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.
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 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.
Jared Newman has been helping folks make sense of technology for over a decade, writing for PCWorld, TechHive, and elsewhere. He also publishes two newsletters, Advisorator for straightforward tech advice and Cord Cutter Weekly for saving money on TV service.