Tech Talk: HDR10+ Rivals Dolby Vision But That May Not Matter

It's only been a few days since Samsung commercialized the HDR10+ standard on its latest UHD and QLED TVs in partnership with Amazon, yet it's clear that the company managed to deliver a worthy competitor to Dolby Vision in terms of pure image quality. It's still too early to compare the two based on a broad range of content but initial impressions suggest that HDR10+ can deliver colors that are similarly vivid as those generated by Dolby Laboratories-developed solution, and the same goes for the level of detail, contrast, and the overall picture quality. However, none of that may matter in the long run as Dolby Vision has already been on the market for several years and managed to entrench its position to such a degree that it's hard to see anything replacing it.

From the very moment it was announced, Dolby Vision clearly positioned itself as an end-to-end solution for Hollywood that encompasses content creation, distribution, and playback. Being fueled by high-profile titles like the Lego Movie, Into The Storm, Mad Max: Fury Road, Man Of Steel, and American Sniper, the standard quickly established itself as a content mastering and delivery format that's second to none. Going into 2018, the HDR competition is definitely much fiercer (since it finally exists) but Dolby Vision's position is now stronger than ever as the standard isn't just the go-to HDR solution for Hollywood - it's the only solution. On the other hand, Samsung is largely counting on the billions of dollars Amazon is pouring into original production to promote HDR10+ but with 20th Century Fox being its only truly established content partner (who also co-developed the standard with Panasonic), its chances of making the world's largest filmmaking industry embrace its technology remain questionable.

While Samsung has an advantage in terms of accessibility given how HDR10+ is free for device manufacturers and content creators, that doesn't mean much when its target audience are Hollywood heavyweights. Dolby's status in the industry coupled with nearly limitless resources of its clients means that Samsung must do much better than just say "it's free" when trying to convince filmmakers to adopt HDR10+, not to mention that the South Korean firm is also at a disadvantage in terms of support it can offer. To have any hopes of seriously challenging for HDR dominance, Samsung needs to deliver a convincingly superior solution and while HDR10+ can certainly go toe-to-toe with Dolby Vision in most aspects, it doesn't clearly surpass it in any. In fact, even though HDR10+ is a massive upgrade over its predecessor, it's still a 10-bit standard, meaning its colors can't be more accurate than the ones delivered by Dolby's 12-bit solution even in theory.

The color depth argument isn't as important right now since no consumer-ready television set is capable of outputting 12-bit colors but that technology is already close to commercialization and it shouldn't be long until you'll be able to get it in your living room, after which Dolby Vision is likely to clearly surpass HDR10+ in terms of image quality. Dolby claims the standard does so even now as it downsamples processed 12-bit data to a 10-bit output in a manner that's supposedly more accurate than native 10-bit computing, though you'd be hard-pressed to actually see that difference. However, once 12-bit TVs become a commercial reality, Dolby's marketing will be able to drop such claims and let the image do the talking, and nothing it says will be good news for HDR10+.

On a similar point, while Samsung remains adamant that LED TVs need to generate no less than 1,000 nits of brightness for a true HDR experience, Vizio’s P-Series models can accomplish that while barely reaching half of that estimate, whereas Sony and HiSense do the same with a peak brightness of approximately 700 nits. In all of these cases, it's Dolby Vision magic that allows for such an accomplishment, meaning that even with Dolby's royalties that get passed on to consumers in the vast majority of cases, you're still able to find decently priced TVs that support its standard and your choices are bound to get even more plentiful going forward.

None of the above is meant to imply that you'd be making a wrong choice by opting for an HDR10 TV right now, even if the standard is clearly inferior to both its direct successor and Dolby Vision. After all, HDR10 still provides you with a massive upgrade over your old TV and its standard-dynamic-range (SDR) video which uses a conventional gamma curve, while TVs that support it don't cost a lot relative to the current state of the market. Sure, your HDR10-enabled TV may never receive an upgrade to HDR10+ less it's a new Samsung or Panasonic-made model but staying on the very cutting edge of home entertainment is an expensive sport that only a few lucky people can afford. However, in the long run, it's hard to see Dolby Vision not emerging as the ultimate winner in the latest iteration of the dynamic range race, especially in the context of blockbuster filmmaking that's not discouraged by any kind of royalties Dolby asks for.

Moving away from big-budget productions, HDR10+ is likely to attract more indie content creators than its rival but much like it's the case with HDR10, the new standard is bound to be supported by anything that also ships with Dolby Vision. Therefore, your future TV choice probably won't come down to whether to opt for a Dolby Vision or HDR10+ device but whether to pay extra for one that's compatible with both technologies or settle for just Samsung's standard. Of course, no amount of software support for mastering standards will make a TV deliver a great HDR experience if it doesn't have the hardware to do so, so make sure to inform yourself before shelling out hundreds of dollars on a product just because its box says it's ready for HDR10+, Dolby Vision, or whatever fancy name the industry slaps on its next encoding technology.

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Dominik Bosnjak

Senior Writer
Dominik started at AndroidHeadlines in 2016. He’s approaching his first full decade in the media industry, with his background being primarily in technology, gaming, and entertainment. These days, his focus is more on the political side of the tech game, as well as data privacy issues, with him looking at both of those through the prism of Android. Contact him at [email protected]