It’s not unusual to hear people interchanging 4K with HDR when talking about 4K technology.
You’ve probably also heard of 4K HDR, implying that there’s 4K and then there’s 4K HDR.
But what’s the difference between the two? Is 4K HDR better than 4K?
Let’s find out.
Is 4K HDR good?
4K HDR isn’t just good. It’s the best tech combination for a TV right now.
As developers introduce new and better technology, this might change. But for now, a TV that supports both 4K and HDR is your best option for an enjoyable viewing experience.
Better than a non-4K TV that supports HDR.
And better than a TV that supports 4K but does not support HDR.
To dwell on that second point for a bit, most 4K TVs are HDR-enabled, but a few are not.
When you buy a 4K TV, it does not mean that it is HDR-capable. So you must confirm that it can indeed play HDR content.
Here’s what a 4K HDR TV offers:
- High-definition 4K images with more detail
- Impressive contrast between the brightest and darkest spots
- A wide color gamut
- 10-bit color depth, meaning you get more tonal levels per color, altogether supporting more than 1 billion colors
These features mean that a combination of 4K and HDR yields life-like images, making what you’re watching appear as real as possible, be it a movie scene or a game setting.
Is 4K HDR Better than 4K?
4K and HDR touch on different aspects of picture quality, so it would be hard to state that one is better than the other.
What 4K offers
4K deals with the resolution, where the display must output nearly 4,000 horizontal pixels. The closest resolution to 4K is 1080p, which packs a cumulative 2.1 million pixels.
At 8.3 million pixels, 4K packs four times more pixels than 1080p. That means it produces better-defined images with more detail than lower resolution screens.
What HDR offers
HDR deals with image quality, where it brightens image highlights, creating more contrast and increasing the range between the brightest white and the darkest black.
Combined, 4K and HDR bring out the best in pictures. Hence, it’s always best to choose both where possible rather than picking one over the other.
So when shopping for a TV, for example, choose a 4K HDR TV instead of buying a 4K TV that does not support HDR.
Here’s what we mean:
When watching a 1080p TV and a 4K TV from the same distance, it may be hard to tell which one is 4K. But you can instantly tell which screen has a poorer contrast, which would be the TV without HDR support.
An HDR-enabled TV reproduces more life-like images than a 4K TV without HDR capabilities. That’s the ultimate prize, right? So in terms of mimicking reality, HDR wins hands down.
HDR vs. 4K: What’s the Difference?
HDR, or High Dynamic Range in full, is about the contrast between the lightest and darkest tone in a given image.
In other words, HDR is what brings out the dynamic range in any picture that pops up on the screen, from the lightest hues to the darkest and every tone in between.
As of now, HDR delivers the highest contrast and visual effect out of any technology. You can pick out the darker reds from the lighter ones or see all the various shades of green and any other color in a scene.
And because HDR supports a broader color spectrum than ever seen on TV before, it reproduces life-like images or images that are as close to real-life objects as possible.
The best way to see HDR in action is by comparing the technology to its predecessor, SDR (Standard Dynamic Range).
Suppose you had two TV screens, one with HDR and one that supports SDR. You then turn them on and play the same HDR content on both so that you’re watching the two screens side by side.
You’ll find that, on the HDR TV, the brightest parts of the picture are lighter than on the SDR TV, and the image appears to have more depth. There will also be some colors on the HDR TV that are not noticeable on the regular TV.
That’s all you need to see how much better HDR is than SDR.
Note that you can only experience HDR’s impact in full bloom if the content you’re playing is in HDR. Fortunately, HDR content isn’t hard to come by.
Content producers are keen to reproduce the image they have in mind on the screen. And so they’re incorporating HDR into more movies, TV shows, and games.
If you play regular, non-HDR content on an HDR TV? The color range and contrast would be similar to what you’d get if you displayed the content on an SDR TV.
Likewise, if you played HDR content on an SDR TV, you wouldn’t enjoy HDR image quality.
What about 4K?
4k has to do with the screen resolution, not the dynamic range of an image. To be considered 4K, a display has to support a horizontal resolution of approximately 4,000 pixels, hence 4K.
There are two widely accepted 4K standards: 3840 x 2160 and 4096 x 2160. We have a few more, but these are the two most common ones.
The 3840 x 2160 standard is used in the TV and the consumer industry, while the 4096 x 2160 standard is for the digital cinema industry.
You’ve probably noticed that the 3840 in 3840 x 2160 is less than 4,000 pixels. Why then would it be called 4K?
Various bodies responsible for setting the Ultra HD standard agreed that for a product to be 4K, it must have a resolution of 3840 x 2160.
They clarified that the screen or display doesn’t strictly need to support 4,000 horizontal pixels. It only needs to output a minimum of 3840 pixels.
When it comes to 4K products, some support 4K Ultra HD while others support 4K HDR Ultra HD.
Whichever one you choose matters.
Products with 4K HDR support high dynamic range, which you don’t get with 4K UHD products.
Here’s what each feature brings to the table:
- 4K uses more pixels to offer high picture definition with greater detail.
- HDR focuses on enhanced contrast and supports a wide color gamut. So it’s able to reproduce more colors and mimic real-life images.
When used together, the unique features of 4K and HDR give unmatched visual excellence.
And therefore, 4K HDR offers better picture quality than 4K.