HDR vs SDR: What's the difference? (2023)

What Is HDR?

HDR Image

SDR Image

HDR (High Dynamic Range), as the name suggests, introduces a wider range of colors and brightness levels compared to SDR (Standard Dynamic Range) signals. HDR signals send metadata to your TV, which is a list of instructions for the TV to display content properly. The source tells the TV what exact color to display at which exact brightness level, whereas SDR is limited to a range of brightness and colors. For example, with SDR, a car would be ordered to apply "full throttle" or "50% throttle." Instead, the HDR car would be asked to "go to 120 mph" and "go to 40 mph."Some vehicles would provide a worse experience than others working towards this task, and most might not even succeed. In the case of TVs, SDR is a specific set power, while HDR is a set goal.

You can see an example above of what an HDR image looks like compared to an SDR image on the same TV. The HDR image appears more life-like, and you can see more details in darker areas, like in the shadows of the cars.Having a TV with HDR support doesn't necessarily mean HDR content will look good, as you still need a TV that can display the wide range of colors and brightness required for good HDR performance.

Dynamic vs. Static Metadata

There are different types of HDR signals that can be sent, and they're either with static or dynamic metadata. Dynamic metadata changes on a scene-per-scene basis, while static metadata remains the same for the whole length of the movie or show you're watching. It means that if content uses dynamic metadata, it can lower its peak brightness for a darker scene and increase its brightness for a brighter scene to make highlights pop, so it has a clear advantage. With content that uses static metadata, the brightness remains the same throughout, meaning some scenes can be over-brightened or not dark enough.

Regardless, between static and dynamic HDR metadata, both get brighter than in SDR, which is one of the main advantages of watching HDR content over SDR. Both HDR and SDR are mastered at a certain peak brightness, but HDR is mastered at a minimum of 400 nits, while SDR is mastered at 100 nits. Because every TV hits 100 nits without issue, it's only brighter TVs that can take full advantage of the increased peak brightness in HDR.

The two most common dynamic metadata formats, Dolby Vision and HDR10+, each use dynamic metadata, while HDR10 is a static format that forms the basis of HDR signals. Despite the name similarities, HDR10 and HDR10+ are different formats. Some TVs support the two dynamic formats, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision, while others support one but not the other. While thinking about which format your TV supports is usually an afterthought, it's important to consider depending on which content you watch. For example, if you constantly stream content from Netflix in Dolby Vision and get a TV that only supports HDR10+, you won't be watching content to its full capabilities. The format doesn't affect the overall picture quality, but it limits you on which HDR content you can watch if your TV doesn't support the format.

When comparing metadata in HDR versus SDR, it's important to remember that HDR content is sent with a specific set of instructions for how the TV should display it, whileSDR content usesthe TV's processing to controlmore of the image. This is why not all TVs can display HDR content how it should look like.

Learn about the differences between HDR10, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision

Below, we'll discuss the three most important aspects of HDR content: the peak brightness, the color gamut, and the gradient handling.

HDR Peak Brightness

Peak brightness is probably one of the most important aspects of HDR. This is where high-end TVs have the biggest advantage, as HDR content makes use of their higher brightness capabilities to show lifelike highlights. If a TV has limited HDR peak brightness, it can't properly display all the highlights the content is supposed to show.

Having a high contrast ratio and a good local dimming feature is also important for delivering a good HDR experience because the TV can show bright and dark highlights without losing details. However, the contrast is independent of HDR, and you can still have deep blacks with SDR content.

Above, you can see what HDR looks like on a high-end TV like the Samsung QN90A QLED versus an entry-level TV like the TCL 4 Series/S446 2021 QLED. The Samsung has incredible contrast and high peak brightness, so it really makes the image pop, and you get a sense of how bright the hallway is. However, the TCL has low HDR peak brightness and low contrast, so it can't properly distinguish the bright and dark areas of the screen and doesn't even look like the lights are turned on. HDR is all about delivering a more impactful and vivid image, and the QN90A does exactly that.

Learn more about the HDR peak brightness

Color Gamut & Volume

Rec. 709 Color Space (SDR)

Rec. 2020 Color Space (HDR)

A TV's color gamut defines the range of colors it displays. There are two common color spaces used for HDR content: the DCI-P3 color space that's used in most HDR content and the Rec. 2020 color space that's slowly being included with more content. The difference between the two spaces is simply the number of colors each space covers, as Rec. 2020 is wider. Both of these cover a wider range of colors than in SDR. A TV needs to display a wide color gamut, as doing so helps improve the picture quality.

The color volume is the range of colors a TV displays at different luminance levels. So this is where the peak brightness and contrast help the TV, as a higher peak brightness helps it show bright shades, while a higher contrast is important if it needs to display darker colors.

Above, you can see two graphs of the Rec. 709 color space used in SDR content and the Rec. 2020 color space used in HDR. Rec. 2020 requires a lot more colors, which helps make images appear more life-like. Most modern TVs don't have any problems displaying all the colors necessary for SDR, but coverage of the wider color spaces can be a struggle for some TVs.

Learn more about the color gamut and the color volume


10-bit HDR Image

8-bit SDR Image

Gradient handling is a bit more technical than the peak brightness and color gamut. It defines how well a TV displays colors at different shades, and this is important for scenes with a sky or sunset. If your TV has good gradient handling, that means that the sky transitions between the different colors well, but if the TV has bad gradient handling, you'll see banding that can be distracting. Gradient handling is important for watching HDR content because HDR requires 10-bit color depth, and while most modern TVs can display a 10-bit signal, not all of them do it well. Color depth is the amount of information used to display a certain color, so a higher color depth holds more information. It's also why HDR content uses 10-bit color, while SDR has 8-bit color depth. Keep in mind that not all TVs that accept 10-bit signals have a 10-bit panel, as some use 8-bit panels with dithering to help display a 10-bit signal, but it doesn't affect the overall picture quality much.

If you look at the images above, you can see how there's much more banding in the orange sky on an 8-bit image versus a 10-bit image on the same TV. It's because 8-bit color depth has less information, meaning it can't properly display those minor color changes. Most modern TVs have good enough gradient handling, but there are a few where the banding is obvious. Below, you can see two examples of what good and bad gradient handling looks like on our gradient test pattern. There's clear banding on the right, especially in darker shades.

Best gradient handling- No banding

Sony A80J OLED

Worstgradient - Obvious banding

Samsung TU8000

Learn more about gradient handling

Extra Information

HDR Gaming

Although HDR was primarily designed for movies, it's made its way into video games. While you won't get the same fantastic HDR picture quality in games as in movies because games aren't mastered the same way as movies for the highest brightness possible, HDR games still deliver a better viewing experience than SDR games. Modern TVs are designed to have low input lag in HDR Game Mode, so you get the same responsive feel as if you were playing SDR games. However, there are some limitations with HDR gaming, as some TVs can't display 4k @ 120Hz signals in Dolby Vision from the Xbox Series X, so you're limited to 60 fps in that case.

How To Know If You're Watching Content In SDR Or HDR

So, after all this, when do you know if you're watching content in HDR or SDR? The simple answer is to know which type of content you're watching and look for any symbols that pop up. If you're streaming content from Netflix, you'll see a symbol to tell you which HDR format it's in, like HDR10 or Dolby Vision. Another way is to look at the TV settings menu and see if there's an HDR symbol in the picture settings.

If you see that the content you're watching is in SDR and want to change to HDR, first make sure the content is available in HDR before trying to switch. Check your TV's settings regarding the HDMI signal format or bandwidth (the exact name varies per brand), and make sure your TV is set to the highest signal format possible because HDR requires more bandwidth. If you're playing video games, you likely have to check the system or game settings to enable HDR. Of course, if your content doesn't support HDR, there's nothing you can do, and you're stuck in SDR.


HDR is a video signal that improves the overall picture quality by introducing brighter highlights and a wider range of colors compared to older movies that are in SDR. The peak brightness, color gamut, and color bit depth are all important to deliver an excellent HDR experience. HDR uses dynamic metadata to change the information it sends to the TV on a scene-per-scene basis so that the TV properly displays content at its correct brightness level. Every modern 4k TV supports HDR, but just because it supports the metadata doesn't mean HDR content looks good, as you need a bright TV with good contrast and a wide color gamut to deliver good HDR picture quality.


Is there a big difference between HDR and SDR? ›

HDR and SDR are both methods of displaying video content, but HDR offers a wider range of colors and brightness levels, resulting in a more vivid and lifelike picture. Compared to SDR, HDR video generally shows more detail in both bright and dark areas, and provides a more dynamic range of color.

Does HDR look better than SDR? ›

Compared to the SDR video format, HDR improves picture quality by improving the appearance of natural highlights and shadows, and by introducing a wider color gamut to the image making it look more realistic.

What is the difference between SDR and HDR test? ›

Both HDR and SDR are mastered at a certain peak brightness, but HDR is mastered at a minimum of 400 nits, while SDR is mastered at 100 nits. Because every TV hits 100 nits without issue, it's only brighter TVs that can take full advantage of the increased peak brightness in HDR.

Is 4K HDR or SDR better? ›

4K High Dynamic Range (HDR): Used for 4K TVs that support HDR to display video with a broader and more accurate range of color, contrast, and luminance than SDR.

Is Netflix HDR or SDR? ›

Video streaming services such as Prime Video, Netflix, Rakuten TV, Apple TV Plus, and Disney Plus all have HDR programming, and new content lands on each service on a frequent basis. Titles are available in HDR10, Dolby Vision HDR or HDR10+.

Why does HDR make my TV darker? ›

The brightness of the screen can get darker when you turn on the HDR function on the PC. This issue only occurs when SDR (Standard Dynamic Range) converts to HDR (High Dynamic Range). This is because a display interprets an HDR and an SDR signal differently.

Why does HDR look better off? ›

The transition from SDR->HDR mode often leaves the user wondering why HDR is less saturated, often this is because SDR is incorrectly over saturated, stretching the Windows SDR color to the display's maximum color range.

Can HDR be worse than SDR? ›

The problem with HDR is that most consumable media is not HDR compatible. Often, viewing HDR media on an SDR screen will make your viewing experience worse than watching it on a regular SDR panel. Another problem is that most HDR devices use HDR10, which is loosely standardized, while its marketing is largely uniform.

Is HDR more color accurate? ›

HDR promises a bigger color gamut, brighter visuals, and more than a billion colors, resulting in more vibrant and color-accurate images.

Can you convert SDR to HDR? ›

You can convert an SDR color space to HDR10 or HLG color space. In this case, AWS Elemental Live makes the following changes: It changes the pixel values, if necessary, to fit the colors into the different color space. It changes the color space metadata to identify the new color space.

How do I switch between SDR and HDR? ›

Select Settings > System > Display. On the Display settings screen, select Use HDR. Under SDR content brightness or HDR content brightness, drag the slider to get the right balance for brightness between HDR and SDR content.

What is the difference between Dolby Vision HDR and SDR? ›

While SDR is limited to 8-bit color which can reproduce ~16,000,000 unique colors, HDR can reproduce in 10-bit color which greatly expands that to ~1,000,000,000 unique colors, with Dolby Vision able to leverage a full 12-bit color depth representing over 68,000,000,000 colors creating a dramatically richer, true-to- ...

Is HDR the best quality? ›

Although there are plenty of quality TV and computer monitor screens out there, UHD 4K and 4K HDR lead the pack. Of the two, 4K HDR is a better option because it boasts a high pixel count and the ability to adjust the colors and contrast automatically, giving you a next-level viewing experience.

Which TV is best for SDR content? ›

Test results
ProductRelease YearSDR Brightness
Samsung The Terrace20209.4
Samsung QN90C/QN90CD QLED20239.4
Samsung QN90A QLED20219.3
Samsung QN90B QLED20229.3
11 more rows
Dec 9, 2022

Is Dolby Vision better than HDR? ›

If you want the best performance from HDR content, Dolby Vision is better by the fact that it uses dynamic metadata to adapt the TV's brightness and colour performance.

Is Dolby Vision better than 4K? ›

Any content with Dolby Vision is a significant improvement in depth and color accuracy over 4K. The 68.7 billion color palette is something you need to see to believe and is a definite upgrade over HDR, which is 10-bit at around a billion colors.

What is the best resolution for Netflix? ›

Subscribers with the Standard plan can watch content in a 1080p resolution, which means HD and Full HD. Premium subscribers get it all; the only limitations imposed on the top resolution levels come from the content itself. With the Premium plan, you can watch Ultra HD (4K) and HDR content.

Is Ultra HD Netflix worth it? ›

Netflix 4K Premium will be worth it for those in a household where many people want to use Netflix, who have multiple devices that they want to download and watch movies or TV shows on, and/or value the high-quality of 4K, perhaps on a big-screen TV.

Why does HDR look so yellow? ›

The difficulties can occur on panels that enable high dynamic range (HDR) (high dynamic range). According to Microsoft, "certain picture editing tools may not display colors correctly on HDR monitors." "This frequently occurs with white hues, which are subsequently displayed as brilliant yellow or another hue."

Should I use HDR? ›

A 4K HDR monitor offers three major advantages. You benefit from a wide color gamut, high brightness, and a high resolution. That means – provided your video card supports it – you can watch colorful and razor-sharp movies on your screen.

How can I make my HDR look better? ›

To get a better experience watching HDR content, we recommend viewing it in a darker area and using a medium-low brightness setting. However, if the lighting conditions for the room you are in are too bright or too dark, you might need to adjust the display's brightness.

Why does my TV look better with HDR on? ›

HDR formats — as opposed to standard dynamic range or SDR — can provide a much brighter image with a higher level of contrast between light and dark areas on the screen, while also taking advantage of more colors, to create a much more realistic image. In short, HDR looks way better than SDR.

Does HDR reduce quality? ›

Specifically, turning on HDR will reduce grain in your low light photos. This results in higher-quality photos overall.

What is the best value for HDR SDR brightness balance? ›

Next, if you scroll down the page, you will see H“HDR/SDR brightness balance”. This is an important option as this will affect the brightness of your monitor. The default settings is set at 40, but if you would like to get the optimal experience for your HDR Capable Display, it is recommended to set it to 100.

Is there anything better than HDR? ›

If you want to get the absolute best in picture quality, Dolby Vision as a technology is what you should consider. It has better specs and looks better than HDR10+, but it isn't cheap. Really consider it, if you're going to be watching HDR content.

What color format is best for HDR? ›

Color Space Conversion

All HDR UHD video should be using the equations specified in the UHD video spec, BT. 2020 and virtually all SDR UHD should use the spec, BT. 709.

What color space is best for HDR? ›

The DCI P3 color space is the color space most used in HDR content, and most 4k HDR TVs have at least good coverage of it.

What Colour format is best for HDR? ›

Input Color - YCbCr (YUV) and RGB

For most SDI and HDMI signals you will want to be in YCbCr 10 bit, as this is by far the most common format.

Can you watch HDR on SDR screen? ›

Most HDR displays upscale SDR content to make it look… better on a HD screen, though not as good as HD does. You don't need to get two separate screens — if you watch a lot of SD content that hasn't been remastered for HD, you'll be pleasantly surprised at how it looks in HD.

How to convert 4k HDR to 4k SDR? ›

It's fairly easy to achieve the HDR to SDR image conversion.
  1. Navigate to the Convertio HDR Converter page.
  2. Click on the Choose File button to import the HDR image.
  3. Choose SDR color gamut and click on the Convert button to change HDR to SDR. convert HDR to SDR online.
Nov 28, 2022

Why does my HDR look washed out? ›

In most cases, this means that it's not color strength (color saturation) that needs adjustment, but more likely the brightness or gamma. One other thing to mention, please make sure that you don't have night mode enabled which can also cause a dimmed and washed out look with the lack of blue.

Should I switch on HDR? ›

Since HDR works to give you the best of light and dark, it's great to have the setting on when capturing landscape photos. If you want to capture something in motion, turn off HDR to prevent dark or washed-out areas.

How should HDR look? ›

HDR should be brighter highlights and wider colour which means generally more accurate colour. It shouldn't necessarily pop more or be darker.

Can you have HDR and Dolby Vision? ›

Dolby Vision is built on the same core as HDR10, which makes it relatively straightforward for content producers to create HDR10 and Dolby Vision masters together. This means that a Dolby Vision-enabled Ultra HD Blu-ray can also play back in HDR10 on TVs that only support that format.

Is HDR the same as 4K? ›

Comparison of 4K, UHD and HDR

It's important to note that the terms 4K and UHD both refer to display resolution and are essentially the same thing. Conversely, HDR refers to how a device creates the image in colours and brightness. When choosing a display, these are two separate decisions.

Is HDR necessary for 4K? ›

4K televisions require end-to-end compatibility among all components to produce authentic or true 4K resolution. The same is generally true of HDR. You need both an HDR TV and content that was produced using an HDR format.

What is the best HDR level? ›

DisplayHDR 1400

This is the highest HDR certification. The requirements for a DisplayHDR 1400 monitor are: Wide color gamut with 99 percent coverage of BT.

Which is better 1080p or HDR? ›

Objectively speaking, HD takes precedence over HDR. This is because HD has to do with the number of pixels and HDR has to do with the color of said pixels. At the end of the day, it's more essential to have a greater number of pixels than to have more colorful-looking pixels.

What is the highest quality TV format? ›

8K TV is the highest resolution TV that has been released recently among UHD (ultra high definition) TVs. With four times more pixels than a 4K TV—another type of UHD resolution—8K TVs show a sharper and more detailed picture quality.

What is the most advanced display technology in TV? ›

Simply put, QD-OLED is a hybrid display technology that takes the already very impressive qualities of OLED TV and improves its brightness and color through the use of quantum dots.

What TV format has the best picture? ›

Buy an OLED TV if:

You want the best possible picture quality, regardless of price: OLED TVs produce the best HDR picture quality, the best motion, and the widest viewing angles of any TV currently available. Learn more about OLED technology in this article.

What is the most popular HDR format? ›

HDR10 is the most common and popular type of HDR, since it is an open standard and is used by a huge range of streaming services, including Netflix, Disney+, Apple TV+, and more. Also it is free to use for manufacturers, so it can be decoded by any HDR TV and streamed by any HDR streamer.

Can you tell the difference between HDR and Dolby Vision? ›

You need a high end set to see any different between HDR 10 & DV. Yes. I saw a real difference in brightness. In HDR, some "dark" scenes looked almost full daylight, in Dolby Vision it was dark enough to tell it was low light-level, but I could still see everything, and the blacks were black.

Which is better Dolby Atmos or Dolby Vision? ›

Of the two, Dolby Vision is more innovative and is created HDR. Atmos merely enhances existing surround sound technology. As the superior technology, Dolby Atmos beats Dolby Vision in terms of specs, delivering the better movie experience.

Is SDR or HDR better for PC gaming? ›

In HDR video games, the increased color range and brightness compared to SDR games gives you a more detailed and immersive gaming experience on your Windows PC.

Does HDR improve SDR content? ›

High Dynamic Range (HDR) is the next generation of color clarity and realism in images and videos. Ideal for media that require high contrast or mix light and shadows, HDR preserves the clarity better than Standard Dynamic Range (SDR).

Can you change HDR to SDR? ›

When sharing your movie, tap Options, then turn HDR on to export your movie in HDR. To share a Standard Dynamic Range (SDR) version of your movie, turn HDR off.

Is it possible to convert SDR to HDR? ›

Deep Generator. With DeepVA's Deep Generator, SDR material can be automatically converted into HDR material at very low cost.

Do games look better in HDR? ›

You can read even more about HDR in our dedicated explainer, but it essentially helps to expand the range of colour and contrast in an image or game, giving the image more depth and detail overall. This makes it ideal for games, as it makes the experience more immersive and potentially enjoyable for players.

Does HDR make graphics look better? ›

High Dynamic Range (HDR) is an imaging technology that allows for an expanded contrast range to produce visuals with brighter brights, darker darks, and many more shades of detail in between.

Should I use HDR or not for gaming? ›

Gaming with HDR

Games look even more realistic, because you see a lot more colors. HDR gaming monitors show a large color contrast in both dark and light rooms, so you don't have to keep changing your settings.

Is it worth enabling HDR? ›

Conclusion. The good news is that nowadays there's plenty of HDR content as well as a lot of decent and reasonably priced HDR monitors available. So, if you want to enjoy HDR, a good FALD or OLED HDR monitor is definitely worth it.

What is SDR good for? ›

An SDR allocation is a way of supplementing Fund member countries' foreign exchange reserves, allowing members to reduce their reliance on more expensive domestic or external debt for building reserves.

What is the difference between SDR HDR and Dolby Vision? ›

While SDR is limited to 8-bit color which can reproduce ~16,000,000 unique colors, HDR can reproduce in 10-bit color which greatly expands that to ~1,000,000,000 unique colors, with Dolby Vision able to leverage a full 12-bit color depth representing over 68,000,000,000 colors creating a dramatically richer, true-to- ...

Why do HDR videos send blurry? ›

The video was recorded in a low resolution. When this happens, the iPhone or Android device will try to compensate for the low quality by making the video appear bigger than it actually is. This results in a pixelated and fuzzy video. The video was taken in a low-light environment.

Does HDR do anything for non HDR content? ›

A HDR TV may still display a non-HDR source signal, but it will not be able to take full advantage of its capabilities. HDR TVs are brighter and have better “blacks”; so they have overall better dynamic range (defined as the ratio of brightest white/darkest black).


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