs we carry that support Dolby Vision.


HDR10+, sometimes known as HDR Plus, is another "dynamic" HDR format that adjusts your picture settings according to the needs of each scene. It supports 10-bit color depth, increased brightness levels up to 10,000 nits, and up to 8K resolution. This puts it well above the performance of HDR10 and HLG.

This format is a very a close runner-up to the top-notch quality provided by Dolby Vision, with the advantage of being open-source and royalty-free, making it easier for creators to produce compatible content. This makes it easy to find content that supports HDR10+, even though it was released more recently than its competitor.

HDR10+ can be found on a range of streaming services like Amazon Prime and Apple TV+, select Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, a collection of PC and PS5 games, and is supported by most Samsung 4K and 8K TVs.

What gear do I need for HDR?

First, you need an HDR-capable display, like a 4K TV or projector. You then need a source that's also HDR-compatible to provide an HDR-encoded signal to that TV or projector. That HDR signal will need to be passed by a high-bandwidth HDMI cable capable of carrying the extra encoded data. We'll run through a few key types of displays and sources below.

Sony X95L TV with an image of a man jumping in a pool with colorful pool toys

To gain the benefits of HDR, you'll need the right equipment, starting with an HDR-capable display like a 4K TV.

Every link in the chain needs to be HDR-compatible: display, source, and the cable connecting them together. If any part of the chain can't pass HDR, then what's displayed at the end won't be HDR.

You'll also need to make sure the content being played by your source and display supports HDR. More about that in the next section.

4K TVs

The vast majority of 4K TVs are HDR-enabled. 4K has quickly become the standard for modern TVs, so picking up a 4K TV is the most common way to access HDR content. Most modern TVs are also Smart TVs with built-in video streaming apps. And HDR has become more and more common through streaming. This means if you're picking up a 4K TV, that's likely all you need to get started.

If you want to take advantage of physical media like Blu-ray or use additional sources, like a gaming console or media streamer, you'll need some extra gear, of course. We'll touch on that below.

4K projectors

Projectors are a great pick for folks looking to set up a dedicated home theater room, and there are tons of 4K projectors that support HDR now. You can connect other sources to a projector just like a TV, and lots of projectors are "smart" now, too, with built-in video streaming apps. If you're planning on adding a 4K projector, just keep in mind you'll also need a compatible projector screen of the correct size.

People watching a stunning landscape scene on a projector screen

A 4K HDR projector can provide a brilliant HDR experience that brings you closer to the feel of being in the theater.

4K Blu-ray players

HDR10 is standard for all Ultra HD Blu-ray discs and lots of titles also come encoded with enhanced HDR formats like Dolby Vision and HDR10+. UHD Blu-rays can store a ton of data and have a higher bit rate than you can generally get from streaming services. This makes a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player one of the easiest ways to guarantee you're getting the best picture quality available.

4K media streamers

A 4K media streamer like a Roku or Apple TV with support for HDR is an easy way to access the wealth of HDR content available through video streaming services. It's also a great pick if you have an HDR-capable TV or projector that doesn't have built-in streaming apps or that just doesn't have all the apps you're looking for.

Photo of an AppleTV box with a TV. The show Severance is on screen.

A media streamer like the Apple TV 4K is an easy way to access the HDR-encoded content on streaming platforms like Apple TV+ (subscription required).

Gaming consoles

While your mind might lean towards movies or TV shows when you think of HDR, you can enjoy its benefits with games, too. The Xbox One X/S, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, PS4 Pro, and PS5 all support HDR. Most gaming consoles can also download video streaming apps. And there are next-gen consoles like the PS5 that have disc players capable of playing Ultra HD Blu-rays.

Currently, the only format supported by gaming consoles is HDR10, but that's likely to change for next-gen consoles in the future. The only major current generation console that doesn't support HDR is the Nintendo Switch, and there's a strong possibility Nintendo will eventually add support for HDR to the upgraded OLED Switch.

There are also PC games that support HDR, including game streaming services like Nvidia. You'll need a PC and monitor that supports HDR to take advantage of them.

HDMI cable(s)

Any HDR source you connect to an HDR-capable TV or 4K projector needs a high-definition HDMI cable that can pass an HDR-encoded signal. This is any HDMI cable of version 2.0a or later. Fortunately, HDMI 2.0b is already the standard for most high-definition HDMI ports and cables for A/V equipment.

Image of an HDMI cable with a Crutchfield CableLabel(TM)

Any time you're connecting an HDR source to your TV or projector, you'll need a high-definition HDMI cable to carry that signal.

TV antennas

A TV antenna can help you access local HDR-encoded over-the-air broadcast signals if they're available in your area. And an antenna can help extend your ability to pick up signals from farther away. You'll need to connect the antenna to a 4K TV that supports HLG and has a built-in ATSC 3.0 tuner.

How do I find HDR content?

Finding 4K HDR content is easier than ever, from movies and TV shows to video games. We'll briefly walk through how to make sure what you're watching supports HDR, based on how you access your content.

Picture of a TV with streaming apps on the screen

HDR-encoded content is easy to find these days, from 4K Blu-ray discs to tons of shows and movies on streaming services like Netflix (subscription required).

4K streaming services with HDR

Support for HDR has become more and more commonly available from video streaming services. While not all titles support HDR, the number is growing all the time. Whether you're watching on Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime, or HBO Max, you'll be able to find content in 4K with HDR's enhanced picture quality.

If you want to know if a title supports HDR on one of your streaming services, you can usually tell by double checking the page details. Usually right under a show's title you'll see a brief description, including its resolution and what type of HDR it supports (if any).

Keep in mind that some streaming services like Netflix require a more expensive premium plan to take advantage of 4K HDR content.

4K Blu-ray discs with HDR

It's easy to find Ultra HD Blu-rays these days, whether you're shopping online or heading to your local big box retail store. And virtually all 4K Blu-rays come encoded with at least HDR10, with plenty of others that support Dolby Vision or HDR10+. It's easy to tell which format a Blu-ray disc supports, just look at the box! Usually there's a little sticker or information on the back to let you know.

One of the great benefits of physical media like a 4K Blu-ray disc is that you own it. No need to worry about a show or movie becoming unavailable or purged from a service you're paying for. Once it's yours, you can enjoy it anytime you want and in the highest quality currently available.

4K gaming with HDR

The vast majority of current or next-gen games now have support for HDR, whether you're playing indie titles like Ori and the Will of the Wisps or AAA games like Ghosts of Tsushima. You'll want to make sure the settings on your console are set to output HDR. And most games that support HDR will also have in-game settings to activate (or deactivate) HDR and manually tinker with your brightness levels.

4K TV programming with HDR

The majority of 4K TVs have built-in support for HLG, so if you're getting a signal that supports it, you'll be able to enjoy the benefits of HDR through your cable or satellite provider. If your TV also has an ATSC 3.0 tuner, then you can also take advantage of any local over-the-air signals with HDR.

The number of content providers that support HLG is still fairly limited but is anticipated to grow steadily over time.

Get in touch!

We carry a range of products that support HDR. If you need help finding something that will match your setup, don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of our friendly Advisors.

Free lifetime tech support is included with your Crutchfield purchase.

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