Which HDR TVs are best?
There was a time when HDR content and the TVs used to display it weren’t quite able to deliver the experience promised by the new and exciting technology. That time is officially in the past, with 4K TVs reaching new levels of brightness, color volume and local dimming effectiveness. This doesn’t just apply to top-of-the-line TVs, either, as prices on HDR-enabled models have reached a point where most people can afford to make an investment.
When it comes to the best of the best TVs for viewing HDR content, the Sony A90J OLED TV stands alone. It’s brighter than almost any other OLED TV on the market and its per-pixel illumination ensures that HDR highlights really pop.
What to know before you buy an HDR TV
The first widespread standard was HDR10. While it still looks great and is used in some new content, its market share is actually dwindling somewhat because it doesn’t provide dynamic, scene-by-scene metadata for consistently high HDR performance. For what it’s worth, almost all HDR-enabled TVs do support HDR10, although not a ton of them support its successor, HDR10+.
The more worthwhile HDR protocol to look for is Dolby Vision. It has a tighter set of hardware restrictions and, specifically, allows for scene-by-scene metadata that delivers an overall superior HDR experience as compared to HDR.
HDR TVs work best with HDR content
This might seem simplistic, but keep in mind that not every movie, game or show will benefit specifically from an HDR TV. Almost zero old movies have been remastered to include HDR metadata and the simulated HDR filtering on some games is a post-processing effect rather than actual encoded video data.
On the other hand, look for HDR TVs that do an excellent job with high-contrast and colorful content. To that end, if you decide to invest in an HDR TV, you can be absolutely certain that it will make even your favorite classic films and ‘90s sitcoms look as good as possible.
HDR and Windows
More consumers are building their own home theater PCs in order to consolidate streaming apps, manage a personal video collection or just add tons of functionality to an entertainment system. With that said, there are (and always have been) conflicting reports of HDR’s effectiveness on Windows 10 machines. With the right GPU and TV, it’s entirely possible to get most HDR effects working great on your HTPC, it just might take a little extra finagling to get Windows to cooperate.
Supposedly, the HDR situation is supposed to become more consistent and user-friendly with the release of Windows 11.
What to look for in a quality HDR TV
Wide color gamut
There are three equally important TV specifications to consider when judging a TV’s HDR abilities. The first is the color gamut or color volume, which simply refers to how many distinct colors a panel can produce. There are a few color gamut standards floating around, but the most important one for watching movies (and arguably for playing games) is the DCI-P3 color space. For best HDR performance, your TV needs to at least be near 100% DCI-P3 coverage. That’s the color space most movies are mastered in, and therefore the color space where you’ll get the most authentic viewing experience.
High peak brightness
How bright a screen gets at its peak and how well it sustains that brightness for entire scenes is immensely important to HDR performance. Here, modern OLED technology is slightly inferior to the more common LCD panels. When peak brightness is too low, it’s harder for TVs and viewers to differentiate between two slightly different objects that are both located on a bright part of the screen. This is a general issue with TVs that are too dim and it’s especially evident with HDR content.
The most common LCD TVs sport a single LED backlight, the entirety of which will always be at a common brightness. High-end TVs and some mid-range models add local dimming, which breaks up the backlight into individual zones controlled by the TV’s processor. It’s worth noting that the number of local dimming zones (also called contrast control zones by some companies) isn’t as important as the actual algorithm and processor that manage them. The most important thing to remember is that local dimming is a baseline must-have for a true HDR experience. With that in mind, you may have to fiddle with the TV’s local dimming settings to get the right configuration for your setup.
How much you can expect to spend on an HDR TV
You can pick up a surprisingly effective HDR TV for as little as $500 for a 50-inch model or so, which is a bit on the small side for many users. At the top of the range, the largest and most expensive consumer-focused HDR TVs cost several thousand dollars or more, but if you’re looking for something in the 65- to 75-inch range, plan to spend around $4,000.
HDR TV FAQ
Which is better, an OLED or LCD TV?
A. There’s not a perfect answer to this. Many consumers and industry pros swear by OLED technology, and it’s true that the latest OLED TVs are great in many respects. However, they’re also pretty similar to each other and all but a few expensive models are plagued with slightly lower brightness than is preferred for a quality HDR experience. On the other hand, manufacturers are constantly trying to engineer new solutions to age-old problems with LCD panels, such as narrow viewing angles and blooming or light bleed. All in all, it’s important to consider each TV on a case-by-case basis, especially if you’re looking for top-of-the-line HDR performance.
Are OLED TVs susceptible to burn-in?
A. The short answer is no, most consumers don’t need to be concerned about long-term burn-in when purchasing an OLED TV. As long as you watch varied content, you’ll probably never approach burn-in. If you play a lot of video games with static objects like health bars or scoreboards, it’s worth remembering to change up your game of choice every now and then. Plus, unlike when OLED TVs first came out, manufacturers have implemented a few means of mitigating the issue.
What are the best HDR TVs to buy?
Top HDR TV
What you need to know: It’s just about the brightest OLED TV yet released, and therefore it’s pretty much the best-looking by default.
What you’ll love: Functionally speaking, you’d be hard-pressed to find any significant criticisms of the A90J. Its peak brightness rivals many LCD TVs, while its per-pixel dimming and remarkably wide color gamut ensure peak HDR performance. It sports HDMI 2.1 connectors and all the advanced features that come with them, such as auto low-latency mode and variable refresh rates.
What you should consider: It is, by all accounts, an extremely expensive piece of equipment.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top HDR TV for the money
What you need to know: The U6G may well be the first budget-friendly 4K TV that actually lives up to its claims of HDR readiness.
What you’ll love: Just a few short years ago, Hisense occupied a weird place among e-retailers. The company has come pretty far since then and now regularly sees its premium TVs trade compete with bigger industry names. All the while, like with the U6G, prices have remained reasonable. With a wide color gamut, local dimming and Dolby Vision support, this one lets you take advantage of modern films and games without setting you back a fortune.
What you should consider: Rated to only 600 nits at its peak, the brightness level isn’t quite what you’d expect from a high-end TV, but if you’re using it in a home cinema setting with good ambient light control, that shouldn’t be an issue.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
What you need to know: It’s the latest in a line of ultra-premium TVs from the electronics giant, and it absolutely delivers the picture quality you’d expect.
What you’ll love: Original LCD panels have a single backlight. OLED panels have pixels that light up individually. Samsung’s Neo lineup represents some of the first publicly available TVs with what’s called Mini-LED technology. Essentially, it’s just an advanced local dimming configuration with a massive number of individual backlight zones. This advanced approach to backlighting along with more proven technologies like quantum dot filtration allow the QN90A to provide likely the best HDR experience of any LCD TV. It’s an especially good choice if you’re looking at the 75- or 82-inch size.
What you should consider: It’s definitely not cheap, and the viewing angle can leave something to be desired if you’re watching movies or sports with a group of people.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Chris Thomas writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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