Netflix flips the switch on eye-popping HDR video streaming

Netflix adds high-dynamic range video for TVs that support it, but the bandwidth requirements are steep.

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Netflix has kicked off its support for HDR video, providing more vibrant visuals on supported TV sets.

HDR, short for high dynamic range, allows for much higher brightness levels and a greater range between dark and light. As a result, bright highlights and shadowy scenes have much more color detail compared to standard dynamic range.

For now, Netflix’s sole HDR offering is season 1 of Marco Polo, but the company told FlatPanelsHD that Marvel’s Daredevil will get HDR in the future. It’s unclear what other shows might get HDR support, as Netflix has yet to make an “all original shows” pledge as it previously did for its 4K Ultra HD programming.

Here's a related story you'll want to read: Curious about HDR? Here's everything you need to know if you plan to buy a TV in 2016

That’s not exactly launching with a bang, but most people won’t be able to take advantage of HDR right now anyway. To play back HDR content, you need a capable TV, and they only started trickling onto the market last year. TV makers are pushing the new format hard this year, however, and if you buy a high-end set in 2016 from vendors such as LG, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, or Vizio, there’s a good chance it will support HDR.

Netflix's Marco Polo Netflix

Netflix picked its tepidly received original series Marco Polo to be the first programming it will stream in HDR. 

Netflix also has its own requirements for HDR playback: Subscribers will need Netflix’s 4K Ultra HD plan, which costs $12 per month. And as with existing 4K streams, Netflix recommends Internet speeds of at least 25 Mbps per second. That’s five times faster than what the company recommends for 1080p playback.

As for particular HDR formats, Netflix is supporting both the open HDR-10 and the proprietary Dolby Vision, the latter of which works on HDR sets from Vizio, TCL, and LG. As we explained in January, HDR-10 is likely to be the baseline in any HDR stream, and Dolby Vision sets should support that format as well. So while there is a format war brewing, it’s fairly low stakes for consumers.

Why this matters: Although Netflix doesn’t have much HDR content to show, it’s still a big milestone for the service, and it brings subscribers up to par with Amazon Video, which started dabbling in HDR last year. With movie studios charging hefty prices for a la carte HDR streams and Blu-ray discs, subscription services like Netflix will be the cheapest path to enjoying your new expensive TV for the foreseeable future.

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