Later this year, Netflix will introduce a new way to stream videos, and I was lucky enough to get a private demo at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Netflix is calling this new, higher-quality streaming "HDR," which stands for high dynamic range, a term that is most common in photography.
The demo I saw was at LG's booth at the CES conference in Las Vegas, where an LG display executive was showing off what HDR streaming looked like on an ultra-high-resolution 4K TV, using the new Netflix show "Marco Polo." ( Unfortunately, they wouldn't let us shoot video or photos, so we're using regular screenshots from the show.)
HDR basically ensures you're seeing extremely accurate colors that have a higher range. So instead of a ray of sunlight appearing washed out and white, you're able to notice the orange and yellow hues instead. The picture below would appear a lot more colorful, for instance:
While we can't show you what Netflix HDR looks like at this time, below you can see a comparison between a non-HDR photo on the left, and an HDR photo on the right. While the differences are subtle, you should be able to notice the mountains and skyline in the HDR photo are less washed out.
Samsung showed off some impressive HDR 4K televisions at CES this week, but LG is arguably further along, with an official partnership with Netflix that will introduce HDR streaming later this year.
While LG hasn't publically shown off or announced an HDR TV, the demo I saw was meant to show that LG has the technology to introduce HDR TVs but is busy fine-tuning it with the help of colorists and other film color-graders who will help the company nail all the subtle tweaks necessary to demonstrate the most accurate and impressive range of colors.
The LG display executive acknowledged he was "jealous" of Samsung's HDR demo (see below), but he argued that Samsung cut corners to make a flashy public demonstration, "paying a movie studio $2 million" to tailor-make an HDR demo for its specific display.
Business Insider One of the many Samsung TVs announced this year at CES.
LG, on the other hand, says it's laying the groundwork for the long term, working closely with movie studios and industry experts to get things ready for Netflix HDR streaming, which is how most people will experience HDR.
It's easiest to notice the difference HDR makes when you have a wide spectrum of colors in a scene.
In "Marco Polo," there are scenes in which a colorist traditionally had to choose between either showing a dark shadow or ray of sunlight. With HDR, there's no such compromise — colorists are able to highlight the nuances of each, showing both dark shadows and bright light that doesn't appear washed out. For instance, this scene would have a lot more light gradients than we can show here:
Phil Bray for Netflix
I also saw a few scenes from "A Million Ways To Die In The West," a Western that featured plenty of shadowy bar brawls and epic landscape shots. You really notice HDR's added infusion of color into a scene during wide-angled shots of the sky. With HDR off, the subtle changes in the sky's hue from white to blue to gray were washed out, but with HDR on you could really notice the finer details. The same was true when I watched the dust particles kicked up from horses riding across the desert plains; HDR turned what used to be white-washed dust into a beige, yellowish brown.
So what will you need to be able to enjoy Netflix in HDR 4K?
A new HDR 4K TV, which you'll see a lot of in the next year. Once Netflix officially launches HDR streaming, Netflix will "talk" to your TV, checking to see whether your TV is equipped for HDR. Your TV will enable the feature and handle all the HDR processing, so you won't have to worry about Netflix being slower just so you can see some extra color.
Netflix truly looks spectacular in HDR, and it might even persuade me to upgrade to a fancy 4K TV once the service launches later this year.
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