The television world is never short of technical terms and abbreviations, and keeping up with them all and understanding what they all do can be a nightmare. The biggest TV trend to come out of the past few years is High Dynamic Range, or HDR. We've already covered exactly what that is in a separate article, but just to confuse things, sound pioneers Dolby have their own version called Dolby Vision.
But what exactly is Dolby Vision, how does it differ to HDR10, what TVs support it and what content is there to watch? Allow us to explain all...
What is Dolby Vision?
Dolby Vision, in basic terms, is an end-to-end production process, from the content creation right through to mastering and then you viewing it at home. Because it's an end-to-end process, the metadata in each frame can be dictated by Dolby and then compatible equipment can read it and understand it exactly how it was meant to be. It means you'll get the best possible viewing experience. HDR10 on the other hand relies on the HDR TV itself to determine how to interpret the metadata and display it.
The main difference between Dolby Vision and HDR10 though, is the colour depth and brightness the content and equipment is capable of achieving. Dolby Vision content is mastered in up to 12-bit colour depth, compared to 10-bit of HDR10 (which is where HDR10 gets its name from).
You may be wondering, what difference could 12-bit over 10-bit possibly make? Well, 12-bit colour depth gives access to over 68 billion colours, compared to just 1 billion with 10-bit. This means the colours you see from Dolby Vision films and on compatible TVs are going to be far more accurate and as the director intended.
Brightness is another key factor in determining the success of HDR content. The Ultra HD Premium specification says HDR TVs must reach a minimum of 1,000 nits peak brightness, which many of the current crop of HDR TVs can do. Many of the new 2017 TVs from all the major manufacturers can achieve 1,500 to 2,000 nits, but Dolby Vision content is mastered for 10,000 nits peak brightness.
But at the moment, no TV can support this, so content is actually mastered to around 4,000 nits. However it means Dolby Vision is very well future-proofed, because the potential to go even brighter is already there for when the displays can support it.
What TVs support Dolby Vision?
In order to watch Dolby Vision content, you need to have the right equipment. The benefit of Dolby Vision TVs is that they can support HDR10 as well, but HDR10 TVs can't do Dolby Vision, so if you want the best of both worlds, Dolby Vision is the way to go.
Dolby Vision equipment has dedicated chips inside which read the metadata and reproduce the images exactly how they were made. Well, that was the original position that Dolby outlined, although it now appears to be supporting software solutions too. It appears that some devices will be updated via software and the new smartphone support is an entirely software-based implementation.
LG was initially the only TV manufacturer to support Dolby Vision, with its 2016 OLED lineup: B6, C6, E6 and G6, all offering compatibility. Other manufacturers have clearly realised the potential of Dolby Vision and at CES 2017, we saw a lot more compatible equipment announced.
The company also introduced a new range of Super UHD TVs that use Nano Cell technology - another new technology for 2017 - that support Dolby Vision, alongside HDR10, Hybrid Log Gamma and Advanced HDR by Technicolor.
LG also had a world's first for the show in the form of the world's first Ultra HD Blu-ray to support Dolby Vision in the form of the UP970, which is handy, because the first wave of Dolby Vision 4K Blu-ray discs from major Hollywood studios including Lionsgate, Universal Pictures and Warner Brothers should arrive in the first half of 2017.
Sony also jumped on the Dolby Vision train with the A1 OLED TV, a gorgeous slither of TV that has the potential to really bring Sony back into the TV game. It isn't just the company's new OLED TV that supports Dolby Vision, as its new XE94 and XE93 TV series can comfortably handle it too.
Interestingly, even though Sony's new TVs support Dolby Vision, it's newly announced 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player, the UBP-X800, doesn't support it.
Apple is the latest company to jump onboard the HDR and Dolby Vision wagon, with the launch of the iPhone X and upgraded Apple TV 4K. Both new devices support both HDR10 and Dolby Vision, from compatible services such as Netflix and Amazon.
What about Dolby Vision on mobile devices?
Let's not ignore mobile HDR in this equation. With the launch of the LG G6, Dolby Vision got its first mobile device too. Since the launch of the G6, several other mobile devices have been released that support Dolby Vision. They include the Apple iPhone X, Sony Xperia XZ Premium and the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.
What Dolby Vision content can I watch?
We've already mentioned how Dolby Vision Blu-ray discs are coming this year, but what if you don't want to invest in physical media, what are your options? Thankfully, Netflix and Amazon both have a range of Dolby Vision content available to stream. However Amazon's Dolby Vision content is only supported in the US for now.
Netflix has a decent selection of Dolby Vision content in the UK, it includes:
- Marco Polo
- The Ridiculous 6
- The Do Over
- Chef's Table France
- The OA
- Luke Cage
- Jessica Jones
You'll be able to tell if a TV show or movie supports Dolby Vision from a tag that appears next to the star rating.
In the US, Amazon will let you watch the second season of Bosch in Dolby Vision, as well as a selection of films from Sony, including The Smurfs 2, Men In Black 3, Fury and Salt. Currently, Amazon states on its website that only LG's TV's that support it for now, presumably because of the app. Hopefully that will be updated to include Sony's new TVs in due course.
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