Industries Differ On Categorizing HDR Performance For 4K UHD TVs

Different sets of definitions used to promote high dynamic range (HDR) supporting displays have the IT and CE industries approaching customer education from varying perspectives.

It’s not unusual for computer and consumer electronics marketers to take contrasting approaches to solving the same problem. For example, the two industries have long championed different digital connector standards—DisplayPort vs. HDMI—to link source devices to display screens in a copyright safe way.

Last fall, the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA), which works with computer display product standards, did it again by introducing its DisplayHDR classifications for LED-LCD displays. These classifications are based on performance-defining criteria for high resolution (mostly 4K) computer monitors and laptop screens.

The DisplayHDR program arrived almost two years after the multi-industry Ultra HD Alliance delivered its classification and definition of an “Ultra HD Premium” TV display (distinguishing OLED from LCD performance). While welcomed at the time by most tech journalists and retailers, it has received less than unanimous support by some of the CE industry’s largest members.

At the same time, select CE marketers have chosen to use their own logos and definitions to identify the products they claim as supporting the HDR experience.

Some of these maverick TV makers have balked at listing specs for nits and bits that could be used by consumers to purchase products. Instead, they want to show the visually perceivable performance differences through a sales-driven demonstration. That is an understandable concern for a company trying to differentiate its product from a competitor’s, except that more consumers now depend on purchasing televisions sight unseen through online portals like Amazon, Best Buy and the manufacturers’ own web sites.

This has long been the case with PC monitors and laptop computers, and VESA’s program addresses it.

Both organizations use 1000 nits of peak luminance as one of most significant areas of distinction.

Specification numbers might not be the most accurate way to make a buying decision, but in the internet age they are frequently the best tool consumers have to judge where a product sits in a value assortment. Such numbers provide a means for consumers to step themselves up (or down, as the case may be) in a good/better/best assortment. Industry-drafted terminology helps simplify that process.

At the same time, standards-based classifications hold manufacturers accountable for properly explaining exactly what a product is designed to deliver, thus enabling a customer to justify the price spent on a particular feature set.

VESA’s approach goes farther than the UHDA’s Premium program by identifying not only the top level of performance a high-end television should achieve, but the criteria required for positioning a good and better television as well.

It also makes it harder for manufactures to intentionally obfuscate the use of components like high-bit panels (10-bits and higher are required for 4K Ultra HD) that can reduce or eliminate problem artifact issues such as banding in color gradations (false contouring). This highly visible annoyance can be only partially addressed with inexpensive dithering processes instead of using more expensive and more effective hardware-based remedies. Yet, some manufacturers continue to use dithering without true 10-bit panels in cheaper Ultra HDTVs.

The VESA DisplayHDR classifications specify that, at a minimum, any HDR display must use a true hardware-based 10-bit panel. More advanced models can then add software-based dithering techniques on top of that.

Meanwhile, the UHDA continues to try and coalesce its members around the UHDA Premium certification and logo, and consumers continue to be encouraged to down-sell themselves on increasingly price-eroding TVs labeled 4K HDR with no overt frame of reference to base it on.