If you didn’t know by now, HDR significantly improves picture quality. It’s not a gimmick that some like to believe.
HDR makes visuals look better by fiddling with an image’s colors, contrast, and brightness levels. And those three elements of an image are instrumental to HDR doing its job well.
For instance, HDR can’t perform its duties to full effect on an 8-bit panel. It needs a display with a 10-bit color profile instead to truly shine.
Similarly, there are brightness requirements too. In other words, if the display doesn’t meet a certain brightness threshold, it doesn’t qualify as HDR-capable.
So, what is the minimum brightness needed for HDR? And how much does brightness matter to high-dynamic-range imaging?
Keep reading for the answers to the questions above and to learn everything about HDR and brightness.
- Does Brightness Matter for HDR?
- Sustained Brightness is Key to HDR
- Does HDR Work with Low Brightness?
- Why Does HDR Decrease Brightness?
- How Do I Fix Dark HDR?
Does Brightness Matter for HDR?
Yes, a TV’s brightness does matter for HDR.
HDR can effectively showcase details in two contrasting images in a scene only when the screen is bright enough.
When the display is not bright enough, the luminous elements in an otherwise dark scene will not stand out the way they should to their full capacity.
In other words, a shot of the full moon at night will not look resplendent enough against the night sky background.
And this requirement for increased brightness remains irrespective of the HDR standard your display utilizes.
How Important is HDR Peak Brightness?
One of the various aspects a TV or monitor must have under its belt for optimal HDR performance is maximum display brightness.
Correct brightness levels help HDR increase the dynamic range of a scene—its claim to fame.
Peak brightness is a display’s ability to highlight an image’s areas through illumination without impacting the brightness levels of the surrounding areas.
(You’ll learn more about peak brightness and how it matters to HDR as you continue to read this piece.)
How Much Brightness is Needed for HDR?
For HDR to perform optimally, the display must boast a peak brightness of 600 nits or more.
Unfortunately, many televisions are not capable of 600 nits brightness, which is why HDR standards are all over the place.
In other words, there’s a minimum peak brightness, recommended brightness for HDR, and brightness numbers deemed the most suitable for HDR.
For example, HDR 400 is also HDR; and HDR 1000 is HDR. DisplayHDR 400 denotes the screen brightness maxes out at 400 nits. It’s 1,000 nits in the case of HDR 1000.
Casual buyers assume both HDR specifications work alike, which is where they get disappointed.
Sustained Brightness is Key to HDR
A display hitting the peak brightness levels sporadically or intermittently is not good enough.
Being able to do that continuously or sustain that brightness is where the actual performance of an HDR-capable panel lies.
The Frame from Samsung, for instance, can do sustained brightness of over 500 nits, which is barely sufficient for solid HDR.
There are also TVs from Samsung and other brands that can do way over 1,000 nits of brightness.
But, in the real world, they may not maintain that brightness throughout and could drop.
For example, a TV capable of 1,400 nits of peak brightness dropping the lights to less than 500 nits isn’t an anomaly.
And that is usually a common occurrence more with OLED panels as OLED technically cannot get as bright as LCD.
But then LCDs have their own issues, such as poor black levels, low contrast ratio, and the like.
OLED TVs make up for their comparatively low brightness levels with excellent contrast ratios, deep blacks, snappy pixel response times, and wide viewing angles.
All things put together, OLED emerges as the best display technology for HDR and is, therefore, considered the more premium screen technology.
Note: Most TVs drop brightness levels when there’s a dark subject in the scene, which is quite acceptable.
The drop in brightness causes problems when bright objects in a scene don’t look lit enough.
Does HDR Work with Low Brightness?
HDR does work with displays of varying brightness capabilities. It won’t automatically turn off the screen or disable itself if the panel isn’t bright enough.
But HDR would fail to do its job effectively. HDR on a TV that’s not bright enough, to begin with, will likely look worse than SDR.
HDR10+ and Dolby Vision enable televisions with a lower brightness profile to showcase HDR content in the best light possible.
They use metadata to help the content adapt to a TV’s limitations. The process is called “tone mapping.”
The algorithm makes frame-by-frame or scene-by-scene adjustments to display the content in the best light as per the brightness, contrast, and color variations.
What is the Minimum Brightness for HDR?
For HDR, a display must have a brightness of at least 400 nits. But there are also televisions with brightness levels lower than 400 and yet get marketed as HDR TVs.
As mentioned above, a brightness level of 600 nits is recommended. And if your TV can do 800 nits or more, it’s a lot more equipped to carry out HDR duties.
HDR can do peak brightness of up to 1,600 nits on the other end.
Why Does HDR Decrease Brightness?
HDR performance is contingent on actual display quality.
But not all TV or monitor displays are made the same, And HDR, therefore, performs unevenly across the spectrum.
The dip in performance is usually apparent as reduced brightness.
The lowered brightness in a piece of HDR content is likelier when the scene is fixated on a frame or object. That drop, however, is negligible and not very discernible.
In HDR gaming, however, the display tends to get considerably dimmer, which is one of the reasons gaming in HDR is lackluster.
Luckily, most games don’t consist of a lot of deep shadows or high brightness, or they do not fully leverage the more extensive tonal range meaningfully.
Why does HDR decrease brightness? It’s due to panel material, quality, processing, and the display’s heat dissipation abilities.
When a display gets very bright, it also generates quite a bit of heat. If the screen stays bright throughout, the heat will increase and pile up, damaging the screen or the pixels.
Televisions with sub-par thermal design manage this heat by dialing down the screen’s brightness levels.
TVs that excel in heat management can keep their screens sufficiently bright for HDR performance for long. And those TVs are usually your premium 4K TVs.
The Disparity Between Scene Brightness and Display Luminance
For example, if your TV can do not more than 300 nits of brightness and the HDR content playing on it has 1,000-bit bright highlights, your TV could either ramp up the brightness to the maximum degree or dim the lights.
When the brightness is set out to the max, the scene’s highlights will likely blow out.
Other TVs may lower the screen’s brightness to create a high contrast effect so that the picture doesn’t look washed out. In its pursuit of the active contrast ratio, illumination takes a backseat.
Not to mention, the picture would look even darker in a brightly lit room.
How Do I Fix Dark HDR?
To fix dark HDR on your TV, you may have to fiddle with some picture settings. The following are things you could do:
Increase the Backlight
Boost the backlight (and not brightness) so that the picture brightens up a bit without any impact on shadow details.
What is the difference between backlight and brightness? Backlight denotes the vigor of the lamp situated at the rear of the screen.
Brightness deals more with the screen’s pixels and colors.
When you increase the backlight, the entire display brightens, or the lamp’s intensity increases. However, that also means not-very-realistic blacks.
Cranking up the brightness, on the other hand, may interfere with the picture’s color profile. Dark blue, for instance, may assume a lighter shade. The screen’s darkest areas may not be that dark anymore.
Kindly note that in some TVs, the backlight option could be labeled as “brightness” in the settings. Also, not all TVs let you modify the backlight in HDR mode.
Change Picture Presets
The built-in picture modes help conveniently set the correct brightness, contrast, and color for displaying a particular type of content.
However, cinema mode and Sports mode shine only after sunset or when you have the ambient lighting of your room under control.
During the day, they usually look dimmer by a shade or two.
In other words, set the picture mode to standard for brighter visuals. However, other aspects of the image could take a hit. For example, the colors may look off a bit.
Tweak Local Dimming
Not all TVs allow users to play with the display’s local dimming. If your TV does and local dimming is enabled on your TV, turn it off.
Local dimming deals more with how it lights up specific parts of a scene. Turning it off may address the HDR brightness issues on your TV.
Watch this video to see what local dimming achieves and how you can disable it:
Modify the Gamma
The term “gamma” denotes the conversion after the TV receives a video signal but before what the TV outputs.
Gamma can modify shadows, mid-tones, and also highlights. It impacts the brightness range’s broad mid-center.
Your TV’s gamma setting is likely set at 2.2. The higher the gamma number, the better the performance will be at the darkest end of the range of brightness.
Therefore, reduce the gamma to 2.0 so that the visuals look brighter.
Switch to SDR
If none of the above measures make the picture brighter, switch to SDR.
You can always enable the HDR option for night-time viewing or watching movies and shows in a dark space.
You need not tweak all of the options above. Start with one setting at a time. If tweaking a particular feature makes the picture adequately bright, you may stop and enjoy the content.
1/ Wouldn’t peak brightness of 1,000 nits be too bright for comfortable viewing?
HDR does a better job with more display brightness to play with. There’s certainly a point where the returns are diminishing or none.
As far as 1,000 nits resulting in highly bright images, HDR doesn’t work that way.
The screen is not 1000 nits bright at any given time. It’s rarely that way.
Generally, as mentioned earlier, a direct sun shot or lighting strike entirely uses up those maximum nits of brightness.
To answer the question, 1,000 nits or even more brightness isn’t too bright. It only lends to the HDR experience, so a bright panel is critical to HDR.
2/ Can you reduce HDR brightness?
HDR doesn’t allow users to manually tweak the brightness levels in its setting.
The draw with HDR is its ability to transition between high and low brightness automatically.
If it lets you decide how bright a piece of content should be, the dynamism associated with HDR will go amiss, defeating HDR’s purpose altogether.
You may, however, reduce the general brightness of your TV/monitor in the settings if the screen is too bright, as discussed above.
The above information should have clarified why some HDR TVs look excellent and why HDR on some televisions doesn’t make a difference.
Just because a TV is labeled HDR-friendly, it may not always offer the best visuals. Therefore, check how bright the panel can get and how long it could keep those lights on at full capacity.
Most TVs don’t have the brightest panels needed for excellent HDR performance. The majority even do not meet the minimum brightness threshold for HDR, which is 400 nits.
The ones that manage to make the cut barely or are HDR400-friendly do not provide meaningful HDR. The HDR500, HDR600, and later DisplayHDR certification signify entering actual HDR territory.
Therefore, if buying an HDR400 TV, get a bright non-HDR TV instead and set money aside for that big 4K HDR OLED TV purchase.
Catherine Tramell has been covering technology as a freelance writer for over a decade. She has been writing for Pointer Clicker for over a year, further expanding her expertise as a tech columnist. Catherine likes spending time with her family and friends and her pastimes are reading books and news articles.