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TV screen technology explained

What is HDR TV?

By Ben Stockton

Article 3 of 5

HDR is heralded as the latest ‘must have’ TV feature – but what is HDR TV and do you really need it?

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HDR, or High Dynamic Range, isn’t an alternative to 4K Ultra HD, but rather a complementary TV technology designed to give you even better, brighter pictures.

You will find many 4K TVs with HDR, starting from just £500 – but is this technology as important as manufacturers and retailers tell you?

The short answer is no. There’s not much to watch – content is limited to ultra-HD Blu-rays and a few films and shows on TV-streaming services. But it’s growing in popularity, and is likely to go hand in hand with the rise of 4K, so it’s worth being aware of if you’re looking for a new TV.

What’s so special about HDR?

If you’re a keen photographer, you may have heard of HDR before, but it works slightly differently with video. HDR essentially creates a greater dynamic range between the darkest blacks and brightest whites, with more subtle differences in tones in between.

Although 4K TV is great on its own, a 4K HDR picture will seem even brighter and more detailed, particularly with darker scenes in films and TV shows.

HDR doesn’t just improve the TV's brightness. It can also enhance the colours you’ll see, making them appear to pop with more vibrancy and detail - although that does depend on the quality of the TV, too.

Best Buy HDR TVs

The best TVs will plunge to deeper blacks and stretch to brighter whites when showing HDR content, giving you even better picture quality. But 4K HDR picture quality isn’t guaranteed to be better than 4K alone – we’ve seen a few instances of washed-out highlights lacking detail during brighter scenes.

The TVs in the table below make the best use of HDR technology – these are the sets with the best picture quality on the market today. Best Buy TVs also bring great sound and an easy-to-use smart TV system. You may think you need to spend a lot on a Best Buy HDR TV, but here we’ve got great sets to suit all budgets.

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Best HDR TVs

Samsung UE55KS8000
Today's best price £1,399.90
Which? score 78%
Reviewed Jun 2016
Best Buy
Picture quality:
4 out of 5
Sound quality:
5 out of 5
Ease of use:
4 out of 5
Screen size:
Member exclusive
Curved:
Member exclusive

It matches some of the best sound we’ve heard from a TV, with a pin-sharp picture and nicely balanced colours, comfortably surpassing the Best Buy cut-off. With both premium features and performance, this is a TV worth blowing the budget on.

Samsung UE55KS9000
Today's best price £1,199.00
Which? score 77%
Reviewed Jun 2016
Best Buy
Picture quality:
4 out of 5
Sound quality:
5 out of 5
Ease of use:
4 out of 5
Screen size:
Member exclusive
Curved:
Member exclusive

Another set with a sizeable price tag, this TV may leave your pockets feeling a little lighter but you won’t regret it. With all the features you could wish for, supreme sound and very good picture quality, it’s a sure-fire Best Buy

Samsung UE49KS7000
Today's best price £999.90
Which? score 76%
Reviewed Jun 2016
Best Buy
Picture quality:
4 out of 5
Sound quality:
5 out of 5
Ease of use:
4 out of 5
Screen size:
Member exclusive
Curved:
Member exclusive

A touch cheaper than many other Best Buys, this set proves you don’t have to spend over a grand to get a top quality set. With vivid, balanced colours – particularly with 4K – there’s no scrimping on performance, either.

Samsung UE49KU6400
Today's best price £629.99
Which? score 75%
Reviewed Jul 2016
Best Buy
Picture quality:
4 out of 5
Sound quality:
5 out of 5
Ease of use:
4 out of 5
Screen size:
Member exclusive
Curved:
Member exclusive

Matching the score of TVs more than double its price, this bargain Best Buy’s natural, balanced colours are a joy. You still get 4K HDR – a feature typically found on higher-end sets. This is affordability without compromise.

Samsung UE43KS7500
Typical price £1,099.00
Which? score 75%
Reviewed Jul 2016
Best Buy
Picture quality:
4 out of 5
Sound quality:
4 out of 5
Ease of use:
4 out of 5
Screen size:
Member exclusive
Curved:
Member exclusive

Some may see curved TVs as a bit of a gimmick but this one will impress nonetheless. Combining a great picture with decent sound and an easy-to-use interface, this set is a comfortable Best Buy.

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Where can I find HDR content?

Just because you have an HDR TV, it doesn’t mean that everything you watch will be in HDR. The content must be mastered in HDR in order for you to make use of your TV’s added capabilities. And as with regular 4K viewing, HDR-quality content is only just beginning to trickle out. YouTube, Amazon and Netflix are starting to offer HDR on their video-streaming services, but you’ll need decent broadband (Netflix recommends 25 megabits per second) to stream 4K HDR content over the internet.

The movie studios are distributing new films in HDR quality, as well as re-mastering older titles. The new 4K Blu-ray players from Samsung and Panasonic can play 4K HDR discs, although the selection is pretty limited so far.

Broadcasters such as the BBC have conducted experiments with HDR TV on iPlayer. But with TV infrastructure struggling to cope with even standard 4K broadcasting, it seems a way off before HDR TV becomes a mainstream reality.

Should I buy a HDR TV?

When buying a new TV, you should seriously consider 4K. With prices falling, top-notch 4K TVs are available from around £400. If done well, there’s nothing wrong with a 4K picture on its own, and most people still watch content in standard and high definition, anyway.

Although you can now find HDR technology on slightly more affordable sets, it is mostly at the premium end of the market, aimed at those who want a bit extra from their TV. Because of the lack of content, HDR isn’t a must-have feature yet, and you're not missing out too much if you buy a non-HDR TV.

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