Sony’s 4k Televisions Now Support HDR Content, But What Does That Mean?

Warning: marketing speak ahead. But, once we hack through that forest, there just might be something to Sony’s claims that even more of their lineup of 4k televisions now support high dynamic range (HDR) video.

Sony first started talking about HDR video in April, when it was reported that their 75″ flagship 4k X940C television (and, later, the 65″ X930C) would feature X-Tended Dynamic Range PRO. Terming it HDR technology, Sony is now bringing the improvements to other existing televisions over an update that will go live soon, including the 55″ X850C, 65″ X900C, and 75″ X910C. Sounds great, but what does this actually mean?

We’re more familiar with HDR in the camera market — it allows sensors to sample light from both dark and light parts of a scene separately, allowing you to capture both the dark greens of trees and the bright blues and whites of the sky in one shot, without underexposing or overexposing one or the other. But, cameras are in the business of capturing images, while televisions are tasked with reproducing them. So, when Sony talks about HDR in their televisions, they’re talking about something else entirely — essentially, enhanced color contrast, which 4k TV leaders like Samsung and LG have been crowing about this year in equal measure.

LG, Samsung, and Sony all use different technologies to achieve enhanced color contrast, but it’s the same effect in the end — darker blacks, brighter colors, and an overall wider color spectrum. But, there’s no standardized way to measure color contrast, so it’s impossible to tell who’s actually pulling it off better, or if the difference between the brands is even significant enough to matter.

That’s why a new partnership between Sony and Amazon is interesting. To now, these new televisions have been making their own color contrast adjustments to current and older content. Soon, however, Amazon will be producing HDR content to go with Sony’s HDR televisions, in the same way that 4k televisions featured upscaling technology for sub-4k content before 4k content became widely available.

Some Amazon Original Series like Transparent and Mozart in the Jungle will be available in HDR on Sony’s compatible television sets this fall, along with a number of movies from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, like The Amazing Spider Man 2, Men in Black 3, After Earth, and Fury, all of which will be available in HDR on the Amazon Video app. If you buy one of Sony’s HDR televisions this fall, you’ll get $100 to spend on any of those titles or any upcoming HDR movies.

We’re hesitant to talk this up too much, because we’re not sure how Sony’s technology really compares to what Samsung and LG are doing with quantum dot and OLED technology, respectively, and there’s no way to concretely judge besides sometimes sketchy eye tests. We’ll keep our eyes on this new color contrast arms race, because the images are going to look incredible, if nothing else.